Obama to tout entrepreneurship during Pittsburgh visit today

WASHINGTON – Inability to afford expensive equipment will be less of a barrier to invention under President Barack Obama’s plan to spur innovation by opening federal and local facilities to entrepreneurs.

The president is expected to announce the initiative this afternoon during a visit to Bakery Square’s TechShop, a membership-based manufacturing workshop that’s a model for the kind of sharing of resources he wants to see more of.

The president is expected to tour the workshop at 1:25 p.m. and deliver remarks at 1:45 p.m. The event is not open to the public.

During his visit, the president is expected to announce new manufacturing investment commitments from 90 mayors cross the country, as well as a plan to provide private-sector innovators with access to expensive federal equipment such as wind tunnels at NASA and supercomputers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The plan would provide access to more than $5 billion worth of research, prototyping and testing equipment at more than 700 federal facilities.

Among the mayors who have signed on are Pittsburgh’s Bill Peduto and Johnstown’s Frank Janakovic.

The 90 mayors promised to work in a variety of ways to spur innovation, according to an entry posted Sunday on the White House’s official blog. Some promised to support programs that help entrepreneurs grow businesses, and some will encourage local schools to emphasize science, technology, engineering and math curricula. Others are creating business incubators, designating liaisons to work with innovators, highlighting best practices, supporting initiatives that engage students, convening roundtables to spur local partnerships, and fostering “ecosystems” that bring together stakeholders to build communities of innovators, according to the blog.

The president’s plan aims to give innovators – who the White House dubs “makers” — access to equipment that no individual or small business could afford on its own, said Jeff Zients, director of the National Economic Council.

“[We are] talking about using spare capacity when it’s available to give access to local makers and entrepreneurs,” he said.

Shared access to tools and equipment will spur new manufacturing, said Tom Kalil, White House deputy policy director for technology and innovation.

“Whenever you lower the cost of doing something people will do more of it,” he said.

Mr. Kalil said resource sharing will allow innovative manufacturers of physical goods to follow a similar pathway as early computer innovators who started multi-million-dollar companies using little more than a laptop computer.

Mr. Zients said the president’s plan does not require legislative approval and has no cost to the federal government.

During his Pittsburgh visit, the president also is expected to announce a $150 million investment in research to support the Materials Genome Investment, a public-private endeavor that aims to reduce the time it takes to develop new materials that can be used in advanced manufacturing.

The president can use executive action to allocate those funds from agencies’ existing research-and-development budgets.

The federal government already has invested more than $250 million in the Materials Genome Initiative in order to fund development of advanced materials from carbon fiber to polymers.

The president’s Pittsburgh visit launches the White House’s week-long focus on innovation, administration officials said. The highlight comes Wednesday at the first-ever White House Maker Faire, where innovators from around the country will show off prototypes of everything from products headed to market to an 18-foot electronic giraffe created for fun.

This week is all about opening the door to innovation, Mr. Zients said.

“We are witness here to a new era of innovation and entrepreneurship where innovators and tinkerers are experimenting not just with bits and bytes but with nuts and bolts,” he said.

Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.

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