Saul Kaplan: Innovation Hot Spot

I was invited by Boston Globe innovation columnist Scott Kirsner to participate in a brainstorming session to answer the question: how do we better communicate New England’s innovative, creative, entrepreneurial spirit to the rest of the world?  The meeting took place at Flybridge Capital Partners in a conference room with a great panoramic view of Boston and was attended by an eclectic group of twenty five leaders from across New England all with a passion for strengthening our region’s innovation story and voice.  It was an energizing session and I left with many ideas and a refreshed enthusiasm for New England’s potential as a national innovation hot spot.

Here are a few observations from the session:

New England cynicism left at the door. New Englanders take cynicism to entirely new heights.  One characteristic of innovators, which was true for those assembled, is that they remain optimistic even in the midst of a severe recession.  It is a pleasure to be around innovators because they always see the silver lining and look for ways to take advantage of these disruptive times.  Our discussion had a positive tone and there was a collective sense of optimism in the room.

More than a slogan. I shared a story about once filling a war room with the economic development ads from all fifty states.  I covered the name of each state with masking tape and brought people in to the room challenging them to match the ad with the state it came from.   All of the slogans were similar like “A Great Place to Start and Grow a Business” and no one could connect the ads with the right states.  The reaction to my story was immediate and strong.  This group was not interested in creating a new advertising slogan or catchy logo.  Slogans come and go and telling the New England innovation story has to be a genuine narrative backed up with real proof points of our region’s innovation capacity.

Saul KaplanAct as a region. The northeast knowledge corridor has an amazing collection of innovation stories, assets, and institutions.   As a region we have an opportunity to become a national innovation hot spot.  Collectively our story would be compelling and genuine.  While labor, knowledge, and capital move freely across state borders, political boundaries have caused us to fragment our economic development effort. We sub-optimize our efforts and our story and must develop a regional communication platform. Our brainstorming session had voices from NH, CT, MA, and RI.  It was a start.

Purposeful networks.    Many participants talked about the importance of networks and leveraging social media platforms to strengthen connections throughout the region and to share our innovation story.  Dave McLaughlin of Boston World Partnerships talked about the work they are doing focused on creating and enabling “connectors”.   I raised the idea of creating purposeful networks focused on solving the big issues of our time including health care, education, and climate change.  We are blessed in New England with an incredible concentration of the inputs for innovation. Within our region we have many of the world’s best colleges and universities and a hard-wired spirit for discovery and entrepreneurship.  I proposed that we develop an innovation story that is about better outputs and solutions.  Why don’t we create a regional innovation hot spot that delivers real transformation in our health care, education, and energy systems?  If we did it would deliver on the promise of technology for patients, students, and citizens and we would create a more prosperous regional economy.

You can find Scott’s blog post on the discussion, a list of attendees, and the audio from our brainstorming session here.


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