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The Power of Place: How Location Drives Innovation

UIDP 6/5/23 News & Blog Post

Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it thrives in places that cultivate it. From collaborative workspaces where daily interaction dissolves silos to serendipitous meet-ups with like-minded people on the fly, where innovation happens can have an enormous impact on how. Over the past two decades, we’ve seen increased interest in spaces designed for collaboration—interiors, buildings, city districts, or entire regions. To continue to drive innovation to discover solutions to pressing challenges, understanding how place plays into innovation is pivotal.

Knowledge exchange

Chatting with coworkers by the water cooler isn’t the only way to exchange ideas at work. Innovation spaces can take many forms, but research campuses, start-up spaces, or dedicated buildings in an innovation zone tend to share some common characteristics. They are visually open to encourage interaction, allowing people from different disciplines to connect and collaborate. Intentional design helps to facilitate a culture of collaboration within organizations and between the many individuals who use the space.

A great example is Tech Square in Atlanta, a members-only community that boasts startups, students, researchers, and more in an environment centered around cultivating innovation and collaboration. Tech Square is led in part by Collaborative Real Estate, a firm specializing in knowledge-based real estate and university research parks (and a UIDP Community Partner).

“We believe that a research building’s greatest amenities are the tenants themselves and that what happens inside a building is what matters most,’” said David Tyndall, CEO of Collaborative Real Estate. “If we want to create more buildings with our partner universities, what we have to do first is create more programming, more engagement, and more collaboration.”

Serendipity sparks innovation

Serendipity that sparks innovation isn’t limited to purpose-designed spaces. A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that geographic proximity and the potential for face-to-face encounters for employees of different firms may boost innovation. The study used phone location data from over 425,000 individuals and patent applications filed by their companies, then linked patent citations to unplanned encounters by the tracked individuals.

Researchers found that these chance meetings may spark conversations that lead to knowledge transfer or collaboration. The study found that without unplanned encounters, there would have been 8% fewer cross-firm patent citations in the study period. Though the study authors can’t be certain that there was knowledge transfer during unplanned encounters, the findings highlight the long-suspected fact that random conversations involving people in similar industries can increase innovation.

It’s easy to see how smaller encounters with individuals in the same place play an important role in innovation. Looking at the bigger picture, geographic regions with concentrated sector strength (think Silicon Valley) demonstrate the connection of place to innovation. Recent interest in standing up new innovation ecosystems, like NSF’s Regional Innovation Engines program, aim to foster innovation by creating new ecosystems in targeted areas of technology development. These geographically identifiable innovation ecosystems consider the interactions between entities in a region, not simply the interplay between innovative individuals. The idea is that discovery will blossom by leveraging the right capabilities and resources coupled with intentional connection between organizations—academic and industry—in a region.

Why it matters

Serendipity and place can have a profound impact on discovery and innovation. Finding opportunities to meet, share, and collaboratively solve with like-minded colleagues—inside or outside your organization—are a pathway to break through mental logjams and unleash creative output. A culture of collaboration puts these spaces and opportunities to work to engender collaboration so innovation can thrive.

The 3-Minute Read is a UIDP member information piece and does not represent the opinions of their members or representatives. UIDP welcomes  comments on their LinkedIn profile.

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