Innovation Districts: New Centers of Commerce, Collaboration, Creativity, and Economic Activity
New Innovation Districts are where, the Brookings Institution suggests, the winners in today’s economy can be found. These districts are known for emerging concepts of collaboration and productivity are converging around Startup Ecosystems, Curated Coworking, and Engineering Serendipity.
As part of Startup Week Seattle, Nate Daum of UW and Startup Hall moderated a panel discussion at Bell Harbor Conference Center featuring local experts from real estate development, architecture and urban planning, city government, and the Seattle startup community.
Innovation districts were surveyed from London and New York to San Francisco.
In addition to South Lake Union, there is another District growing on the edge of the UW campus. It is anchored by Startup Hall and is home to UP Global, Techstars, and Founders Co-op. Chris DeVore, Director of Techstars said this location was attractive because of its proximity to talent; UW is a top 10 school in computer science, medical research, and biomedical studies.
While Startup Hall is not “officially” open yet, here is a peek from a recent open house:
James Mueller is Managing Partner & CFO of JC Mueller, LLC. As the Senior Director of Development for Vulcan Inc. from 2000-2005, Jim laid the groundwork for South Lake Union as we know it today; one of the world’s best known Innovation Districts.
Alan Hart, Principal and Founder of VIA Architecture, will present his experience leading a collaborative effort to create the “Quartier L’innovation” next door to McGill University in Montreal. This overview of the impressive work Alan has done internationally will tee up an exciting conversation about opportunities before us here in the northwest.
Chris DeVore, is the Chair of the Seattle Economic Development Commission. He is also a serial entrepreneur, the co-founder of Founder’s Co-Op, director of Techstars Seattle, and an early adopter of the innovation district vision for the U District.
Rebecca Lovell is the City of Seattle’s Startup Liaison. In addition to leading the city’s “Startup Seattle” initiative, she’s a highly respected tech industry mentor, former CEO of Vittana, Chief Business officer for GeekWire, Executive Director of the Northwest Entrepreneur Network, and UW Foster School of Business instructor.
Seaton Gras has extensive experience in creating businesses from ideas. In Spring of 2009 he created SURF Incubator as a place where entrepreneurs can find such assistance from their peers and from the extended community. Today it is more than 58 member companies, employing a total of about 140 people combined.
As a millennial that grew up in Detroit, its hard for me to imagine a time before Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, or Michael Jackson.
Berry Gordy’s frustration with pop culture pushed him to create one of the most successful African-American owned and operated businesses in the U.S. He envisioned a world where the music he wrote didn’t just live on the local radio stations but would ride to the top of the pop charts. With an $800 loan from his family, Gordy founded Motown Records.
As I look at the recent tech diversity workforce reports, I see data that reflects the current dominant tech culture. To be Black and be a part of the tech ecosystem means that you might have gone to a college or university where you were amongst the 3% who were Computer Science majors according to the Computer Research Association. Recent research also shows that weak ties in your social network might be more diverse than that of your White counterparts, and pattern matching by VC’s could prohibit you from getting funding for your new startup company.
On January 12, 1959 in Detroit, after writing songs for other record labels, Berry Gordy must have at some point asked himself, “How might we create a place where African Americans can create pop hits and own their publishing?” Today, I ask the question, “How might we create fertile ground for the African American community in Seattle to grow with the city’s current tech boom?”
Motown was a place-based solution that provided training for songwriters, focus group events for performers to hone their sound, and physical space in the form of Hitsville, USA on West Grand Boulevard. Thanks to support from community leaders, engaged citizens, Startup Seattle, Crosscut.com, and companies like Google, the Central District, an historically African American neighborhood, has “Hack the CD”. It is a collective of self determined social innovators reliant on the community for sustainable and equitable growth in the Central Area of Seattle, also known as Africatown.
The students also had a pitch workshop from public speaking professional, Toyia Taylor of we.app. Ten of the students received a Coding Dojo Junior Green Belt which shows their exceptional level of mastery.
Games are usually a big hit with kids. In May, two Middle Schoolers took first place at the University of Washington Startup Weekend with their game that teaches kids to code. It is important that this generation learn to be creators and not just consumers of technology. Nielsen’s Diverse Intelligence Insights show that 73% of Whites and 67% of Hispanics believe Blacks influence mainstream culture.
As the Central District community of thinkers, hackers, and makers grows, they’ll need events to apply their knowledge and skills. Hack the CD is organizing the Central District Startup Weekend hackathon event on September 26 – 28. During this weekend, Garfield High School will open its doors to a 54 hour entrepreneurial jam session with software developers, designers, entrepreneurs, and creatives young and old. No high school or college degree will be necessary to pitch an idea, form a team, and build a venture. There will be coaches covering a wide range of fields from community organizing to growth hacking. They’ll have an after party following the demo of the new products, in honor of the local pioneers that came before, like Manuel Lopes, Quincy Jones and Jimi Hendrix.
“Imagine a place where people of one community share resources. Imagine life without competition and instead replaced with collaboration. Imagine a collective society. Imagine our very own Central District possessing these qualities; building each other up instead of dragging one another down. Wouldn’t that be some place? Who wouldn’t yearn to live in that world?”
– Addisalem Gebremedhin and Solomon Welderfael via Central District News
What if there are more coding bootcamps and hackathons in our neighborhood? What if the young coders built apps for local businesses? It gives me goosebumps when I close my eyes and imagine what an “Africatown Innovation District” could look like in just the next five years if the teams that start businesses at the Central District Startup Weekend continue to collaborate.
An Innovation District is what the Brookings Institute defines as a synergistic relationship between people of a community, anchor businesses and the built environment that facilitates idea generation, but also spurs productive, inclusive and sustainable economic development.
Just like Motown had Hitsville, Africatown will need physical space that not only incubates social innovation but communicates collaboration. In her book, “Weaving a Tapestry of Resistance,” Sharon Sutton, the first African American woman in the United States to be promoted to full professor of architecture, says that the physical environment can be understood as a system of three-dimensional, hieroglyphic symbols – a text that conveys information about the social, political, economic, and cultural relations of a society. What will our environment read?