Urenio Watch Watch: Innovation ecosystems

Why Boston is one of the world’s smartest cities

Boston is truly one of the world’s smartest cities, and the reason has to do with more than smart sensors, quality transit and renewable energy. The most important factor is that the area’s educational opportunities attract smart citizens, embarking on innovative projects.

Boyd Cohen placed Boston in the top-20 of his global ranking of smart cities last year. This year, he is reconsidering his choices and considers Boston as a definite candidate for the top-10. The most important reason, as mentioned above, are the area’s innovative institutions of higher learning, MIT and Harvard among them, which are some of the best in the world. Outside of Silicon Valley it is doubtful if there’s a better innovation ecosystem in the world than Boston.

During his recent trip to discuss possible collaborations for his accelerator program for impact ventures, Mr. Cohen enjoyed  exploring the range of business models and approaches to supporting innovation within and outside of the university context:

MassChallenge, for example, has a unique spin on the accelerator model. Perhaps the largest single accelerator in the world, MassChallenge leverages a nonprofit model and takes no equity stakes in the 100-plus startups it supports each round. They are also unique in that they are not focused on only information and communication technologies (ICTs) but also life sciences, clean tech, and others.

MIT’ s  Legatum Center  is also a fascinating model. Founded in 2007 with the goal of engaging talented MIT students who want to make for-profit startups that have a high impact in developing countries, the Legatum Center has already supported 100 new social ventures across the developing world. It seems to have a much higher success rate than most entrepreneurship support programs, although it has an inherent advantage in that it starts with a pool of applicants that have already been accepted to MIT. A rigorous selection process is added on top of that to choose each year’ s crop of fellows.

According to Mr. Cohen,  smart cities  are much more than sensors and real-time data. One of the under-explored components of smart cities is how they enable and attract smart citizens to innovate solutions that improve the quality of life locally and around the globe, all while growing the local and regional economy.

The aforementioned startup support programs are indeed succeeding in facilitating the next wave of startups and are attracting entrepreneurs from across the world. While Boston also has many other smart characteristics–including quality transit and renewable energy leadership–it truly stands out as a global leader in fostering innovation within and outside of its worldclass universities.

Mr. Cohen’s original article can be found here.