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The catalyst for the Nashville Innovation Project was a single conversation. Since Brookings release of “Rise of the Innovation District” in 2014, the innovation district model has gained prominence in economic development conversations around the world.  In the Fall of 2015 a local software developer led a group that began to explore the establishment of an innovation district in Nashville. The idea met immediate resistance in one of the first conversations while recruiting others to join in the creation of the district. The message was “Nashville has already created a successful entrepreneurial community with growing technology clusters all across the city. We don’t need an innovation district. We studied them and they are not the path to success for Nashville.” This response set in motion what would become the Nashville Innovation Project.

While this conversation was not representative of everyone’s view in the city, the response was unexpected and it initiated a moment of reflection.  We ask ourselves,

  • What comprises Nashville’s innovation ecosystem?
  • How does Nashville as a city contribute to the innovation strategies of the companies located here?
  • Can the city do more to increase the innovation capacity of its citizens?
  • Is an innovation district appropriate for Nashville? If not, what does innovation look like for Nashville?

We set out to answer these questions. Our journey led us to realize the enormous success Nashville has experienced over the last decade is primarily built upon the city’s hospitality industry, construction boom, and business support services. During this period of growth, our core industries that serve as the foundation of the region’s economy such as healthcare, music, publishing, and advanced manufacturing are experiencing incredible market changes and are under a sustained threat of disruption.  The Nashville Innovation Project seeks to increase the city's capacity for innovation by ensuring the city's innovation ecosystem has the necessary components in place to meet these challenges and secure the resiliency of Nashville’s economic future.

The Nashville Innovation Project recognizes each institution and firm that comprise the City’s innovation ecosystem has a unique internal innovation strategy. While important, the approach to these internal strategies is often the primary focus of the discussion in innovations circles. Our focus is on the external factors that shape and reinforce these strategies. We hope you join the conversation and this journey of exploration of what it means to be an innovative city.

Brian Phelps
Co-founder of the Nashville Innovation Project