In July, we met with various leaders of Barcelona's 22@ District. Miquel Barcelo who headed up the 22@ corporation from inception to 2008, explained their approach to developing 22@. The following is a graphic outline the model they used. Click here for full size PDF.
- How can you capitalize of the student population for innovation? It is difficult to direct their energy outside of their daily work? How do you guide them? How can programs incorporate closer ties with local companies to foster innovation?
- Academia is not the thought driver. Many tech programs are still more focused on programming rather than incorporating innovation thinking.
- Many Universities can offer expertise and space.
- There is a need to break the students out of the college bubble. They need to see how their work connects to industry and build relationships.
- Universities can be the neutral ground between students and industry
- The Lipscomb Spark program is resource that should be utilize within the entrepreneurial community.
- Lipscomb graduate degrees are offered at night. Conference/educational space by day.
- New downtown facility will be a great resource
- Spark could be more a service for the business community, be a place of compelling conversation, and create events around topics from researchers.
- What about making 20% of Spark’s events (use of space) free?
- People often have ideas within companies and can’t get traction for the ideas. Ultimately they move on.
- Some universities have trouble getting their students to the EC because it is far away from campus and can’t motivate students.
- Just like others students need a strong sense of what they are going to get out of a program before investing their time. Time is precious.
- The Entrepreneur Center has been the wrong hook for students. EC more about leadership and business students not necessarily tech or skills oriented.
- Need to get students more involved in Hackathons.
- Very few students seek to reach beyond the campus.
- Project oriented task bring more people together. Diverse range of students could be assigned to work on a specific project.
- The convergence of cooperation between the private sector, academia, and government is a critical component of increasing innovation within Nashville.
- Currently some see corporate participation in promoting innovation as weak. Corporations have skunkworks projects within their organizations that no one knows about. The corporate culture does not encourage their growth, builds upon them, or takes advantage of their potential. These ideas need to be better utilized by corporations and if necessary spun out of the companies?
- Our local universities need to instill/encourage a more entrepreneurial spirit within their faculty and programs. Places like Stanford and MIT have a history and culture of entrepreneurship.
- More Colabs and maker spaces can lower the barrier for entry to budding entrepreneurs and provide a place to explore and test new ideas. They can help outsource the R&D of business as well as bring employees together to cross pollinate. Vanderbilt is including wet lab in their new Innovation Center. This is a unique asset. With Nashville’s strong healthcare market including wet labs as a part of a maker space would be beneficial. Example
- Nashville has good angel investor resources. Nashville needs to work on the middle (Series A&B). Often times companies once they begin to grow have to leave the Nashville market to be closer to the venture capital funding their next stage.
- This migration can also be a positive because it can increase our connections to venture capital centers. This is the “long game view”
- Wilson Sensing , a law office catering to startups in San Francisco established a entrepreneurial hub in SoMa. The central part of the office is used by various start ups they represent.
- As Nashville attracts more seniors for retirement, home healthcare tech is following.
- Attracting more talent is an important issue for developing successful product teams. Companies move where the CEOs want to live. (How will this change for larger companies in the future as leadership changes?) There is a concern once the entrepreneurial talent is here that we must be able to keep them and their new company here.
- Non-compete laws in Tennessee are more stringent than California. This makes it easier for companies to spin off.
- The it comes to attracting talent and start ups, mass of companies is helpful. Wedgwood-Hosuton was discussed as having a lot of resources in one place.
- Cost is an important factor when it comes to office space, residences, and other amenities. There doesn’t seem to be any areas of Nashville that aren’t experiencing significant appreciation. All areas of real estate are in play. Areas should be mapped to determine cost and identify those areas that have the potential for lower cost.
- Austin should be studied as a model for development.
- The Entrepreneur Center (EC) is oriented toward programs. The EC doesn’t have enough space to host communities. Do we need more specific ECs? Food accelerator, Social EC, Music EC? There are some who are frustrated with the EC because they are trying to do too much. When it comes to EC and other similar types of organizations what is the expectation when someone shows up?
- Entrepreneurs often do not fit into programs. They need access to resources.
- Leadership programs are also more about a process/program than building solid networks and support.
- TSU also has an incubator. It is centrally located. How does it support entrepreneur community?
- VUMC is focused on students.
- Challenges can be very effective in motivating/inspiring entrepreneurs to address particular issues. Should the City sponsor challenges to deal with City related problems? What about companies and educational institutions? Could they sponsor related challenges? They are very specific expectation of what to do for winning teams. Offer resources to implement ideas/solutions.
