Charles Wessner

Georgetown University

Charles Wessner is a faculty member of Georgetown University. He is recognized nationally and internationally for his expertise on innovation policy, including public-private partnerships, entrepreneurship, early-stage financing for new firms, and the special needs and benefits of high-technology industry. He works closely with Congress, the White House, and major agencies and departments of the US government. As an outgrowth of his work with the US government, he advises technology agencies, government ministries, and prime ministers of countries in Europe and Asia. In addition, he cooperates closely with international organizations and lectures at major universities in the US and abroad.

Reflecting his strong global interest in innovation and policy expertise, Wessner is frequently asked to address issues of shared policy interest with foreign governments, universities, and research institutes, often briefing government ministers and senior officials. He frequently gives keynote addresses and presentations to international organizations such as UNCTAD, the UN Economic Commissions for Europe and for Latin America, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the OECD, and the European Investment Bank, as well as the European Commission. In Washington, he works closely with Congress, the White House, and major departments and agencies in the executive branch on the formulation of effective innovation policy.

Wessner has served as advisor to the thirty-nation OECD Committee on Science and Technology Policy, as a member of the Canadian Council of Academies’ Expert Committee on Science and Technology in Canada, as advisor to the national technology agencies of Finland (TEKES) and Sweden (VINNOVA), and as a member of the Norwegian Technology Forum. He was nominated by the US government as an innovation expert for UNCTAD and is an expert advisor for the UNECE. He has participated in the prime minister of Taiwan’s Science and Technology Advisory Group, as a member of the Lithuanian prime minister’s International Innovation Advisory Committee, on the board of the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds, and on the board of the Vilnius Sunrise Valley S&T Park. He has served as innovation advisor to the prime minister and to the minister of Research and Education of the Czech Republic. The National Academies’ Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Program has ongoing relationships with officials in India, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Mexico, France, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Saudi Arabia. Wessner provides policy advice on questions of innovation policy, including support for basic science, applied research, the role of the twenty-first century university, and principles of cooperation between universities and industry.

The National Academies has recognized Wessner’s research accomplishments in honoring him as a National Academies Scholar. Wessner is an Ameritech Research Fellow at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs where he also served on the visiting committee. As an adjunct professor, he has taught innovation policy at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, DC, and served as a researcher at the Max Planck Institute in Jena, Germany. He also serves on the board of directors of the Technology Transfer Society.

Currently, Wessner directs a series of studies centered on government measures to encourage entrepreneurship and the development of new technologies. Foremost among these is the review of the $2.5 billion Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. This multi-year, $5 million study brought a team of twenty researchers under Wessner’s direction to review the operations, challenges, and achievements of the largest US early-stage finance program. Ten book-length volumes in the study have now been released. They review the SBIR program at the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation. A summary volume reviewing the top five SBIR agencies and departments responsible for 96 percent of the program expenditure, titled An Assessment of the SBIR Program, was released in 2009.

Current policy reviews include Comparative National Innovation Policy: Best Practice and Competing in the 21st Century: Best Practice in State and Regional Innovation Initiatives, including a review of the Obama Administration’s new multi-billion dollar initiative on Batteries for Electric Vehicles and a new analysis on National Policies to Support the Development of Flexible Electronics and, separately, An Assessment of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program.

Wessner publishes extensively, primarily with the goal of influencing national policies. His National Academy of Sciences publications include, under the leadership of Intel’s Gordon Moore, an eleven-volume analysis of public-private partnerships in the United States. The study included a review of U.S. policy for the semiconductor industry titled Securing the Future: Regional and National Programs to Support the Semiconductor Industry and a summary volume titled Government-Industry Partnerships for the Development of New Technologies. This work is complemented by a series of volumes on Comparative National Innovation Policies. This study now includes five volumes: Innovation Policies for the 21st Century, looking at best practices around the world; 21st Century Innovation Systems for Japan and the United States; India’s Changing Innovation System: Achievements, Challenges, and Opportunities for Cooperation; Innovative Flanders: Innovation Policies for the 21st Century; and Understanding Research, Science and Technology Parks: Global Best Practices. Together, these reports constitute the largest program-based effort to assess US and foreign public-private partnerships designed to capitalize on university research and to assist small and large firms in the development of innovative, welfare-enhancing technologies.

Wessner frequently collaborates with European and Asian academics and policy makers. He worked with the European Commission on New Vistas in Transatlantic Science and Technology Cooperation, with Finland’s Veijo Ilmavirta on a comparative review of Programs to Support Innovation and the Development of Small Business in Finland and the United States: A Review of Currently Policy and Research (2001), with Sweden’s David Nordfors and Jan Sandred on Commercialization of Academic Research Results (2003), a well received book, Local Heroes in the Global Village: Globalization and New Entrepreneurship Policies with David Audretsch and Heike Grimm of the Max Planck Institute (September 2004), and again with Max Planck’s David Audretsch on The Handbook of Research on Entrepreneurship Policy (October 2007), and with Sweden’s Goran Marklund and George Washington University’s Nicholas Vonortas on The Innovation Imperative: Globalization and National Competitiveness (2009). Also in 2009, a major volume of papers on current innovation policy in Japan and the US was published with Sadao Nagaoka of Hitotsubashi University. The global interest in innovation is captured in a “Global Tour of Innovation Policy,” co-edited by Wessner and published by Issues in Science & Technology.

The overarching goal of Wessner’s work is to develop a better understanding of how we can bring new technologies forward to address global challenges in health, climate, energy, water, infrastructure, and security.