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Five key questions that will help you build out your innovation district

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: February 28th, 2018

In their recent blog post, Jason Hachadorian, a research analyst for the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Initiative on Innovation and Placemaking, and Jennifer S. Vey, a senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program, discuss five key questions that will help assess and develop the effectiveness of an innovation district — and identify areas for improvement.

“Over the past two decades, a confluence of changing market demands and demographic preferences have led to a revaluation of urban places–and a corresponding shift in the geography of innovation,” the authors write. “Local economic development leaders are now exploring ways to support this evolution as a means of fostering job creation, economic opportunity, and a revitalization in their communities.”

The first step in the process of developing an urban innovation district, according to Hachadorian and Vey, is to assess a city’s existing innovation ecosystem. Local leaders must understand their region’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities to form a clear set of goals, as well as strategies for reaching them. This can be partly achieved by answering the following questions, taken from the authors’ guide, “Assessing Your Innovation District: A How-To Guide.”

  1. Where are your region’s highest concentrations of innovation assets? Innovative companies need to have access to local researchers, inventors, entrepreneurs and other companies to develop new products and identify new markets. It only makes sense that there would be a center where all of these elements are the most concentrated. “Local leaders therefore need to look across their urban landscape to determine what area or areas have a critical mass of well-connected innovation assets from which a district can grow and develop.”
  2. Is the district leveraging and aligning its distinctive advantages to grow and strengthen firms’ innovation capacity? Local leaders must understand their innovation ecosystem’s strongest inputs (such as universities and research hospitals), outputs (start-ups, for example), and levels of connectivity among actors and assets. This a major step towards creating an innovation district that can successfully transfer ideas into products and services that can improve the quality of life in the region and abroad.
  3. Does the district have an inclusive, diverse and opportunity-rich environment? The best innovation districts include a diversity of people and provide economic opportunity to workers with a range of skills and education levels. Many of these districts accomplish this by setting up within or nearby areas of economic distress. “But this won’t happen by accident,” write Fey and Hachadorian. “Leaders must assess existing measures of diversity and inclusion and develop intentional strategies to ensure that all residents have a chance to benefit from, and are an integral part of, district development.”
  4. Does the district have physical and social assets that attract a diversity of firms and people, increase interactions and accelerate innovation outcomes? Interaction and collaboration are crucial to an innovation ecosystem, so a district should be dense, walkable and highly connected. It is also important to build collaborative spaces where start-ups, inventors, investors and entrepreneurs can interact, “the kind of vibrant environments where people want to spend time,” say the authors.
  5. Does the district have the leadership necessary to succeed? “Regardless of their economic, physical or human capital strengths, burgeoning innovation districts will not reach their full potential without capable leadership,” write Hachadorian and Fey. These leaders can play a range of roles in building a vibrant district, from spearheading the district’s vision to mobilizing stakeholders. In order for a district to succeed, major players in key organizations–research institutions, nonprofits, private firms and others–must make a shared, sustained commitment to drive change.

E-News readers can get the complete report here.

Source: The Brookings Institution

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