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What is an Innovation District?

As the Brookings Institution states, innovation districts are dense areas “that merge the innovation and employment potential of research-oriented anchor institutions, high-growth firms, and tech and creative start-ups in well-designed, amenity-rich residential and commercial environments.”

An innovation district is a close-knit ecosystem with economic, physical, and networking assets that are conducive to creating and commercializing new ideas. These districts also deploy placemaking, or capitalizing on a community’s unique assets, to promote health, happiness, and well-being. Traditionally, innovation districts are within metropolitan areas and spur economic growth within the surrounding communities.

The combination of academic research, STEM talent, and notable employment creates an environment that attracts the types of people, businesses, and organizations that will facilitate disruptive, forward-thinking change.

Why is JobsOhio helping to create Innovation Districts?

Across the US and around the world, the Healthcare and IT sectors continue to grow rapidly. Ohio is already home to some of the most innovative healthcare and technology companies anywhere, but we have the opportunity to grow even more. With 14 top-ranked hospital systems in the country, according to a 2020 U.S. News & World Report, and the only state to have two cities named in Forbes’ Top 10 Rising Cities for Startups (Columbus and Cincinnati), Ohio is in a unique position to grow and continue developing breakthroughs in healthcare and technology.

Our goal in creating Innovation Districts is to ensure Ohio is solidly competitive by nurturing the type of communities that attract top talent. After all, business growth needs talent to support it. The JobsOhio mission is to attract business investment and create jobs. And at the end of the day, we want an Ohio that attracts talent, produces talent, and offers the kind of environment that keeps talent here.

Historically, Ohio has faced obstacles in the innovation space, notably in the start-up ecosystem. In response, JobsOhio launched a strategy focused on smart, strategic initiatives and investments to increase Ohio’s competitiveness that will create improvements across the innovation continuum.

Where are the Ohio Innovation Districts?

Cincinnati Innovation District

Cincinnati Innovation District overview image

In March 2020, JobsOhio launched a new innovation district in Cincinnati focused on applying technology across all disciplines. This first-of-its-kind partnership between JobsOhio, the University of Cincinnati, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center aims to accelerate more than 15,000 STEM graduates and $2 billion in research to bring up to 20,000 new jobs and $3 billion in annual economic impact.

The University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital contribute $450 million each year in research. This research results in discoveries that become the basis for innovative startups in the tech and healthcare sectors.

The University of Cincinnati developed an innovation district blueprint through the creation of the 1819 Innovation Hub and the developing Digital Futures complex. These sites have already attracted Fortune 500 companies, small- and mid-sized companies and generated significant start-ups. Through this co-located ecosystem, UC has leveraged its economic engine to strengthen the Ohio economy. The Cincinnati Innovation District positions the region to compete at a national and international level for talent and the companies that seek that talent.

Cleveland Innovation District

Cleveland Innovation District overview image

In January 2021, JobsOhio helped to launch an innovation district in Cleveland focused on healthcare innovation and community health, leveraging northeast Ohio’s large healthcare economy. This partnership between JobsOhio, the Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, MetroHealth Medical Center, and University Hospitals aims to transform Northeast Ohio into a $1B biomedical engine that attracts top innovators, new companies, and accelerates STEM talent and research. The economic impact of the Cleveland Innovation District is expected to be $3 billion for Cleveland and Ohio.

The Cleveland Innovation District is a point of collaboration among healthcare, higher education, and business institutions, creating significant research, development, and job opportunities. One collaboration in particular brings together Northeast Ohio’s world-class healthcare providers and education institutions with the goal of creating the Cleveland Clinic’s new Global Center for Pathogen Research & Human Health, a pathogen center with global reach and the potential to improve the lives of millions of people and to generate more than 20,000 jobs in Ohio over 10 years. The Global Center for Pathogen Research & Human Health’s focus will be on research and innovation regarding pathogens as well as current and future health threats. 

