By Doug Weintraub, Bounce chief executive officer
Understanding the role of an open innovation hub in today’s economy
What is an open innovation hub? As CEO of Bounce Innovation Hub in Akron, I get this question often when I’m meeting with people and speaking to groups. A lot of folks probably think we are similar to or trying to be the next Silicon Valley. As much as we would love to build capital and talent on scale with the valley, our focus is broader than a tech hub. A true innovation hub brings all of its stakeholders together at one location to drive collisions, connections and catalysts.
As an open innovation hub, we purposefully engage anyone and everyone with a mind for innovation, including, but not exclusively, tech companies. This includes startup founders, small businesses, middle-market companies, large corporations, investors, makers, artists and universities. An innovation hub creates meaningful connections where new ideas are born through collaboration and relationships with like-minded innovators.
There are hundreds of innovation hubs around the world, and while each is different, their goal is the same — to bring stakeholders together so they can collaborate, create and commercialize more easily. Research shows that when you bring a diverse group of people together in the right environment, innovation will happen naturally. This is what we aim to achieve with Bounce.
Here are some specific key characteristics of innovation hubs that might help you understand what they do and how they can help everyone in a region.
- They create actual, physical intersections where diverse groups of people come together to foster entrepreneurship, fuel innovation and build communities.
- They provide specific services to entrepreneurs to support them and help them succeed. This includes mentoring, entrepreneurs-in-residence, reduced rent and the opportunity to be a part of a vibrant, like-minded community.
- They combine elements of incubators, accelerators, makerspaces, co-working spaces, event spaces and community programming — all under one roof — to meet the needs of all entrepreneurs.
- They encourage diversity, not only meeting the needs of underserved populations but in bringing populations together.
To give you an idea of what this looks like when finished and the impact an innovation hub can have on a region’s economic development, American Underground in Durham, North Carolina, (which has a similar population to Akron) is eight years old and is set up in an old tobacco factory. It offers co-working space, entrepreneurial support services, programming and events. From October 2016 to September 2017, AU headquartered companies attracted almost $40 million in funding, created 600 jobs and resulted in almost $2 million in spending toward area businesses. As well, 48 percent of AU’s companies are female- or minority-led.
In other words, entrepreneurship and innovation hub are no longer buzzwords, but economic drivers, and we should all be on board.