Innovation Blog

Rebuilding Economies with Purpose: Innovation Experts Identify 4 Essential Building Blocks 

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The 2020 Global Summit which has typically been a multi-day innovation conference bringing together innovation leaders across US regional and international governments, corporates, universities and other global innovation entities, was condensed into an hour-long important discussion for 2020 — ‘Rebuilding with Purpose: Rethinking the Innovation Blueprint’. Around 75 global leaders from over 16 different countries and 12 different U.S. States participated in the virtual Summit to discuss thoughtful and equitable ways of strengthening economies via innovation.

This year’s summit featured candid conversations with prominent experts to discuss the future of innovation in our very in-flux, tumultuous times. Speakers included the following:

From the highly informative conversations, four key insights stood out.

1. A prominent and transparent emphasis on inclusive, holistic approaches to economic collaboration

“The opportunity is not so much about recovering quickly but making sure it’s uniform, distributed, and inclusive”. – Scott Case, CEO of 

What is clear to all of us is that on a regional, national, and global scale, we need economic recovery. And very creative and impactful recovery. However as much as we want this recovery to happen as soon as possible for our communities, we cannot neglect this moment for the significant opportunity to rebuild with more foresight and vastly more potential.

Successful innovation ecosystems over the past decade have been based off a model that includes generally five key pillars: entrepreneurs, universities, capital investors, governments, and corporate collaborators.


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What was emphasized even more was the imperative to be much more inclusive with who makes up these stakeholders. Diversity in entrepreneurs, CEOs, government leaders, and universities can establish the creative ideas and broader challenges that have been marginalized or neglected by economies in the past.

In the past, there’s been a tendency to lean on a small group of elite universities with extraordinary high growth of entrepreneurs. Now we need to get that to a much larger and more diverse group of entrepreneurs looking at the entire higher education system” – Fiona Murray, Professor of Entrepreneurship & Associate Dean of Innovation & Inclusion at MIT Sloan School of Management  

2. A Potential Removal of Geographic Boundaries

With the pandemic pushing people out of offices and keeping them in their homes, remote collaboration has been paramount. And, perhaps unsurprisingly to many, it has largely been working. There have been big improvements with video meetings, sharing technologies, and ideological buy-in for more remote working.

Throughout the Innovation Summit, it was apparent that geographical boundaries may no longer be as strong a factor in our economies and educational institutions This could have large impacts on how companies source talent, organize their headquarters, create new working environments and expectations. We don’t precisely know where this will lead, but there will undoubtedly be an impact, and we should look to embrace the opportunities this might provide rather than just instantly reverting back pre-pandemic working expectations.

“One recent policy that came out – the concept of a borderless world. Having a lot of talent based in Sharjah (UAE) and working for startups around the world. We often think about talent in a geographical sense. That needs to change. The metric isn’t how many startups have offices here, but how are talents here engaging with startups?” – Najla Al-Midfa, CEO of Sheraa-Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center

3. Addressing Inequities in Capital Flow

A large agreement across speakers was the acknowledgement of inequities in capital flow. Venture funding for female founders hit an all-time high of just 3% in 2019. Black founders have yet to receive more than 2% of venture funding.

Apart from diversity of gender and race, the capital flow needs to further focus on investing resources in micro-businesses and medium-sized business in addition to high-growth startups.

Initiatives through accelerator programs like MassChallenge where there’s an emphasis on broad age range, gender and nationality diversity — 52% is woman led and we generally have 20+ nationalities in our programs – can help, but apart from VC firms, government assistance might be the best catalyst.

4. Role of State and Municipal Government

Though innovation ecosystems have always factored in the importance of government involvement, the pandemic has shown the necessity for guidance and leadership in order for there to be a successful economic perseverance.

The mayor of Salt Lake City Erin Mendenhall gave fresh insight on the importance of municipalities to be involved in all aspects touched on throughout the summit, and how they can make moves to advance these pillars.

“Salt Lake City has seen tremendous economic growth but that has not been equitable. Utah is consistently ranked low for women. In March, I asked for $550k for a city equity plan, public outreach, budgeting. We’re exploring a social impact bond. It’s so we could strategically invest in more female leadership roles and in historically marginalized community. We are completely ready to take things apart and put it together.” – Erin Mendenhall, Mayor of Salt Lake City

Speaking further on this subject, Robert Pieroni, Director of Economic Development at Central Houston, Inc, shared his experience and innovation strategy in Houston, TX:

“Only 4% global population has access to innovation ecosystems. Here in the US alone – 90% of innovation happens in five cities. In Houston, we are building to bring people together. We were thoughtful on physical location, multi-modal, long range commuter bus, light rail, local bus – accessibility to all Houstonians. We partner with three organizations with different value propositions. They accept high growth, high impact startups. One of four Houstonians is foreign born — we’re the most diverse city in US, we use this as strength, and, with intention, reach out to our variety of universities and colleges and our under-represented communities.”

For More on MassChallenge

MassChallenge harnesses the collective power of our global innovation community to grow and transform businesses and economies. Reach out to us if you are interested in learning about how we are working with governments around the world to support regional competitiveness and economic development during these uncertain times.


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