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.