Geomagic (@Geomagic) has always been a favorite RTP company of mine given its work to leverage technology to change the way things are envisioned and made and to revolutionize medical treatments.
I have also enjoyed following the career of Ms. Fu who is a role model for women in science and a national thought leader in what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur and innovator. (She was also one of First Lady Obama’s guests at the 2010 State of Union address, is a member –with UNC-CH Chancellor Thorp – of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and has been a prominent figure with Start-up America Partnership).
But what struck me most about the dinner and Ms. Fu’s comments in accepting the award wasn’t so much the list of her accomplishments as a start-up and a leader in 3D imaging or that she was named a “Fast 50″ executive by Fast Company magazine and Entrebizneur of the Year by Business Leader magazine. (Even the data points that Geomagic has attracted more than $8 million in capital from private and institutional investors, increased revenue by more than 2,000% during the last five years and has received millions of dollars in research innovation grants from NSF and NIST – while impressive – were not the most impactful.)
Rather, the message that Ms. Fu relayed — and the one I will remember for award dinners to come — was her emphasis on giving back. During her remarks, she described how after being “asked” to leave the People’s Republic of China, she came to this country to start anew. Unfortunately, the airfare to her final destination had increased, but thanks to the kindness of a total stranger who gave her $5 to make up the fare difference, she was able to attend an English as a second language program and begin her life in America…and a phenomenal career.
In her early endeavors and as she built Geomagic, she was guided by the idea that while the world is global, a company’s impact is first local. She stressed the importance that companies of all sizes give back to their communities and be an active part in them. In this vein, she noted Geomagic’s decision to expand and grow in the Research Triangle despite lower labor costs in other venues around the world for the talent the company needs. Echoing a quote she gave to an early news story announcing her role in the Start-up America campaign, that “It’s good will, and being a company that’s doing good things for society [that] will bring good things in return,” she noted how Geomagic is actively involved in all aspects of our regional community, from collecting unused soaps, shampoos and toiletries for the Durham Ronald MacDonald House to adopting a school to hosting school groups with an interest in engineering for an afternoon of 3D to
volunteering at Habitat for Humanity. They do this not because it’s a good thing to do, but because it’s the thing right thing to do.
Appropriately, she ended her comments at the IAC Dinner with the advice that when in doubt, we should all err on the “side of generosity.”
It struck me as more than a coincidence that she chose to use that term. Fifty three years ago, a group of visionaries were guided by the same principle in setting up the Research Triangle Park. As Professor Albert Link so aptly captured in his book detailing the founding of RTP – “A Generosity of Spirit” – the Park’s establishment was all about creating a highly ambitious “big bet” that served as a catalyst for aligning the region and state’s knowledge resources and business climate attributes to create jobs and opportunities for all of North Carolina.
As George Simpson (one of the first staff of RTP) noted, “There was a generosity of spirit that dominated from the beginning, and this was what enabled people to look beyond their own narrow interests for the benefit of the entire project.”
Whether creating a research park or providing the inspiration and passion to turn an idea into a start-up that has gained global recognition, the generosity of spirit lives on in the region. It’s what feeds the collaboration that fuels innovation…and what makes the Research Triangle such a unique place.