Buzz Surrounding the Innovation District

BostInnovation.com, a new media property aimed at the creation and aggregation of original content focused on Boston’s startup ecosystem, posted a lovely article on our fine city’s new Innovation District (the waterfront area formerly known as the Seaport District) and the latest event surrounding it, “Boston’s Innovation District: An Evening at the Harpoon Brewery,” which brought together young professionals, entrepreneurs, and city officials (including the Mayor himself) for drinks and discussion last Monday.

The article focused on a central issue that faces the city’s plan to develop and draw business towards the Innovation District, an issue that was brought up in last Monday’s meeting, the need to create a “sense of place” in the new district so that new businesses and startups will be more attracted to the area.

Mitch Weiss, Mayor Menino’s Chief of Staff, noted four key target areas in creating a “sense of place” in the Innovation District: proximity, industry overlap, green and eco-friendly initiatives, and sustained progression. However, one big question remained: when? When can we expect to see the new district take shape?

And the answer from Weiss: 10-12 years.

BostInnovation’s Ali Powell, the article’s author, took the stance that the suggested timeframe is too long. Both Powell and Weiss seem to agree that the relocation of established businesses in and around the new seaside district is key, but Powell thinks that things need to be accelerated. “Developers need to start by creating properties that are valuable and interesting to startups — ones that make sense for the way they do business now and in the future,” Powell writes, “Co-working spaces, incubators, large anchor companies and housing facilities will all help to put Boston’s Innovation District on the global startup map.”

Powell closed her article with a question, “What do you think the Innovation District needs to do to create value and witness sustained economic growth?” and the comments came pouring in:

cgarb (Chase Garbarino) was the first to comment. He also happens to be the site’s founder.

“I have spoken at length with a number of people in the Mayor’s office who are working on supporting this initiative and they have got some pretty big things in the works. While I agree with the entrepreneurs in attendance at the event that 10-12 years is too long for a startup to get revved up, I believe the 10-12 year time frame for the Inno District is the goal for bringing the whole vision to life, which will be no small task and is a rather ambitious date.

We are already seeing companies slowly gravitate towards the ID which is a start, but in order to foster a more robust community, the city also needs to work with groups to provide housing, a supermarket, restaurants and many other things that aren’t immediately apparent to those just focused on building companies.

I would love to know what others in the community think we need most to continue to build on the ID initiative’s early progress and thanks again Ali for the piece.”  Spons. link Luxury Andover Homes

To which Jason Evanich replied,

“Actually, there weren’t a whole lot of entrepreneurs in the audience; it was a lot more general “young professionals.” This is potentially a good thing as not everyone starts a company right out of school, but in development projects like this could motivate them down the line to get engaged.

I applaud the Mayor’s office for engaging the young community to increase visibility, but I’ll be much more interested in seeing how the actions pan out. MassChallenge being there is a great start, but as you rightly mentioned…to fully build it out, things like Restaurants and Supermarkets are needed to create a complete ecosystem. Kendall Square is similarly working on just those challenges now.

One of the greatest challenges I think they face is the inherent change in behavior needed; MIT students are already in Kendall Square, Harvard Students at Harvard Square and Kendall Square is half way between. That all naturally feeds into the innovation sector in Cambridge. Developing an entirely new ecosystem without any natural partners will be a challenge. Hopefully they can work to engage some of the great schools in Boston like Northeastern, BU, Wentworth, etc that may have the next gen of great entrepreneurs interested in the Seaport/waterfront.”

A few comments down the line, cheryllmorris commented,

“I really enjoyed reading this piece since I couldn’t make the event, until I read the “10-12 years” bit. There is so much momentum behind and with startups in Boston right now, and so many aspiring entrepreneurs out of school that just need a little step stool to get off the ground running.

With the right rents, we could easily fill a couple floors of a building down there. We did it organically, by ourselves, at Hangout in Downtown Crossing. After just a few months we now have: Pinyadda, getZazu, BostInnovation, The Second Glass, Nanigans, Peekaboo Mobile, and people coming in all the time interested in the space. We didn’t have help, resources or funding: this was pure play, entrepreneurs helping other entrepreneurs. Imagine what could be done WITH resources?”

To which Alex Mathews replied,

“Cheryl, great to hear that you’re filling out the DC space, definitely another area that needs a leg-up. Where are you located exactly? I’d love to stop by some time. I also agree that what the “Innovation District” needs is a few loud voices to get the ball rolling. City brass will only do so much on their own. But with a strong following and commitments to relocate, it would be easier for the city/state to justify providing capital and resources towards the project.

Also, from what I understand, the move for startups (both office space and housing) would be cost prohibitive right now. Please correct me if off on that assumption. As such, the $25K offered to move to fan pier is more of a subsidy than a grant/reward. Can anyone weigh in on this? What’s the working space currently like down in the ID and what are the current obstacles/barriers?”

Anybody else want to get in on the conversation? Almost all of the comments I have quoted are from Garbarino, the site’s founder, friends of Garbarino, or startupers themselves, so don’t be intimidated by their expertise. Feel free to start a new conversation below, or further the discussion at BostInnovation.com!

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