05.31.17

What Cities Can Learn from the Rise of Innovation Districts

Karl R. LaPan President & CEO, The NIIC

Entrepreneurship and innovation do not exist in a vacuum. In fact that’s why I find the work I do so fulfilling; it touches so many facets of the economy and impacts positively so many people’s potential and future.

One trend that particularly fascinates me the rise of so-called Innovation Districts around the globe. Barcelona is considered to be the pre-eminent with 22@. Boston has made headlines with its Seaport Innovation District, the first in the U.S. It is estimated that there are now at least 90 of these Innovation Districts worldwide. Purdue is transforming the west side of the campus with a “big bet” development valued at over $1 Billion.

Although there are no fast and hard rules when it comes to these tech-centric zones, they do exhibit some commonalities. One key point is that they have some association or relationship with a major institution such as a university, hospital, corporation, or research facility. There is an intention of connecting a mix of uses such as commercial, residential, transit and research & entrepreneurial space, all within a dense urban setting.

The central underlying point, however, is that these spaces are more than a cluster of mere structures. There is so much more than meets the eye. They exist to create an epicenter that fosters innovation and collaboration in all its forms.

Like-minded people attract like-minded people so it’s intuitive that innovators want to be around other innovators. These districts equip them to thrive, inspire and develop to their fullest potential. What was once done in a gated corporate research facility is now done in a more open, public and collaborative setting. Innovation is not something that has to be exercised in a particular venue; we’re only limited by our self-imposed restrictions. Innovation is a team sport. It is the great equalizer. There is no monopoly on good ideas, but there are advantages that can accrue to smart innovators and entrepreneurs by leveraging tech parks like The NIIC or locating in an innovation district.

So what can smaller cities (like Fort Wayne) learn from the success of such developments? It comes down to maximizing resources and focusing on the four entrepreneurial success pillars that The NIIC identified as integral to success: Capital, Talent, Workspaces and Networks. Tech Parks like The NIIC apply and immerse itself in the foundational principles of Innovation Districts every day so that we can share and celebrate the success stories of the entrepreneurs in our community. Remember, innovators don’t create jobs only entrepreneurs do.

If you have visited one of the 90 Innovation Districts around the globe, what best practices stick out? How can the Northeast Indiana community and beyond follow suit? How best can we incorporate principles of an innovation district in the reinvention of the GE Campus and the Electric Works project? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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