- Could the Fairgrounds and/or the old Greer Stadium site offer opportunities to build affordable space? How could they both accommodate community needs and additionally start up space, maker spaces, or other needed amenities? Could affordable housing be incorporated?
- How could vacant Metro land be utilized more effectively to offer amenities and keep space affordable?
- Where can large hackathons be held? Skyways studio spaces was discussed.
- Redeveloping an area gracefully is difficult. How do you create new resources, opportunities, and amenities without disrupting the authenticity and existing residents? Dealing with gentrification is an important issue. How do you fill in organically?
There are a number of great neighborhoods that have healthy clusters of economic development around the City. It seems that rather than concentrate startups in an innovation district that we should connect the clusters. (Note: “Innovation Necklace” is a take on Olmsted’s Boston Emerald Necklace of Parks in Boston) Could the clusters be connected by networking, app, and/or transit?
One of the benefits of an innovation district is the concentration of companies and people that engenders a familiarity with each other and increases the potential of serendipitous engagement and meaningful conversation.
Medalogix located in Germantown in large part because of the neighborhood amenities help them recruit new talent. New talent wants to be involved in the areas they live and work. Many of these amenities are recreational. There is a need for convenience services (i.e. doctor offices, grocery stores, etc), where people can run errands conveniently.
How can city building rehabilitation loans be used to develop affordable office space?
People are isolated at home. Often for the success of their business and sanity, it is very important that they get out of their home office and network with others. Stages of early startups home -> coffee shop -> co-working Medalogix started in Frothy Monkey. Coffee shops are struggling how to deal with the customers that want to use their shop as an office. They are covering plugs and turning off wi-fi in some examples. People are willing to pay for cheap space that had the amenity (but is it enough to make it a viable business model?) Pinewood Social recognized the need for people needing to hang out and work. They serve Crema coffee and allow people to stay longer. Another example is the Ace Hotel in NYC that encourages the use of their lobby. Are there any other hotels, banks, or other businesses where this might benefit them? What about Charter schools? Would they be willing to experiment with the idea?
Could underutilized spaces bye used by startups at night? Places like coffee shops that close by 6:00? Could someone manage their space for office at night? What about libraries and schools that sit idle? Are there other places that have excess capacity that can be utilized (i.e. office sharing)
In New York there were small communities within the city that made the city feel smaller and well connected. Nashville has been harder to connect and know where to start.
Ft Houston is an anchor for the Wedgwood-Houston neighborhood. Makers could serve as an anchor for a district.
It’s important to protect affordable office space for the smaller businesses.
While eventually startups need to be able to grow to a point where they can pay market rate for office space and services. In the early stages, these companies can be fragile and need affordable space to survive. How can we provide more affordable space for these early companies?
Crema’s success/brand has been an asset for their area and attracted new development. Pricing pressures and loss of parking could easily push them to a point where they can’t stay in their location. Is brand strong enough that people will follow?
Stahlman Building offers great alternative live-work units for companies particularly for those with families.
Tomorrow building in Chattanooga was brought up as an example of micro units that would allow for co-living. These can be very beneficial to start ups by reducing their cost of living and creating networks. Bento Box in Wedgewood-Houston is a local example of micro housing without the office amenities.
Many independent companies have no where to go.
There is often a disparity between start ups. There needs to be a way to bring this diverse group together.
The immigrant community is often disconnected from the entrepreneurial network because of cultural barriers.
There has to be a pull to other clusters to connect them. Why would I leave the comfort of my cluster to visit another? There has to be a compelling reason? What is the value proposition?
There are similarities between software and architecture and fine arts. Bringing together a diverse group of people and topics.
There is a willingness in Nashville where peers and competitors are willing to collaborate and share. Nashville is a place where people are people are willing to help each other. You can contact a CEO of a company and many times they will take the time to talk to you. This quality is something very special about Nashville.
The Entrepreneur Center’s (EC) Happy Hour program is only held at the EC. It is important to get out into the neighborhoods where the entrepreneurs are.
Nashville needs a better guide to navigating resources for small businesses and startups of all types.
Local companies could host events that talk about issues and bring about a healthy debate
Crema hosted a culinary dinner to bring together the coffee owners and restaurant owners. Crema is hosting a new event with Dozen bakery.
Medalogix is hosting new healthcare start ups to teach them about what they have learned during their early days.
The EC is a very male and healthcare dominated environment.
Girl Geek Dinner was started to provide women a place that addresses gutsy topics (i.e negotiating salary vs work life balance) and help make connections within the tech industry.
