The launch of President Obama's Startup America initiative comes at a time when our nation's cities are primed to lead the country out of the recent recession. Unemployment rates are steadily declining in many metro areas, and the private sector is beginning to reinvest in the economy. But for cities to capitalize on this opportunity to create jobs, spur innovation, and accelerate entrepreneurship, our strategy has to be deliberate and hard-charging.
Rapidly becoming a model for how to rebuild the economy around new and growing industries, Boston's burgeoning Innovation District holds valuable lessons for other cities. Since launching the effort last January, these 1,000 acres along the South Boston waterfront have become a home to start-ups like mobile app developer AisleBuyer and social media analytics firm Buzzient.
Clean-tech companies such as FastCAP Systems (designing energy storage technology) and Oasys (engineering sustainable water solutions) are coming in clusters. And established companies are finding an ideal place to grow. Heartland Robotics, for example, has relocated its headquarters to expand in the Innovation District, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which is developing a treatment for hepatitis C, intends to consolidate its 1,300 employees here and create an additional 500 jobs by 2015.
Adding to the emerging mix of companies is MassChallenge, a global business accelerator competition located in the Innovation District. Aided by access to mentoring and professional development opportunities, more than 100 teams have raised more than $20 million to help launch their business ideas, and the initiative is set to expand.
At the same time, new real estate developments breaking ground over the next year will incorporate substantial innovation components, such as affordable co-housing for residents, flex space for community events, and new incubators for entrepreneurs.
Ultimately, if we are to accomplish what we envision, creating a 21st-century district that meets the needs of the innovators who live and work in Boston, we have to pursue a very intentional strategy. Growing the Innovation District relies on a three-pronged approach:
• Innovative jobs and businesses: Attracting clusters of workers and companies -- both early-stage and mature -- across many industries is perhaps the most crucial element of Boston's approach. We believe in building a platform that allows numerous sectors to thrive and co-exist alongside one another, and a vibrant mix of companies is already emerging.
• Innovative housing: We are pushing developers and architects to reinvent housing for entrepreneurs, researchers, and other innovators that might not find traditional options attractive. The development community has embraced this challenge, and we recently approved plans for the Innovation District's first new rental housing, which will include nearly 30 units that offer flexible layouts and access to shared spaces and amenities at an affordable price.
• Innovative physical and social infrastructure: Lastly, the district has to be a place where ideas are easily exchanged and collaboration occurs naturally. Networking will be aided by business incubators and co-working space for budding entrepreneurs. And a number of local colleges and universities, including Babson College, have already approached the city with a desire to help foster such collaboration by locating satellite offices in the Innovation District where the public would have access to the work and resources of faculty and students.
If other places are to learn anything from Boston's experience, it should be that successful urban innovation requires a deliberate strategy and a concerted effort across sectors. Startup America may well give new momentum to entrepreneurship and innovation in our great cities, but the irony is that these things have always been the lifeblood of thriving urban areas. If we can reignite that energy across the country, that's a good start in itself.