Project Innovation – January 26, 2011 – Innovation pillar (Hilton Naples)

The latest Project Innovation event, hosted by the Economic Development Council of Naples (EDC), was one of the most encouraging events I have attended in quite a long time.  With the constant drumbeat of economic doom and gloom that you hear on the news and radio, it was extremely gratifying to see some real-life examples of how people areEconomic Development Council PI Logo overcoming this climate, and specifically how Naples as a community is weathering this storm with grace.

The thrust of Project Innovation is much the same as that of the EDC itself, which is to foster an environment in which ideas and entrepreneurship can grow and thrive.  This is accomplished by creating a sustainable environment, and one which will attract and retain world-class employees.

This time around, the panel focused primarily on our future leaders and innovators; in other words, children!  From the national anthem which was sung beautifully and fearlessly by a 7th grade girl (incidentally, the daughter of EDC President Tammie Nemecek)

to a panel of three brilliant middle-schoolers, and finally a status update on the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, this entire event definitely had a young focus.

The three children on the panel each had an innovative idea to share, and I was quite impressed with the range of creativity that was demonstrated.  The first was a film maker, and shared her experiences leading up to the creation of her first short film.  (In fact, a Naples documentary film maker in attendance offered her a chance to help with her upcoming project: “Naples: A Love Story.” What a fantastic opportunity!) The second student won the Collier County Science Fair with impressive research on the effects of Aspertame on meal worms.  (This did not go well for the worms; diet soda drinkers be warned!) The third is the trademarked inventor of the iPod bike charger, which charges your music player using your pedal power as you ride.

Once the children were done presenting, Onur Haytac shared his success story of how he built a small business, right here in Naples, selling Point of Sale workstations (POS) to restaurants across the country, with no venture capital or assistance of any kind.  I was not only impressed with his innovative way of thinking, but with his modest demeanor, including his unblushing statement that a good deal of his success had to do with luck.

What most struck me about the panel was one of the questions that I believe came from one of the members in attendance.  When the children were asked whether they see themselves staying and working in Naples, 2 out of 3 said yes.  Traditional thinking has had it that Naples is a stodgy, slow-paced town, with little to appeal to the younger generation.  I’ve heard it said that it’s a place to grow old, not a place to grow up.  But these kids turned that statement on its head.  (In fact, the only one who was not sure if she would stay is the film maker, but her industry by definition requires travel, and depending on the type of film, Hollywood is likely to be her final destination.)

And these are not just any school children, either.  These are innovators, thinkers, doers; and they are willing to lend their arts and talents to our city, rather than take them somewhere “more exciting.”  It doesn’t take one long to realize that this is extremely positive news for those of us who are building a business here.  The EDC has done wonderful things to make Naples a more fertile place for businesses to grow.  But the fact that these children are already saying they would like to live here means that institutions like the Children’s Museum, or perhaps the growing arts and culture (we heard from Bayshore Cultural and Performing Arts Center at the last Project Innovation) are actually working to make Naples a destination, not just a place to survive.  I am very grateful (and if I may take a cue from Anur, very lucky) to have planted the seeds of my business in such a place.

Paul Nicodemi


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