Are you a local business leader developing the strategies to materially impact innovation in your city? Are you struggling with the business plan to execute that strategy? Is developing an innovation center at the core of your innovation game plan? Do you approach this challenge with the same methodology used to develop the new performing arts center in your city?

Building an innovation ecosystem is front and center for most forward-thinking communities and community leaders today.  Regardless of whether you are budding entrepreneur who has passion for your startup community or you are an economic development executive charged with diversifying your city, creating, augmenting or growing your innovation community is front-page news.

Innovation ecosystems strategies come in many forms.

Careful, the wrong one will backfire. But many times, the seemingly obvious steps are not so productive. With that mission comes many strategies for success. I have been a community builder for about 10 years and now spend full-time helping other community leaders around the world navigate these challenges. (Disclosure: At Techstars, we offer paid consulting engagements that serve cities.)

Some leaders take a top-down approach as a fundamental strategy.  One of the go-to tools in this thinking is the development (or retrofit) of a space for innovation enthusiasts to work, convene, and generally serve as a destination for community members. Typically, there is a financial sponsor (government, real estate developer, a cadre of successful entrepreneurs) who end up subsidizing the upfront and even ongoing costs to operate the facility.

We call this a "field of dreams" strategy with the idea that "if we build it they will come" (pop-culture movie reference). The "build it" is the new co-working space, building or innovation park.  The "they" are the entrepreneurs.

Though a single space where entrepreneurs congregate is a critical element to the innovation ecosystem, it alone cannot serve as the catalyst for long-term growth.  There are no silver bullets to growing an innovation ecosystem.

Let me offer you a better alternative that will have a more sustainable, long-term impact and save you a ton of time and money.

The best communities connect people in simple, effortless ways.  Entrepreneurs are fickle; we don't like to be sold to, and we don't have time for agendas outside of growing our company and maybe some leftover energy to help other founders in our community.  We live with the belief that time is our most crucial asset.

So, do you want to connect entrepreneurs and provide an informal setting to inspire more entrepreneurs?  Why don't you buy pizza and beer once a month at a place that everyone feels welcome?  My experiences say that this will have a considerably bigger and long-term impact on your innovation community than the fancy building.

Published on: Oct 23, 2019
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