“Why innovation districts matter”

A summit that brings together over 200 brilliant minds to discuss how innovation districts contribute to growth and attraction. It’s the summit “Navigating the Future of Innovation Districts”, where experiences and ideas will be shared to reach a new level for innovation districts.  

Moderator of the summit is Tim Moonen, co-founder and managing director of The Business of Cities. In this short interview he tells us more about his company, about innovation districts, and the summit which takes place on September 26.

What is The Business of Cities?

Photo of Tim MoonenTim Moonen.

– We help cities in the global marketplace, and support businesses and capital to organise around the magic of cities. The interlocking fortunes of cities and businesses are shaping our planet’s outlook for the next 50-100 years. Our team’s role is to help leaders navigate this – through benchmarking, applied research, and peer networks.

Leaders in cities crave the time and space to look up and learn from their fellow travellers around the world. Executives want to shift their companies and institutions from ‘place agnostic’ to ‘place sensitive’. What we do is help leadership to bridge some of the gap in a lean, evidenced and purposeful way. 

Over 15 years our assignments have spanned over 200 cities, corporates, districts and investors. The agenda is exhilarating but also increasingly urgent. There’s no choice but to get cities right if we are to collectively deliver the kind of prosperity, health, social contract, and planetary stewardship an 80% urban world will depend on.

What is an innovation district?

– An innovation district distils the concentrated juice of our 21st century economies. It acts as the stage for a new kind of choreography between urban land, knowledge, science, technology and enterprise. 

Innovation districts come in all shapes and sizes. The most common ingredient is that each is a place in a city where you find a small number of large institutions or corporates (so-called ‘anchors’), a cluster of growth companies, and public or private agents of commercialisation.   This sets it apart from a business district or retail district – although it is not an oasis and draws strength from its neighbours.

Hundreds of places claim to be innovation districts. What separates the real mccoy from the replicas is the fast flow – of ideas, relationships, tests, risks, activities, clients, capital – and the conscious cultivation of all the physical and intangible factors that ultimately give rise to innovation.

Innovation districts matter. They are essential to future productivity and good jobs. They are also changing our cities because they are usually the most imaginative locations in using physical space to drive discovery, human connection and social belonging. Their design and amenity add to a city’s lifestyle proposition. And increasingly they don’t just spawn world-changing inventions, but also test and apply them locally too.

Why do you need a summit to talk about innovation districts?

– Innovation districts have to orchestrate ecosystems effectively. These ecosystems are incredibly nimble – they move much faster than any single player can keep up with. It’s rare for a summit to bring together science, frontier companies, investors, corporates, city and national government, non-profits and civic leaders, and valuable to get a read on new paradigms and test old assumptions. Even more so with such international participation.

This is a critical 5 years for innovation districts. They have to respond to a new investor landscape and blurred lines between industries, humans and machines, customers and suppliers. Most have to deliver a higher quality of place, optimise collaboration for a post-pandemic workplace, and move faster to decarbonise. To progress and yet stay patient, most need enhanced governance, stronger profile, and more social licence. No district and no single partner have cracked the code to all these areas – so there is a premium to learning, sharing and avoiding known mistakes.

Who should attend and what could you expect if you attend?

– The summit has the whole innovation community in mind. It will be ideal for forward thinking investors, corporate and scientific representatives, university leaders, engaged policymakers and funding agencies, and anyone involved in planning, building, managing, activating, or marketing an established or aspiring innovation district.

It’s also a great opportunity to see the Stockholm ecosystem up close. Stockholm is one of the most improved cities of innovation in the world over the last 20 years. Hagastaden is the science epicentre, just 30 minutes’ walk from the very centre of the city, and a neighbourhood now reaching critical mass.

Attendees can expect a high energy conversation, quick fire panels, provocative keynotes, practical tools, and honest reflection – as well as plenty of networking time.

What is your expectation of the summit?

– I’m expecting this summit to play a part in forging a deeper spirit of partnership and shared endeavour across colleagues and disciplines in Europe, North America and beyond. I’m also anticipating some new and challenging perspectives. It is important not to be seduced by a single answer or established recipe. This summit will raise our collective capacity to move with the times and shine a light on our next big steps and bold responsibilities if we are to fulfil the potential of districts and discovery.


Link to Navigating the Future of Innovation Districts >>

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Link to The Business of Cities >>