Can Austin emulate Boston’s square mile of innovation?

Nov 7, 2013
Austin American Statesman

Austin is assembling the ingredients to duplicate what Boston touts as its “most innovative square mile in the world,” two Bostonians told a Downtown Austin Alliance audience Wednesday morning


Civic boasting aside, William Ghormley with Xconomy, a business development company, and Nathaniel Welch, a senior manager for the Center for Applied Research, both said the key question is which academic model the University of Texas and its medical school, soon to be under construction, will follow — one used by Harvard or one used by MIT


While Harvard traditionally stressed teaching by its faculty, MIT emphasized applying its research to real-world problems, Ghormley and Welch said. The subsequent commercialization of its research enriched the school and turned a warehouse district on the Charles River into Kendall Square — home to spin-offs and start-ups


The Cambridge Innovation Center, founded in 1999 across the street from MIT, has housed more than 1,400 startups, typically for two to three years. The companies that started there have attracted $2 billion in venture capital and created 40,000 jobs


Austin can do the same, Ghormley and Welch said, with the Dell Medical School playing MIT’s role as a knowledge hub when it begin accepting students in 2016


The medical school, which is to be located along 15th Street, will be integrated with a teaching hospital along Red River Avenue and the rest of the UT campus to the north


Around that hub, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Mayor Lee Leffingwell envision Austin’s version of a Kendell Square


Speaking to the audience, Leffingwell likened the idea of an “innovation district” to Austin’s recruitment of the Sematech research consortium that helped spark a local high-tech expansion during the 1980s


Leffingwell announced the creation of a 25-member advisory group to begin assessing the potential for an innovation district in eastern downtown — from Lady Bird Lake to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, between the Capitol complex and I-35


Leffingwell said Wednesday that he envisions a sector where “creative workers can live, work and play” and “easily navigate” with public transit


Austin’s greatest strength could be its job-creation record


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