Boston's Innovation District Cultivating a Culture of Entrepreneurship

May 21, 2012

November Congress of Cities to Spotlight Boston's Success

by J. Katie McConnell

In January 2010, as Mayor Thomas M. Menino began his fifth consecutive term as Boston's mayor, he launched a new approach to spur economic development along the city's waterfront. The mayor called for a strategy that was more deliberate and experimental to create jobs, provide housing opportunities and build upon the city's many assets.

Coined the "Innovation District," this new model is designed to foster collaboration among firms to drive productivity, especially among start-ups and research-based companies.

City leaders will have the opportunity to see the new model first hand during NLC's Congress of Cities Exposition which will be held in November at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, right in the heart of the Innovation District. 

The conference will offer a range of learning and networking opportunities including mobile tours highlighting successful programs from the city of Boston, including the Innovation District. 

"The Innovation District and Boston itself are giant invitations to start something new, create jobs, collaborate and change the world," said Menino. "I look forward to showcasing this new district and our entire city to the National League of Cities in 2012."

Much of the Innovation District's success hinges on attracting entrepreneurs to the area; the major draw is the many networking, accelerator and support opportunities located in one place. For example, MassChallenge, a global start-up accelerator and competition offers 125 finalists access to three months of free office space in the Innovation District, mentors, workshops and cash prizes totaling $1 million. This year's MassChallenge has attracted applications from 1,237 start-ups from 36 U.S. states and 35 countries, a 69 percent increase from 2011.

In addition to MassChallenge, the Innovation District offers a number of other accelerators, incubators and co-working spaces to provide working areas and support systems to a variety of fledgling start-ups - from non-profits to clean-tech to a microbrewery.

There is a culture of entrepreneurship that is bubbling up in the district, and it's being supported by the City of Boston. The mayor has communicated a vision for the area and is its number one public champion; he routinely attends entrepreneurial events, demonstrating his support for entrepreneurs and startups. The city also uses the Innovation District website, blog and active Twitter feed to promote the Innovation District and to connect space-seekers with the incubators. Additionally, staff from the city and the Boston Redevelopment Authority frequently meet with new companies to introduce them to the Innovation District and relay the mayor's vision for the area.

The success of Boston's Innovation District becomes evident in the numbers. Currently home to 33,000 jobs and generating over $10 billion towards the city's gross product, the Innovation District has attracted 100 new businesses adding 3,000 new jobs to the area since January 2010.

The district has also attracted large, growing companies, like Vertex Pharmaceuticals, whose new headquarters will reportedly house 2,000 employees.

Recently, plans for a $5.5 million innovation center came online. The center which will be managed by Kendal Square's Cambridge Innovation Center, will provide additional space for entrepreneurs to network, test new concepts and showcase innovative businesses and ideas.

Details:  For more information and to register for the Congress of Cities, visit www.nlccongressofcities.org

This article was adapted from a case study featured in NLC Center for Research and Innovation's recent publication, Supporting Entrepreneurship and Small Business: A Tool Kit for Local Leaders.