A recent Citiscope commentary, looking at research from the Atlantic Council, suggests that there are four ingredients that have driven innovative urban ecosystems. These ingredients have placed regions such as Austin, Madison Wisconsin, and Boulder at the leading edge of America’s evolving knowledge economy. They’re ingredients that both Baltimore and Washington have. The Atlantic Council’s research concluded that what has made America a leader in “scientific discoveries, breakthrough technologies, and commercially viable products” over time is the composite effect of these innovative regions across our country. Getting the recipe right in each region matters. What are these four ingredients?
Research Institutions. “Research institutions drive local tech ecosystems.” The authors note that the mix of universities, research hospitals and federal labs “have proven to be most valuable at enabling local tech hubs.” The question, however, of the impact of these institutions to any region isn’t measured simply by their presence, but by their ability “to get their lab based research into the commercial bloodstream.” When one looks at the richness of research undertaken in the Maryland / D.C. region and compares it to our success at commercializing innovation, to push the metaphor, something is clotting our bloodstream that we have to fix.
Livability. The second ingredient highlighted by the research is livability, which the authors suggest is often dismissed. “Old school, bricks-and-pavement city planning issues still matter.” What the Atlantic Council’s research discovered is that liveable city issues matter a lot, in fact. Urban centers must get past their affectation that repurposed industrial buildings are enough, and ensure that crime, schooling, transportation, affordable housing are all priorities.
Spark. The third ingredient comes from a passionate group of leaders, “a core of people who were able to translate a place’s latent potential into a realized one.” The research indicates that a region, even one with great institutions, liveability and talent, can be soulless as an innovation ecosystem without a passionate, dedicated group of people and the organizations they create, laying the foundation for the community’s success. This ingredient is one of the reasons we’re excited at TEDCO for the leadership that our new CEO, George Davis, a shamelessly passionate entrepreneur, will bring to our region.
Find Your Voice. “No two places are exactly alike.” The research underscored that places like Austin, Boulder and Madison are all tech hubs but they’re all different. While each has bountiful measures of the first three ingredients in their communities, they’re not trying to be another Silicon Valley, they’re being themselves. Successful innovation hubs find their own strengths and build around them. Ironically, for regions like Baltimore and D.C., the question isn’t whether we have the ingredients laid before us to shape world-class innovation hubs. We do. The question is what will we make with them.
With more than 30 years’ experience in law and business, Newt Fowler, a partner in Womble Carlyle’s business practice advises many investors, entrepreneurs and technology companies, guiding them through all aspects of business planning, financing transactions, technology commercialization and M&A. He chairs the Board of TEDCO and serves on the Board of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore. Newt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.