Other events around town that mix a more diverse group include, Creative Mornings and Pecha Kucha.
Girl Geek Dinner was started to encourage women into technology careers and addresses gutsy topics (i.e negotiating salary vs work life balance) and help make connections within the tech industry.
Would a service like the Innovation Compass (Swedish company, http://swedishinnovationcompass.com/) that is a yellow pages for business services to help people navigate the starting of a new business in Sweden. They are creating one that is geared to immigrants as well. Digital NYC http://www.digital.nyc/ was another example that was brought up.
Could public space be used to for development areas? Shake Shack is an example of a simple building within a park that housed a very successful business. Witchcraft is another success in NYC parks.
Could we activate more public spaces and parks like Rolling Mill Hill Lookout or Centennial Park with vendors to encourage more interaction with others.
Many perceive that the EC looks down upon lifestyle brands. The EC is looking for scaling major employers. There are resources for those starting out and those that are growing fast but not much if anything for those in between. (How can we support life after the start up? What do they need to continue to grow? What about the companies that are happy as $100k-$500k businesses?
The mid-life companies are ripe for job creation.
The TSU small business development center can be a helpful resource.
Could there be a Barnes type fund that is funded through corporate relocations where a percentage of the incentives are put into it? Like a 1% for art program.
Kids and dogs are some of the best connectors. They provide common ground and/or familiarity with one another. Parents getting to know one another.
How do we engage introverts as well?
In NYC, participant recounted, that they knew everyone in the neighborhood because they walked to the transit station or businesses in the neighborhood. Transit is a great connector. People on same train everyday builds familiarity and comfort to talking to one another. They aren’t strangers. This is one of the benefits of innovation district. Familiar faces.
Competition between peers was a great motivator.
Proximity and familiarity lessens the barrier to meeting.
Nashville is potentially experienceing a tipping point in the attitude of the city. There seems to be more confidence that you don’t have to go elsewhere to experience or buy great things. Art and food were examples.
Leadership Nashville visited all ethnic neighborhoods and met at neighborhood restaurant where local leaders told them the background of the neighborhood.
Kitchen incubator at Casa Azafran is a great resource that brings a diverse group of entrepreneurs together.
It is perceived that the Planning Department, Nashville Electric Service and Public works make decisions separately without realizing what the other departments are doing. This creates obstacles for those trying to innovate.
We should find ways to develop more peer-to-peer mentoring.
Some participants expressed a resistance to establishing a specific innovation district because it creates owners that are insiders and outsiders. As soon as a district is created, it can become very political and can be exclusive. Some questioned wether the Urban Services District (USD) or the Urban Zoning Overlay (UZO) could serve as a broader district.
If the “district” is broader and encompasses multiple startup/economic development clusters within the city, connecting them is critical. We Work’s services where they create an in app experience for connecting the users of their space. We Work’s app was described as allowing members to turn on and off their participation and availability.
Due to the extensive research that many co-working spaces do when deciding where to locate, it is often beneficial to look where they are locating as one means of identifying various startup clusters around the city.
Nashville’s size, hospitality, openness, and willingness to help each other may reduce the necessity for co-working type environments as a means of connecting and supporting each other. Larger markets may tend to warrant the need for exclusive curated member only co-working environments. Nashville’s advantage is that you can come to the whole city and connect while also being immersed in the creative energy of the City.
Clusters are formed through availability of inexpensive office space, need for geographic location that benefits the start up, and/or its attractiveness to talent. Cost of office space can stifle the creation and growth of new companies.
The community is no always physical. Using technology to connect communities together has increasingly made it possible for entrepreneurs to start and grow their companies in Nashville while staying connected to larger markets. It allows them to be physically present in these markets a lot less.
Many felt it was important to stress that innovation is not exclusive to technology companies and that technology companies are not necessarily innovative.
Music Row while maybe not what it once was, could be defined as a music industry innovation district. It has anchors, density of companies, and required financial infrastructure to implement ideas. Some pointed out that Music Row did not happen because of government action. (Understanding Music Row’s formative years and analysis of its structure could shed light on innovation process and organic growth, who are its historians?)
Wedgwood-Houston neighborhood was seen as the next closest thing to a Music Row type organic innovation district.
Words can send powerful message. It is important that the word chosen to describe concepts and approach be well crafted. “Stewardship” of environments/network of innovation potentially captured the essence of what the Nashville Innovation Project was seeking to accomplish.
As office buildings have less diversity and space within them where people connect, the public realm (i.e. streetscapes, parks, plazas) become increasingly important as a means of connecting/engaging companies and people.
