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A Closer Look: Jack Harris

President and CEO, Iowa Innovation Corp.


Jack Harris retired from Rockwell Collins Inc. last September and immediately started working to get the Iowa Innovation Corp. up and running. The Iowa Innovation Corp. is a public-private partnership that contracts with the Iowa Economic Development Authority, and Harris describes it as the implementation arm of the existing Iowa Innovation Council. The corporation was formed in December and officially launched in February. Its goal is to double the gross state product in the targeted industries of biosciences, advanced manufacturing and information technology within 10 years.

What is the Iowa Innovation Corp.?

The Iowa Innovation Corp. is really a place to help foster start-up businesses and existing businesses, and expand their ability to succeed by implementation of mature technologies. Innovation is basically taking mature technologies and using them in a very unique way to create a marketable difference. So that’s the intent of the corporation, and that’s going to be done primarily through coupling business folks with technology owners to create some kind of a salable business plan or an investable business plan.

Why is this a necessary organization?

I think the need probably is most evident when you talk to both the technology owners who would say, “We have no idea how to get this out into the marketplace,’ and you talk to the business people who have a problem, and they have no idea who to go talk to at the universities or the national labs. They don’t have the contact information or the process defined to do that. So what the corporation is really going to do is provide the matchmaking for those people with the business problem and those people with the technology solution. (That solution could come from) university research, national labs, a start-up company that may have a technology and not know how to commercialize it potentially.

What interested you in taking this position?

I spent a long time at Rockwell Collins in obviously a large company, and my role was in advanced technology and engineering my entire career. And about the last 10 years, I spent quite a bit of time working with the supply chain that Rockwell Collins had. I worked with the Iowa Business Council and its manufacturing thrust, and worked with the then-Iowa Department of Economic Development, in trying to expand our manufacturing presence.

How did that experience help prepare you for this role?

I think it has helped prepare me for doing what I’m doing now because of the relationships I have with universities, and not just the universities in Iowa. Although I like to believe we have tremendous resources in this state with our universities, there is opportunity to find technology outside of that. I’ve got some relationships with other universities and national labs that will also benefit our economic growth.

Where does the business community fit in?

From the standpoint of the larger companies in Des Moines and across the state, we really need their support in terms of being able to articulate the value of really having a strong economy in these targeted areas (of biosciences, advanced manufacturing and information technology). When I was at Rockwell, we always looked at the vitality of the small businesses as being an advantage to Rockwell, because it helps attract talent and retain talent, the kind of talent that companies like Rockwell look for. From a smaller company standpoint, we believe this will create an environment that will allow them to stay in the state of Iowa. We want them to have an opportunity to stay because they can grow.

What else should businesses know?

I think we’ve got defined a very strong innovation program plan, which includes the translation of research with the universities that’s industry-driven. We’ve also got a plan associated with something really new in the state, which is called the Proof of Commercial Relevance Center. A lot of the processes that are set up to do development don’t include an interim staff of really well-defining the sustainable, sizable markets that would make a good deal a good deal. The corporation and Iowa State University are working on this.

What do you do for fun?

I run and play golf. I don’t get to do as much of this, but I plan to do more: I actually restore sports cars, Datsun sports cars. I’m a mechanical engineer, so I’ve always had an interest in cars.

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