Everybody talks innovation ecosystem, but who’s actually doing something about it? What city governments are supporting growth initiatives and public-private partnerships? For some nascent tech communities, it’s all still a pipe dream. For other, more developed regions, this innovation ecosystem isn’t just a buzzword–it’s the way of life.

Often, however, the lone glory is given to a particular tech hub’s private sector–its business partnerships, investor networks, nonprofit ground game, and the like–while forgetting the public sector’s ability to regulate, promote, invest, and strategize for coordinated small business growth.

Accenture, a global professional services company, put together the following chart regarding the many hats a city’s public sector must wear when contributing to an innovation ecosystem:

Accenture Cities Chart for public sector/ innovative ecosystem

Now, let’s use this chart as a template to discuss how the public sector helps major tech hubs maintain their success. In choosing these hubs, we’ve referenced a recent report compiled by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and 1776, a global startup incubator. This report, Innovation That Matters, ranks the top 25 U.S. cities in fostering innovation. For the sake of this article, we’ll highlight the top five and provide examples of how they fulfill the various roles in Accenture’s “Openness, Infrastructure, and Leadership” chart.

Side Note: Of course, a lot of the roles overlap when it comes to a city’s public approach to innovation.So, for each example of a city effort, we’ll list the roles being played within that effort.

#5 – San Diego

Moxie Foundation Donates $5.1 Million to SDSU

City’s Accenture Roles: Host, Connector

Here’s a great example of bridging the gap between public and private sectors. After working with San Diego State University for four years, The Moxie Foundation donated $5.1 million to:

New Initiative To Grow Innovation in San Diego, Tijuana

City’s Accenture Roles: Host, Advocate, Customer, Strategist, Connector

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Tijuana Mayor Jorge Astiazarán signed a Memorandum of Cooperation “to support initiatives that grow trade and investment partnerships and create new job opportunities, particularly in technology.” This was a culmination of meetings between 50 international leaders, along with the U.S. Department of Commerce.


City’s Accenture Roles: Regulator, Advocate

Originally formed as part of San Diego State University, CONNECT became a separate entity, one-half charitable foundation, the other half trade organization. Though a private organization, CONNECT partners with municipal, state, and federal leaders.

#4 – Raleigh-Durham

Annual NC Tracking Innovation Report

City’s Accenture Roles: Datavore, Strategist

This 2015 report, compiled by the NC Board of Science, Technology, and Innovation, “tracks North Carolina’s performance across 39 innovation measures weighed against that of the United States overall, six key comparison states (California, Massachusetts, Georgia, Virginia, Colorado, Washington), and leading countries”

The One NC Small Business Program

City’s Accenture Role: Investor

One function of this program, the Phase I Matching Funds Program, is designed to award matching funds to North Carolina businesses who have been awarded a Small Business Innovation Research or Small Business Technology Transfer Phase I award”

Research Triangle Park’s Park Center Development Plan

City’s Accenture Roles: Host, Strategist, Advocate, Investor

Here’s another example of public-private cooperation, this time with funding. Already known worldwide, the Research Triangle wants to expand itself via a $50 million plan:

  • “$20 million to be allocated from Durham County to be used to build public infrastructure in the 100-acre development.
  • $10 million from the Durham-Wake Counties Research and Production Service District for open and park space.
  • $20 million as a result of land purchases and site work provided by the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina.”

#3 – Denver

Colorado Innovation Network (COIN)

City’s Accenture Roles: Host, Advocate, Connector

This is a privately-funded organization located in a public space, the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. One of its executive directors, Erik Mitisek, is Colorado’s Chief Innovation Officer. COIN’s board also boasts University of Colorado-Boulder’s Chancellor, Phil DiStefano, and its Dean of the College of Business, Dr. Ajay Menon.

