Location, location, location—that’s the well-known adage in real estate. Where a property is located determines its value.
And location has made all the difference for Boston’s Innovation District enhanced by being part of a revitalized waterfront, while Cambridge’s nerd/entrepreneurs have turned Kendall Square from its academic bookishness into a hip tech haven. That same transformative energy is the vision for Boston’s latest innovation hub soon to be located smack in the middle of Dudley Square in Roxbury.
The Roxbury Innovation Center is 3,350 square feet of dedicated space, part of the renovated Dudley Municipal Center, formerly the Ferdinand Building. In announcing the new space, Mayor Marty Walsh explained that the Roxbury Center was reserved for start up companies, and said the city hoped to attract innovators who “come right out of the community.”
This startup incubator is a small space but it is a big deal. The innovation world is replete with stereotypes about where creative ideas flourish, and equally fixed images about who an innovator should look like. Last week Working Partnerships USA released its report based on hiring data from tech companies like Google and Apple. Turns out the majority of black and Latino workers at tech companies are not programmers, but landscapers, janitors and private security guards.
Based on what I witnessed at a meeting to discuss the new space, there is plenty of local innovation talent. And they are eager to compete. An overflow crowd spilled out of the large room at the District B police branch. In the crush, inventors vying for the space, neighborhood organizers, and more than few interested parties affiliated with schools or education.
Boston’s economic development chief John Barros led the Q&A session, emphasizing that the city was wide open to all proposals, concepts, and ideas. However, he also noted that the inventors would share the building with Boston Public School headquarters.
“I’m not saying you need to connect to schools, but I’m saying that (the connection) is important if it fits,” he said.
Boston is also encouraging partnerships across the innovation community so that the Roxbury Innovation Center is part of the city’s overall innovation strategy. I hope it is not discounted. I keep thinking about the cautionary tale of Dr. Apostle Kwado Safo, a Ghanian inventor, whose engine-less car and other creations are the stuff of James Bond movies, and the focus of a story reported by Al Jazeera. Dr. Safo wants to bring his products to the marketplace in Ghana, but acknowledges the widespread bias about products and people from Africa.
Boston can’t afford to ignore talent. I look forward to the imaginative ideas from the hopeful pool of applicants meeting today’s proposal deadline. The Roxbury Innovation Center will provide another boost for the revitalization of Dudley Square, and a cadre of new innovators pushing the city into a future with limitless possibilities.