Buildings like Cummins Station have more diverse tenant mix per floor than other vertical office buildings or those with fewer tenants. Cummins Station’s wide and long hallways create opportunities to be exposed to many other companies and people. This increased exposure increases the opportunity for interaction. It also creates an energy that can energize the occupants of the building. The traditional core of office buildings limits this interaction and place greater need on the public realm.
Examples such as University Park in Cambridge, MA and the recently opened Riverfront Park in Nashville were brought up. In the University Park example, they brought whiteboards in the space and had lunch meetings where everyone was invited to answer pressing questions, discuss topics, and/or solve difficult equations. It was described as “Goodwill Hunting” in the park. Places like OneCity’s container Village can provide less expensive space but also a more diverse and dense mix of companies and uses. The volleyball courts also contribute to team interaction.
Engaging users either intentionally through specific programming or through stimulate it through design less obvious design cues increases the potential of meaningful interactions and engagement.
Question was raised “Where do start ups start?"
The Entrepreneur Center (EC) and the Nashville Software School (NSS) are both places with purpose and each one has expectations attached to them. Going through the EC, you are expected to find a partner and capital for your company while the NSS has the expectations of building a clear path for developers to build a product. The EC measure’s success by investment while the NSS measures itself by number of graduates employed. There are a certain class of start ups served by the EC and NSS but does not encompass all forms (What are the characteristics of each needs to be answered?)
It is important to remember that not all new companies are looking for venture capital. They are making it a go alone.
Question: What should the goals of an innovation district be? What are the measurements for success?
Many are seeing migration to Nashville from other cities due to cost of doing business (i.e. office space).
Nashville’s DNA is inherently creative due to the musical roots. Music publishing is a huge industry. It is a welcoming city.
When service providers and funders engage with innovative people or companies they need to meet them where they want to meet. Flexibility of terms and innovation in how these services can support new startup is a key in helping new ventures grow. Too often Nashville is too rigid in its approach. It isn’t about checking off the checkboxes but truly understanding the business you are serving and working within the bounds of what is feasible.
There needs to be a forum for businesses to connect and get advice from other businesses. Someone mentioned a program in NYC where business leaders were asked to discuss a particular topic. Often times the mentor goes beyond simply offering advice and actually begins to care about the venture or idea. This buy in can lead to them helping the younger entrepreneur out and creating a stronger companies and/or opening doors. You never know where these types of connections/programs/events can lead.
Accelerators programs usually have a set timeframe in which individual companies spend anywhere from a few weeks to a few months working with a group of mentors to build out their business and avoid problems along the way. Y Combinator, Techstars, and the Brandery are some of the most well-known accelerators.
An incubator often helps companies in very early stages develop the idea and offers mentorship and services to help it get establish. It often involves more time than an accelerator.
Should an innovation network seek to connect all clusters and people? Remaining agnostic in both industries and alliances could help an organization gain traction quicker and help more companies.
The question of “Why do we need more Entrepreneur Centers?” was raised. The main reason is that they only serve a small segment of the startup community and use certain models that may not be appropriate to all businesses. (Delving further into this issue is important to understand, what are the differences and what is missing?). Offering diverse range of approaches is important. The thought that many early startups founders would rather live in East Nashville than the Gulch because of the creative vibe and cheaper space.
Diversity is better than homogeneity for creating innovative environments and potential.
An innovation district could make it easier to deploy government funding because it creates a legal mechanism. Examples of TIF district was brought up as an example.
The culture of MIT was described as scientist being free agents where they had the ability to commercialize ideas. What is Vanderbilt’s and other universities’ position on how they commercialize research and interact with the business community? How can Vanderbilt engage the entrepreneurial community more?
Creating attractive place is city’s core competency.
The idea of creating a pitch event that awards winners with funding or access to education (i.e. high school, university) was suggested as a way to increase idea pool. Chris Barkley at Healthstreams had suggested an idea similar to this that offered space within their company.
How do we deal with affordable office and housing? It is a serious impediment to company growth and starting a company. Some saw recent affordable housing initiatives as making it more difficult to accomplish this because it artificially reduced supply.
Participatory budgeting (PB) was brought up as a way to fund the experimentation of new ideas. Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods and Community Empowerment could develop a program that offers $50k-$100k to each council district. Citizens then would be able to vote upon the initiative or improvement they wanted to fund with the money. Participatory budgeting was seen as a means of connecting citizens to the political decision making process. A hackathon could be hosted that would help develop a digital voting system.
