Innovating the Triple Threat

April 4, 2022

While it remains a fact that innovation can come from any one person, for a concept to truly mature from discovery to commercialization, it must be fostered by many. The triple-helix model of innovation is just that. A point where industry, government, and education come together for a mutual purpose: to drive ideas forward. In site selection especially, consultants and clients alike seek out communities that recognize the importance of synergy among these key players.  

There are many examples of these successful collaborations. One of them is upstate South Carolina, home to the world’s largest BMW production facility, and some will say, the catalyst to making the region an automotive cluster of excellence. But that’s not all. More than 250 other automotive companies, including auto giants Michelin and ZF Group, operate here. Nothing could be greater proof of the statement, if you build it, they will come. From suppliers to software providers, companies are moving to the Greenville-Spartanburg metropolitan area to be a part of this ever-growing industrial powerhouse.  

All of this buzz creates a need for a talent pipeline to fuel the workforce. Enter the educational arm: Clemson University. In 2007, the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) opened with a vision to be the premier automotive research, innovation, and educational enterprise in the world.  

Essential to the success of the triple-helix model is financial backing from both the public and private sector. Since its inception, CU-ICAR has secured investments totaling $300m, including more than $95m from governmental agencies, allowing industry and university to focus on programs, research, and advancements within the industry.  

Corporate decision-makers are seeking that level of collaboration, especially when setting up shop in a new geographic region where the company doesn’t have its own R&D and talent infrastructure. Like CU-ICAR’s Deep Orange, a student-led program now in its 13th iteration that takes a vehicle from concept to a full-scale, market-ready prototype. Deep Orange allows students to understand issues, including geographic, social, political, and financial matters faced by the automotive industry’s original equipment manufacturers and suppliers. The innovative program also allows industry partners, such as Toyota and GM, to glean a fresh perspective on vehicle design using the latest available technology at CU-ICAR.  

All three facets of the triple-helix model must work together for the betterment of the community for innovation to truly thrive. So the next time developers are looking outward to recruit business, they should take a moment to look inward and work on their triple threat. 

This article was written by Didi Caldwell and first appeared in the April/May 2022 print edition of fDi Intelligence.

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