Columbus Innovation District

Columbus Innovation District overview image

In February 2021, JobsOhio in partnership with the Ohio State University and Nationwide Children’s Hospital unveiled the Columbus Innovation District. This innovation district brings together leading educational and healthcare research organizations to bolster in-demand job creation and economic growth within the state’s largest city. The Columbus Innovation District aims to generate 20,000 new jobs in central Ohio over the next 10 years, involving an estimated 10,000 direct STEM jobs in the technology and healthcare industries, as well as 10,000 indirect jobs in the community at large fueling an economic impact of $3 billion.

JobsOhio, Ohio State and Nationwide Children’s will invest $1.1 billion in the Columbus Innovation District, including the development of an Interdisciplinary Research Facility, an Energy Advancement and Innovative Center, an Outpatient Cancer Facility, and the region’s first proton therapy facility to treat cancer patients already underway at Ohio State’s West Campus.

How do Ohio Innovation Districts help a community?

Innovation districts help Ohio stand out as being competitive nationally and globally as a go-to place for innovation and the talent that makes it happen. Ohio’s innovation districts include:

  • Businesses: Large anchors and early-stage companies will benefit from STEM talent attraction and retention as well as the creation of in-demand jobs. This will then boost economies in the surrounding communities and drive urban development.
  • Medical and research facilities: These facilities will become incubators to generating intellectual property. They will also drive patent production and creation of spin-off start-ups.
  • Academic institutions: Will focus on STEM programs and degrees that create an ongoing, large pipeline of qualified, desirable STEM talent.
  • Our partners: Builds their national brands and helps recruit leading researchers and academics.
  • Related sectors: Attracts and grows IT and Life Science companies which will help diversify and further balance Ohio’s economy, leading to more stability and steady growth.
  • Our people: Young people who want to invest in their careers are drawn to exciting growth companies. Traditionally, they’ve looked to the coasts. The Innovation Districts are designed to create vibrant places to live and work that will not only keep people in Ohio but also attract new talent.

How are Innovations Districts different from Startup Accelerators and Incubators?

When analyzing the relationship between innovation districts to incubators and accelerators, it helps to understand a bit more about each concept. As stated previously, an innovation district is a close-knit ecosystem with economic, physical, and networking assets that are conducive to creating and commercializing new ideas.  But what are incubators and accelerators?

Incubators and accelerators are entities that support the growth of new companies. They are not the same as innovation districts but rather a piece of the innovation puzzle.

The presence of incubators and accelerators is an asset as their organizations and programs attract and fuel up-and-coming businesses. This is what makes them ideal additions to innovation districts. They often complement the other tenants within innovation districts, either serving as the growth catalyst for companies spinning out of anchor institutions or opening the door for new companies to work with anchors and R&D partners within the area.

Startup Accelerator

In a Brookings Institution report on accelerator programs in the United States, startup accelerators are defined as programs that “support early-stage, growth-driven companies through education, mentorship, and financing in a fixed-period, cohort-based setting.” Startup accelerators tend to be intensive and fairly fast-paced in comparison to incubators with the end goal of pitching the newly refined product at an event or demonstration. Rather than innovation districts, which bring many types of organizations and institutions together at once, business accelerators are focused on individual businesses. There are business accelerators throughout the state, including the Women’s Small Business Accelerator in Westerville, the Minority Business Accelerator in Cincinnati, and the Bounce Innovation Hub in Akron, to name a few.

Business Incubator

Much like accelerators, business incubators are organizations that work with early-stage companies, however they typically operate as nonprofits and often take a longer-term approach to helping startups launch. Incubators can still help startups obtain capital financing from investors, sometimes including state governments or economic development coalitions. Many incubators offer a physical space for companies to use as well as shared equipment or office space. A few of Ohio’s business incubators include the Entrepreneurs’ Center in Dayton, the Endeavor Center in Piketon, and Launchpad Incubation in Toledo. To find an entrepreneurial business incubator or accelerator in Ohio, visit the Ohio Development Services Agency.

With the proven success for creating real economic opportunities that benefit companies as well as entire communities, innovation districts are paving the way forward in Ohio. To harness this potential, JobsOhio has been developing an innovation strategy to attract and retain companies in the fastest growing sectors while energizing urban settings.