Spreading of ideas: The inspiration for implementing PB to Nashville came from the exposure of NYC council member’s presentation during an event attended by one local council member. When the idea of was tweeted by them, it peaked the interest of another local councilperson. This led to a meeting and began the handwork of figuring out how to implement the idea.
Immigrants are some of the most innovative people in Nashville. They come to Nashville with nothing many times and often have to figure out how to develop businesses outside of conventional financing.
Within the immigrant population there are professionals that can’t practice their previous occupation (i.e. doctor, engineer, architect) because the local regulatory agencies do not accept their education and experience. These professionals have to look for other outlets to use their education and skills. Tapping into the energy and ingenuity of this population is important to future economic growth.
These immigrants are inherently risk takers. They have for various reasons given up their professional lives to come to Nashville.
High school academies are teaching technology and innovation. Engaging with youth early in business/innovation practices and inspiring them to create new ideas can help retain them in the future.
Nashville economic development infrastructure/strategy is focused primarily on large companies. There is less focus on smaller entrepreneurs. Pairing new companies with business services like accounting and marketing can help them grow. (How do you identify those ideas that can scale into larger companies?)
Is there a way to share resources within a district that can support businesses?
Finding retail and/or office space at an affordable rate that doesn’t encumber business to the point of failure is a pressing issue. (How can you give a good idea enough breathing room to prosper?)
Can public space incorporate commercial activities? Could small office/retail spaces be added on publicly owned property that would offer more competitive rents and foster new businesses? Current park policies make this difficult to implement. These activities would not only provide the affordable space and promote new companies, but also activate the public space which would attract more residents. This is increased use of the space would increase the potential of engagement and developing new relationships and ideas. The Hatchery in East Nashville was brought up as an example of what the small spaces could look like.
The fact funds generated in parks goes back to the general fund and may not make it back to the Parks Department that can then be use to maintain the park is a disincentive for the Parks Department to generate revenue within the parks. Friends groups have provided a means of generating/collecting revenue without it going back to the general fund.
Could the city discount banner cost on light poles downtown and other districts for non-profits or neighborhood events?
How can city utilize the equity gap between what a property is zoned for and the potential of the property for the public good (i.e. affordable space, outdoor public space)
- The local meet up scene was identified as an important component in building networks between those involved in the Nashville's technology ecosystem. Events that brought together individuals from all technology focused meet ups provided the most benefit for cross ideation.
- The lack of visible role models who have succeeded in creating new companies within Nashville was seen as a weakness for providing good examples to other aspiring tech entrepreneurs on how to build a successful company.
- Developing a strong mentorship network/programs (formal or informal) between seasoned company leaders and up and coming talent was identified as a critical component in building future successful companies.
- Participants who have been involved in Silicon Valley felt these were key missing components within Nashville's tech scene.
- When it came to Interorganizational cooperation and communication, even co-working spaces had difficulty getting people to connect between one another. WELD was identified as having a voluntary weekly program where all members could come together and discuss their wins and struggles during that week. This program provided a deeper connection between organizations and had the potential to increase cross ideation and build networks.
- There was concern that Nashville did not have the density of companies and talent to populate a innovation district to reap its benefits. The current pipeline of talent is seen as a weakness to continued market growth.
- Those from Silicon Valley identified TIME/HISTORY as a component to successful startup ecosystems because so many were based on past relationships within other companies. Often people that worked together years before finally have the perfect venture and call upon their network with whom they have worked with in the past. Some wondered if Nashville has had enough time to build this depth.
- The Entrepreneur Center (EC) and Technology Council (TC) were seen as too general to help most aspiring inventors and entrepreneurs. They had a limited bandwidth and had to appeal to a broader approach. The TC was seen as catering more to larger companies rather than startups.
- Office space cost was a major impediment to startup development.
- There was concern the EC closed too early. It was perceived that just as many people were getting off from their day job and working on their side projects (future companies) the EC closed its doors.
- To ensure greater success of startups, many felt there needed to be a stronger business support system within the tech community.
- Google's 30-week program was seen as a great example of how to teach the business side of startups. Y Combinator and TechStars were seen as other programs that served as good models for startup development.
- An idea of using off hours within companies to use resources for others (similar to how pop-up restaurants use idle kitchens) was seen as a potential solution for reducing startup costs and encouraging employees to create new markets for the companies who employ them.
- Cummins Station's 3rd floor was identified as an example of a vibrant start up destination. The Slack channel for Cummins Station was seen as an important asset that could be better utilized.