With MIT and Kendall Square front and center in the international press the past few days, and not exactly in the terms we think of when we drive through one of the brain-powers of the world, I decided to bring you closer to what really goes on there in a typical day in an interview with Tim Rowe, Founder and CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center (cictr.com) in Kendall Square. Kendall Square, in the heart of Cambridge and MIT, went through the wringer in the past few days with the rest of Boston. I am happy to have a story of building and innovation as we try to get back to normal and celebrate what we do best in this great City - rejuvenate and innovate.
Last Thursday at the memorial service for those we lost during the Boston bombing, President Obama urged America to focus on "building and not destroying." Tim Rowe has been doing that for the past decade as he made space for young emerging entrepreneurs looking for a place to work, share ideas and come together with investors and other nerds, outside their garages. Overlooking the Charles River and the MIT campus, the Cambridge Innovation Center is one the world's largest and most popular flexible office space facility for small and growing companies and houses over 450 start-ups. I asked Rowe what he was trying to change.
"You can give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day or you can teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime. There's another thing you can do. You can invent a better fishing rod and then a billion might eat for a lifetime. That is called innovation," says Rowe.
He seemed genuinely concerned for the problems facing humanity globally after having spent time working in a refugee camp for Vietnamese boat people right out of college, working for a management consulting firm out of MIT's Sloan Business School, raising a young family of three children and then building his Cambridge Innovation Center since 1999.
"The problems that humanity faces globally, even in the year 2013, are just jaw dropping and you don't always see them when you're sitting here in Cambridge," said Rowe. "I think we all know we have a world, which is getting a lot of things wrong, and really the only hope we have to fix that is trying a new or a different approach and that's innovation. That's the better fishing rod."
We talked about how the brightest people in the world make it their goal to get to MIT, and as a result there is more money chasing innovation in the Cambridge-MIT area than probably anywhere else on the planet. Statistically Massachusetts has more venture capital invested per person than any other place in the world. It's about 30% more than California per person.
For the past fifty years, Rowe argues that we have been fertile ground having invented the computer and the Internet less than a mile from here. He lists tremendous opportunity, more money when scaled to the people, two of the world's top universities (Harvard and MIT) and more NIH funding than any other state. With this he argues comes a responsibility to innovate and lead.
"We have some of the world's finest people who come here to study and, as a result, we're connected to every part of the world. Every kid who is good at science or technology in the world considers MIT as a possible place that they would go. They somehow get scholarships and so forth and so this is a United Nations of innovation and with that comes a significant obligation. If you are the person who can see farthest or you have the strongest muscles, certain jobs fall to you that wouldn't fall to anybody else. You're fortunate to have that opportunity and I believe that our community has a special purpose and obligation as a result of all these riches," says Rowe.
When it comes to immigration, Rowe weighed both sides. He said the globalist in him could see the impact of those students educated here going back to their countries to innovate but the Patriot in him feels the best thing is for us to keep the highly skilled immigrant here, legally claiming that the loss of this talent is what will hold us back most for more innovation in the coming years.
So who has come out of the hallowed halls of The Cambridge Innovation Center? Rich Miner was a party-of-one leasing space when he invented the Google Android and Rowe is betting on Greatpoint Energy as a soon to be leader in the clean coal technology race. "When they moved in here there were three guys working on it. They eventually raised half a billion dollars of venture capital and are now building a multi-million dollar plant in China."
If you are looking to find the next tech start-up, financing or simply a taste of the geek, nerd, technocrat life... Rowe's Innovation Center holds a Venture Café every Thursday from 3-6. Venturecaf.org
This is an exclusive excerpt for the Huffingtonpost.com.
A more in-depth interview with Tim Rowe can be found at www.theEditorial.com