The Commons on Champa, a New Public Campus for Entrepreneurship

City’s Accenture Roles: Host, Investor, Strategist, Advocate, Connector

Formed through a partnership between the City and County of Denver, the Downtown Denver Partnership, and the Colorado Technology Association, The Commons “supports startups across all industries by emphasizing inclusivity and expanding access to entrepreneurship through high quality programming, advanced technology, networking and other resources at low-to-no-cost for all entrepreneurs”

Colorado’s Venture Capital Authority (VCA)

City’s Accenture Roles: Investor, Strategist

A venture capital funding program started in 2004 by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, the VCA:

  • “provides funding for seed or early-stage investments in qualified businesses or qualified rural businesses
  • 50% of the funding is available to statewide businesses; 25% to rural businesses and 25% to businesses in distressed urban communities
  • The managing partner (High Country Venture-HCV) reviews funding deals and makes investments in selected businesses throughout Colorado. HCV can fund businesses by using debt, equity, or debt with a conversion option into equity”

#2 – San Francisco Bay Area

San Francisco’s Innovation Action Plan

City’s Accenture Roles: Advocate, Strategist, Connector, Digital Governor

A product of the Open Government Innovation Partnership, organized by the US Conference of MayorsTechnology Innovation Task Force, this plan discusses what needs to be done to make strides in economic development and job creation, private sector and citizen engagement, and government efficiency.

San Francisco’s Startup in Residence Program

City’s Accenture Roles: Host, Advocate, Strategist, Investor, Connector

The 2014 inaugural edition brought six startups from around the world to volunteer their time with City departments to tackle civic challenges with new technology tools and services. Teams created apps to enhance airport navigation for the blind, police field interviews, multilingual emergency alert messaging, and indoor air quality monitoring”

SF Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation

City’s Accenture Roles: Advocate, Connector, Strategist

This Office works through a three-phase plan:

  1. Mayoral Leadership – We inform and expand the mayor’s vision for the city through exposure to new fields, organizations, and ideas
  2. City Departments – We help city departments pilot new programs and take strategic risks to advance their work
  3. City Residents – We help city departments pilot new programs and take strategic risks to advance their work”

#1 – Boston

New Urban Mechanics

City’s Accenture Roles: Host, Strategist, Datavore

With three separate locations (Boston, Philadelphia, and Utah Valley University), New Urban Mechanics is a network of civic innovation offices. For Boston and Philly, these offices function as the “in-house research & development group” for their respective mayors. At UVU, the office support[s] innovation efforts across a range of municipalities in the Provo-Orem metropolitan area.”

Department of Innovation and Technology

City’s Accenture Roles: Strategist, Datavore, Digital Governor

This municipal office was formed to manage the City’s websites and technologies, like the BOS:311 app, that are focused on service delivery . . . [and to] ensure that the networks, computers, e-mail systems, and applications that support the business of City government are continuously available and operating effectively”

The Innovation District

City’s Accenture Roles: Strategist, Investor, Connector, Host

“The Innovation District is Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s initiative to transform 1,000 acres of the South Boston waterfront into an urban environment that fosters innovation, collaboration, and entrepreneurship.” After only three years of existence, the District has “added over 5,000 jobs in over 200 new companies”

One Big Juggling Act

As you can see, for the U.S.’s top innovation cities, the methods are many, but the initiative is the same: how do we connect startups and entrepreneurs by creatively bridging the gap between the public and private sectors. Granted, three of the top five cities are state capitals, which lends itself to more accessible activism in regards to state-level efforts. But this also proves that, if the public is willing to invest wisely in the private, creativity and growth will skyrocket.

So how does Wilmington figure into this? According to a Milken Institute report, Wilmington ranked 70th in the nation on the 2015 list of Best-Performing Large Cities. While we’ve jumped 34 spots from 104th in 2014, we need to crank up this momentum!

Stay tuned for “How U.S. Cities Foster Innovation: Part Two – What Can Wilmington Do?” where local industry leaders and experts will weigh in on southeastern NC’s role in the nation’s innovative future.

In the meantime, if you’d like to learn about how your startup can catch Wilmington’s innovation wave, or if you’re interested in providing entrepreneurial mentorship, contact tekMountain today!


This blog was produced by the tekMountain Team of Sean AhlumMike PattonRod WhisnerAmanda SipesBill DiNome, and with lead writer Zach Cioffi.

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