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PLAYBOOK FOR INNOVATION

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CITY AS HOST: CURATING A THRIVING STARTUP ECOSYSTEM

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This process has resulted in the creation of a strong network of 50 business incubators that focus on everything from launching high-tech startups to prototyping restaurant concepts in shipping containers, helping local small businesses and startups bring their ideas to life. Toronto has been supporting incubation for 25 years. A good example of its success is the Digital Media Zone at Ryerson University. One of the city’s largest incubators, it has supported more than 130 startups in the five years since it opened, raising in excess of $40 million in funding and creating more than 1,200 jobs.

ACT LIKE A STARTUP

Our analysis of more than 40 cities worldwide has revealed many shareable lessons. The main success factor is a city’s ability to reduce the distinction between innovation policy design and delivery.

In other words, when dealing with startups, these cities tend to act like startups. They experiment to understand what works, they learn from failure, and they capitalize on successes quickly. In some cases, this approach may require the introduction of a new breed of public official who is comfortable taking new risks and working hand in hand with the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

For cities just beginning this journey, we have outlined a few suggestions.

  1. Signal commitment. Explicitly commit to establishing innovation leadership positions and have the strategies and teams in place for coordinating policy across departments and agencies. Cities that create effective positions for promoting and supporting innovation invest them with real problem-solving capabilities as well as the resources they need to effect change. This sends a clear message to the entrepreneurial community that the city government is serious about boosting innovation-driven growth.

  2. Embrace new design techniques. Mimic the approaches entrepreneurs take by employing prototyping, design methods and digital techniques to craft policy. City policy labs that adopt the methods and practices of high-performing startups can dramatically outperform other more conventional approaches to seeding growth and solving problems, but they require new thinking to succeed, including the freedom to fail.

  3. Be comprehensive. Treat the full range of city operations and influence as mutually supportive drivers of success, capable of being used to improve the innovation and entrepreneurship environment. This extends into core municipal functions—such as regulation and procurement—that are traditionally less associated with innovation and entrepreneurship, and may be difficult to get right.

  4. Be open by default. Cultivate habitual open exchange with the local entrepreneurial community. Let entrepreneurs gain an understanding of the critical urban challenges they are well placed to solve. Simultaneously, enable city officials to understand the issues entrepreneurs face and design policy that reflects their needs. Encourage open standards, interoperability and meritocracy.

  5. Use soft power. Apply softer approaches that involve influencing, convening and collaborating to effect change in areas where the city government has little direct power. For example: A city may not be able to mandate coding classes in schools, but it can help establish special tech-centered apprentice programs to match make local talent with expanding startups. Successful cities often act as bridge-makers, connecting startups with potential stakeholders. What’s more, facilitating connections among multiple parts of the entrepreneurial ecosystem does not require money or power; cities can accomplish it by effectively exploiting their central positions in this ecosystem.

ABOUT CITIE

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FOR FURTHER READING

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