Step 1: Awareness/availability

Step 2: Frequency of  physical overlap of daily routines

Step 3: Interaction/Engagement

Step 4: Establishment of Trust   (after repeated positive interaction)

Based on Rick Grannis’ stages of neighborhood tie formation, The Ground Up: Translating Geography into Community through Neighbor Networks. 2009.



  1. University Research
  2. Business Community
  3. Arts and Business Community
  4. Large Companies and Startups
  5. Healthcare and Technology Companies
  6. Local government and Startups
  7. Highly Skilled Immigrants
  8. Low-income communities


  • Maximizing the flow of information is critical to building innovation capacity within the ecosystem. It requires a robust and diverse network of actors across communities.
  • There is a heavy reliance on a few organizations to support the innovation ecosystem.
  • The entrepreneur support network is limited by their current programs and resources. They have less time to nurture the network beyond those they attract to their programs making it difficult to scale the system.
  • Frequency is an essential ingredient in increasing trust,  establishing new connections, and maintaining existing relationships within the network.  Most programming within ecosystem is too infrequent. 


  • N1.0 Connect beyond leadership. The ecosystem’s network needs to foster a dense web of connections beyond the leadership of major organizations and companies. Increased density creates redundancy that strengthens the network but also allows it to function independently of the network’s central nodes. The central nodes have a limited capacity. By nurturing the organic growth of the network, the capacity within the system can grow exponentially without taxing the resources of the central nodes. It also improves the efficiency and effectiveness of these organizations. This new capacity ensures the injection of a diverse range of knowledge and know-how into the network. A reliance on a small pool of individuals as representative connections within the network isolates the rest of the actors in the network and the organizations for which these leaders are responsible.  This isolation reduces the flow of information and creates potential of new insights this information can stimulate. These relationships are primarily built outside of formal programs and events. The need for informal serendipitous engagement is a key driver in the scaling of the network. Proximity and density of individuals coupled with common third places are a key component in facilitating this engagement. It is also important to intentionally look beyond the leadership when developing participation in programming.                           
  • N1.1 Increase frequency of interaction. There is a wide range of great programs and events that bring the network’s actors together. The frequency of events and programs should be increased to the greatest extent possible. This increase in frequency will lead to stronger connections and encourage new ones. Establishing a signature weekly program that bring together the network can establish more meaningful and lasting engagement within the ecosystem. Cambridge Innovation Center’s Venture Cafe which attracts over 500 people a week is a great example of how a weekly event can bring together innovators within the community. The diverse group of individuals interested in entrepreneurship and innovation comprising their community is the focus of their programs. In conjunction with short formal presentations, the weekly program includes “office hours” with various mentors, experts, and organizations.
  • N1.2 Diversify participation. There is a need to expand the audience of current programming to include a more diverse set of participants. The diversity of the participation within the network is important for innovation and is one of the most significant reasons cities produce more unconventional innovation on a continuous basis. Expanding the expertise available can promote cross disciplinary solutions. 
  • N1.3 Expose innovation. There are an enormous amount of innovative activities happening within the city that are hidden from the network. The ecosystem must do a better job at exposing and promoting these innovations. Doing this can inspire the network to utilize and combine this knowledge into new products and services.
  • N1.4 Utilize challenges. Challenges are organized events focused around soliciting solutions to specific problems or issues. Using challenges is an effective way to  bring together a diverse group of people. They can act as a triangulating element that fosters meaningful engagement among participants, accelerate the formation of new ties, and increase the flow of knowledge within the ecosystem. New York City’s Big Apps Challenge is a good example of a challenge that helps bring the community together. Developing a local challenge platform like Innocentive would help companies access the greater knowledge within the ecosystem.
  • N1.5 Align corporations and startups. Aligning corporate strategies with startups can foster symbiotic relationships between them. Companies need the energy and innovations being developed within startups and startups need access to customers and the experience corporations offer. Bringing both of these communities closer together physically can help establish the informal communication channels and ties between them.  Illinois Corporate StartUp Challenge is an example of this strategy.
  • N1.6 Establish Nashville Innovation Council. The establishment of a  Nashville Innovation Council would ensure accountability and bridges between structural holes within the network. The NIC’s responsibilities would include:
    • Establishing metrics and data collection methodology

    • Publishing innovation annual scorecard

    • Maintaining innovation ecosystem network graph and asset map

    • Developing and funding programs for delivery by ecosystem partners

    • Organizing and maintaining challenge platform

    • Management of Innovation Pass Program

    • Publication of local innovation website, podcast, and magazine

    • Management of content of interactive kiosk