Wayne Franklin is a Principal of Urban Sun Investments, Inc., a sustainable real estate and economic development firm. Seed Providence is the firm’s newest initiative to promote collaboration and investment in ideas, ventures, and places that further the economic, environmental and social sustainability of the city of Providence, RI. OfficeLAB is the first seed.
Last week I attended BIF-4, the Business Innovation Factory’s (BIF) latest Collaborative Innovation Summit and thought it was pretty interesting that within our 200+ person bubble of innovation-centric conversation, the topic of the current financial crisis came up very little. The energy at Trinity Rep was devoid of the fear and uncertainty that I’ve been finding in my other daily interactions outside of the Summit. But co-host Bill Taylor brought up a great point - the current financial crisis doesn’t stop the need for innovation. So those in the room obviously had more important things to talk about than crisis.
When I moved to New England from San Diego last July, I was drawn to the historic character, walkable streets, and communal atmosphere of Providence. After I spent a good amount of time in the city, I realized that there is something big and intangible brewing under the surface here. One of BIF-4’s guests, Jason Fried of 37 Signals sent out an interesting Tweet (via Twitter of course) - “Been in Providence, RI twice and I’ve met twice as many interesting people here than in any other city I can remember. 7:55 PM Oct 14th from web”. Providence’s art and design community, thought leaders, growing Infotech & Digital media sector, and educational institutions make for interesting people.
Richard Saul Wurman relayed at the Summit - the world is made up of cities. And as Richard Florida puts it - place is more important than ever as people become increasingly mobile. Robin Chase, founder of ZipCar and GoLoco and guest at last year’s Summit will tell you that we need to change our driving habits to combat the climate crisis. In addition - laptops, IPhones, 3G networks, WIMAX, distributed work, flexible work schedules, work-life balance and the influence of Generation Y are all changing the way in which we live and work. We are starting to realize the importance of promoting our city as a place for innovation and growing the creative economy. Creative Providence and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce’s Knowledge Economy Roadmap are ways in which we as a city are pushing this forward.
We also know that much of the knowledge economy is mobile - millions of them work out of their homes and coffee houses and coworking is a bubbling trend among techpreneurs and freelancers. RI Nexus recognized this and helped drive the conversation of coworking in Rhode Island. The first post in the RINexus forum was an inquiry by a local programmer about interest in coworking. The RI Nexus community helped turn this thread into a 100+ person event about Next Generation Workplaces.
RI Nexus helped connect some of the dots, which enabled me to put together OfficeLAB, a unique coworking environment for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and mobile workers. We opened up for an open house last week and have generated enormous interest and support from the Rhode Island ITDM community. These are the types of organizations, events and places that bring about those purposeful random collisions that Saul Kaplan promotes.
If we can attract, support, and foster the mobile workers who could choose between working from their laptop in San Francisco, New York, Boston, Atlanta or Providence - then our innovation economy will grow. When people figure out that Providence is an interesting, multi-layered city with much to do at half the price — our city is going to be looked upon as the place for opportunity, entrepreneurship, and community. From this — I foresee much collaboration. And innovation. And an economically sustainable city.