Somerville committee to bring tech entrepreneurs, community together

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Mass Innovations, From The Beacon, October 2017
 
Somerville is forming a nine-member committee to both support innovation and entrepreneurship in the city and to connect those startups to the broader community, including nonprofits, the arts community and schools.
 
The city is seeking committee members with a demonstrated track record of facilitating cross-domain or public-private partnerships. Members will serve two-year terms on what’s called The Innovation and Opportunity Lab, which will hold monthly meetings starting this month.
 
“We’re creating an innovation community, not just an innovation district,” said Mayor Joseph Curtatone. “I see this as an opportunity to have both business growth and to improve the broader community, give back to it rather than take away from it, and enable collaborative creativity.”
 
Ben Sommer, the city’s economic development specialist, who will provide staff support for the committee, said, “It’s kind of part-think tank, part-meetup group.”
 
By bringing technology entrepreneurs together with nonprofit leaders, artists, residents and others, Sommer said, the committee aims to solve two issues. The first is developing recommendations for programs, policies and partnerships that will help the city support and guide the growth of startups that come to Somerville, especially as Union Square and Assembly Row continued to be developed. The second is to connect those companies to the broader Somerville community from the moment they come to the city and then to build those relationships, so that the community and the startups can support each other.
 
“We think that’s really important to bake into it from the beginning,” Sommer said. “We want to be able to show that Somerville as a community is … not just a piece of real estate, but a community that can really provide a lot for companies as well.”
 
Curtatone emphasized that committee members need to possess a strong interest in creating positive social impact and driving social equity. The goal is to support what the mayor calls the “bump factor” – creating an environment where people in different industries and worlds can bump into one another, share ideas and give birth to new ideas.
 
“Look no further than what’s happening down on Somerville Avenue [outside Union Square] – there are brewers, artists, fabricators and makers all working and also trying to drive social impact in the community,” Curtatone said. “It’s fascinating to watch. We want to extract that conversation out to a broader community conversation.”
 
While economic development committees and liaisons are becoming more common in cities, Sommer said Somerville wanted to address the absence of a community aspect to those liaisons and groups.
 
“I think this is pretty unique in that scope,” he said. “In Los Angeles for instance, they have a strong entrepreneur-in-residence program, who’s a liaison to the startup world, but I think having the community aspect is something that we noticed has not been done.”
 
A trend of companies moving to urban areas is partly fueled by amenities like restaurants and nightlife, Sommer said, but Somerville seeks to go “even deeper” when it comes to marketing the city to companies.
 
“Companies want a community and their employees want a community, whether they live there or participate in it,” he said. “The community can add a lot of value to the business world.”
 
For more information, contact Somerville Economic Development Specialist Ben Sommer at (617) 625-6600, ext. 2513, or  bsommer@somervillema.gov.