To launch a booming research hub, a city often needs more than a patch of underutilized property within shouting distance of a major university.
So Rhode Island leaders intent on jump-starting the creative economy here have been openly seeking advice from communities and organizations that have proven they can attract and develop technology companies.
“Giving them lab space is not enough,” said Jeanne Mell, vice president of marketing and communications at the University City Science Center in Philadelphia at a recent panel discussion on growing the Providence Knowledge District. “They need programs.”
At the University City Science Center, a 2 million-square-foot research park founded in 1963, those programs include business incubators, entrepreneurial support services and partnerships between 19 collaborative institutions.
Mell was one of three representatives of nonprofit venture groups to give their advice last week on what would help Rhode Island grow the so-called knowledge economy, at a panel discussion moderated by Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, who wanted to know what role government could play.
All three organizations – Innovations at Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio, Innovation Works, in Pittsburgh, and University City Science Center – have all leveraged public money to become major investors and business incubators in their regions.
“State money fills in a very important gap between private funds,” said Chris Coburn, executive director of Cleveland Clinic Innovations. “The [public] support has made a difference.”
Innovations is the corporate venture-capital arm of Cleveland Clinic and since 2001 has spun off 35 companies in the health care sector which have raised a combined $450 million in private investment. Coburn said Innovations has received $150 million from the state of Ohio.
At Innovation Works in Pittsburgh, an early-stage business accelerator, President and CEO Rich Lunak said his organization has received state support spanning five governors but made it clear that while public investment is a catalyst, the private sector needs to lead the way toward economic growth and ultimately job creation.