Friday, November 1, 2013

unCon 2013 Session: District Hall Innovation Activities

Moderator: Kevin Wiant, Venture Cafe Foundation

How could we best use District Hall, the public space in Boston’s seaport Innovation district?
Currently, groups approach the Venture Café Foundation to book events, like the recent design event. Kevin is looking for activities to host to spur collaborative innovation.

Ideas from our brainstorming discussion:

·         Venture café: make the networking more inclusive, yet maintain the innovation focus. People should come not just for free beer but to collaborate on ideas. We can also have lunches for collaboration and networking.
·         Open sourcing: instead of mainly tech-focused participants like at Microsoft’s Angel Hack, bring together people from varied backgrounds (finance, education arts, tech, marketing, students/interns etc.) for a weekend or day to go from pain points to a business plan; have "all the right brains in the right place.”
·         Salon series: Host an hour-long event including 3 or 4 TEDx videos, a formal talk or performance, and dinner.  The talk would be well-rehearsed and could possibly be uploaded  We could live stream the event. The hall could also serve as open place to broadcast.

Interactive demos: something like Science Galley Dublin that has highly-curated, interactive science demos and displays. It’s a technology showcase with the pop-up model (like the pop-up library in Chinatown)--installing permanent exhibition spaces in unexpected places.

Live video portal: Install a large video screen and/or several smaller ones where you can bump into people who are elsewhere. In a company, the live video can connect you to people at a sister building or company. Here, on the main screen, we could see an event broadcasted from, for example, San Francisco, and we could also broaden and share the event experience from Boston.

Pop-up retail: something like the pop-up space in San Francisco where companies can operate for free for six months in a renovated, affordable building. By then, they’ve either dropped out or have made enough returns to rent the space. The space’s success required great ideas, charismatic leaders, and backing from real estate developers willing to take the risks.  The same spaces are opening in Boston—looking for dilapidated spaces to renovate for start-ups and pop-up retail. The Venture Café could give the space for free to a funded project in its early stages; if the project continued with backing and with a certain minimum number of people, they could keep the space until moving to their own.
Hour-long artsy activities: learn dancing, painting, cooking, etc., while also reaching out to the broader Boston community. For example, we could spend time learning to paint with inner city students—a valuable experience for the entrepreneurs and for the students who meet the innovators and can see the opportunities the district offers.

Innovation tours: offer tours of the innovation district, perhaps including a tour of collaborative workspaces and innovative offices. They’re a great way to get local students excited about Boston’s entrepreneurship scene and to show something cool and different to international clients visiting Boston-based companies.
Broaden the audience: in addition entrepreneurs, the Venture Café could hold events open to intrapraneurs or those with more traditional jobs. They could target company teams for team bonding activities. Some events, like the collaboration-focused ones, could be open to students, too. We could also host sessions that target students, with a focus on food, music, technology, networking, etc.
Office hours: offer coffee and lunch during the day, so people working in the Seaport district can meet and collaborate. We can also host sessions in the morning, e.i. every Thursday morning for entrepreneurs to start their day with stimulating discussion and activities.

Green week: with much enthusiasm about green-tech in Boston, we could host a green week, supporting participation in sponsorships (e.i. a no car sponsorship) and competitions—how green can you be?

We look forward to seeing how the Venture Café Foundation will take advantage of their chic space to feed collaboration and innovation in Boston!

Written By: Ellen Askey

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