The country’s first Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra, told a rapt audience of nearly 500 his three ideas to catalyze regional innovation. His keynote remarks were part of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce’s 30th Annual Meeting of the Membership on December 10 at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott. This luncheon is one of the largest local gatherings of business and community leaders and elected officials.
Chopra said, “Our best days are ahead of us. There is an opportunity for a new enthusiasm, an excitement around the economy. Part of it is because of the context that I see of a more functioning working public private opportunity, the pioneering government spirit.”
Chopra became the country’s first Chief Technology Officer under the Obama administration. He is credited for designing the National Wireless Initiative and also helped to launch Startup America. Chopra values resolving problems through new thinking, executing an “open innovation” strategy across the government with the cooperation and participation of the private sector. He is well-known in the Commonwealth, holding a similar position under then-governor Tim Kaine. Chopra commented on several of the themes in his book, “Innovative State: How New Technologies Can Transform Government” among them, how entrepreneurial minded business professionals might resolve challenges faced in healthcare, energy and education.
Chopra was eager to address the regional business community as a part of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce’s commitment to exposing its members to thought leadership and new avenues of potential business growth. He explained that from 2006-2009, new businesses account for nearly all net new job creation and almost 20% of gross job creation and young and small firms (fewer than 5 years old and 20 employees) generated 8.6% job growth. Growth is crucial to the Hampton Roads economy, but unfortunately Chopra shared a scorecard that showed at 7.7 startup businesses per 10,000 residents, Hampton Roads ranks last among Virginia’s regions. He said, “The rate of entrepreneurship seems to be the Achilles heel for how this region can turnaround.”
Chopra praised the efforts of “Reinvent Hampton Roads” and its recommendation to launch a Governor’s School for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, modeled after Thomas Jefferson High School in Northern Virginia.
“I’m a big fan of Zack Miller of Hatch Norfolk," said Chopra. "His 1,000 Four program is a great example. If we can grow 1000 companies with at least 4 employees over the next 5 years that would be phenomenally impactful to the economy.”
Entrepreneurism is something Chopra can validate first-hand. Following a brief run for lieutenant governor, Chopra founded Hunch Analytics in northern Virginia, a data and analytics firm.
“Aneesh’s presentation provided tremendous insight for our business community,” said Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Bryan Stephens. “He provided some eye-opening data and ideas for innovation that our membership can put into place to contribute in the growth of our region.”
The choice of a leader in technology was especially relevant to a number of Chamber members, citing such a need to embrace both regionalism and innovation.
Martin Joseph of 360IT Partners thought Chopra communicated well the needs of our region. Joseph said, “I think he really got the fact that there is a disconnect between our military veterans looking for jobs in the community and then the private sector having a difficult time trying to understand how to connect with those veterans.” He added, “There are so many talented people that are coming out of our military and we need to figure out a way to fill that gap and he was spot on with his information. I’m encouraged by a lot of programs that they’re talking about and trying to implement at the federal level. I think that the investing in entrepreneurship is really near and dear to my heart. I think it would take some better programs to bring that into fruition and I think that we’re starting to see some good momentum in that venue and I’m hoping that it continues.”
Ben Munson of Old Point National Bank enjoyed the event, expressing that it was well planned out and had a seamless flow. Munson commented, “The Chamber is important to Old Point National Bank because it advocates for pro-business legislation that has an enormous effect on banking as well as connect people together and allow business to thrive.”
The annual luncheon also marked the installment of the 2015 board and recognition of the Volunteer of the Year, Shepelle Watkins-White. Outgoing Chair Michael Dudley of Optima Health Plans, commended Watkins White for her tireless service to the membership body as this year’s Vice-Chair of Governmental Affairs.
Stephens said, “I’d like to thank the Chamber’s 2014 volunteer leadership for their hard work and dedication and welcome the incoming 2015 Board as we look ahead to an exciting time in the Chamber’s history, with much more to accomplish.”
During his remarks, Michael Dudley said, “It has been a privilege to serve as the chair over this past year.” He added, “This year, the Chamber has had significant influence in the legislative agenda in the state of Virginia on issues like transportation, Medicaid, taxation and workers’ compensation. The Chamber’s team works on behalf of the members of the Chamber representing the issues and ideas that are important to all of us here. Your Chamber does have influence and connections.”
Dudley also turned over the ceremonial gavel to 2015 Chair Joe Witt of Old Point National Bank, formally installing the new officers and regional board, as well as divisional boards. Witt concluded the luncheon, thanking the Chamber’s leadership and staff. Witt said, “I am grateful and humbled to accept the Chair position for 2015. I hope my service as Chair continues to reinforce the importance of regionalism.”
Chopra signed copies of his book following the luncheon, getting a chance to interact with members eager to extend the innovation topic. The Chamber thanks sponsors: Old Point National Bank (Presenting); Norfolk Waterside Marriott (Host); Bon Secours Virginia Health System (Speaker sponsor); Cox (Media); Colonna’s Shipyard (Gold); BB&T (Silver); Hit Play Management (Audio/Visual); and Premier Events (Décor).