I spend the morning at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center along with 300 others at the initial public event of the "Merrimack Valley Sandbox" which is a major initiative launched by the Deshpande Foundation (which also has provided $5 million in seed money) in partnership with UMass Lowell, Merrimack College, Middlesex Community College, and Northern Essex Community College. The objective is to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the Merrimack Valley and to develop an approach that can serve as a worldwide model.
Desh Deshpande, who along with his spouse Jaishree, created the foundation that bears their name, explained that in the 1970s, "big ideas" came out of places like Bell Labs and IBM. The pressures of globalization, however, have deprived large US businesses of the money needed to promote research and development. Consequently, the "center of gravity" for innovation in American society has shifted to college campuses. This institute and the donated funds (which Deshpande expects to be matched by a like-sized grant by the community), are intended to help create the critical mass of ideas and effort needed for innovation to happen. The "sandbox" imagery is people talking to each other, exchanging ideas, getting excited about a project. This, according to Deshpande, is the key to innovation.