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Silicon Valley veteran: What Columbus needs to do to capitalize on tech innovation 'promise' – The Business Journals

A Silicon Valley veteran, on the speaker circuit for the world’s largest professional technology advocacy group, briefed himself on Central Ohio’s tech industry ahead of a Columbus visit, and has this assessment: “Rather weak – but with promise.”
“It’s not one of the major up-and-coming technology hubs,” said Paul Wesling, a retired HP engineer who’s a touring speaker and former journal editor for the trade group IEEE.
Before you get your dukes up, Columbus, Wesling is quick to add he’s more of a “hardware guy.” But even venture-backed software startups have something to learn, he said, from the scrappy, collaborative inventors who advanced transmitting technology when RCA wouldn’t sell them vacuum tubes.
“It shouldn’t take two or three generations of people to learn these lessons; they should learn it in the first pass,” Wesling said. “My focus for (innovation) hubs: Find something you think you can be good at and optimize it.”
OSU’s College of Engineering features Wesling next Wednesday as part of a “distinguished seminar” series. Registration is open for the free in-person and streamed lecture on how the origins of Silicon Valley’s giants apply to emerging tech hubs.
Central Ohio leaders acknowledge the scene is in its infancy. Record VC funding for Ohio is but a blip of California’s. The handful of Columbus unicorns could represent a random week in San Francisco Bay Area, with 140 minted in 2021.
Intel Corp.’s New Albany campus, of course, will change the region through the talent and ancillary companies it attracts. The formal groundbreaking is Friday. And a rumored Honda battery plant for EVs would build on the region’s automotive strength.
Also encouraging is the start of an OSU advanced manufacturing and automation engineering center that last month won up to $52 million in National Science Foundation funding over the coming decade. Wesling plans to meet with leaders of the newly dubbed Hammer Engineering Research Center when on campus.
But the region and state need to remove hurdles to innovation, he said, such as Ohio law that allows employers to enforce “reasonable” non-compete clauses.
Ohio State President Kristina Johnson is scheduled to introduce Wesling’s talk.
“It’s snowballing into a very big event,” said Paul Berger, electrical and computer engineering professor who invited Wesling. He’s head of a Columbus IEEE group for photonics and faculty advisor to the industry group’s Ohio State student chapter.
On a Central Ohio committee planning for Intel’s workforce needs, Berger wants the university to devote even more resources to the effort, such as reopening a disused cleanroom for a course teaching students manufacturing processes while they build their own transistor.
Central Ohio will have many more tech openings than the 3,000 to start at Intel, he said. Suppliers, packagers and other ancillary companies will want to set up shop.
“You put all those together, we need something like 100,000 semiconductor-proficient employees, and business as usual is not going to produce that,” Berger said. “Every stone needs to be turned over to meet these demands.”
OSU’s Johnson, herself an engineer and patented inventor, has devoted new resources to technology commercialization and student entrepreneurship – another development that impressed Wesling.
But the school’s west campus Innovation District, up to $4 billion in academic, corporate and mixed-use development on 270 acres, is still too early to make a dent, in Wesling’s opinion. (Notably, Wesling grew up, until age 10, in the University View neighborhood of Clinton Township — literally across the street from the nascent district.)
But Wesling did say a university industrial park was one of the key attributes to the engineering prowess of his alma mater, Stanford University.
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