Growing up, we learn the value of a team. Whether we get an A on a group project or become the point guard in high school basketball, we understand the importance of working together toward a common goal. As adults, we sometimes forget the necessity of teamwork; instead, we put competition on a pedestal. We believe success only comes when we have surpassed our competitors. However, it’s another story in New England—the ecosystem of innovation through teamwork.
This summer I traveled to America’s collaboration headquarters on the University of Maine campus in Orono, Maine, and in the Boston Innovation District. Lynn Bromley, Advocacy’s New England regional advocate, accompanied me on the trip. Lynn covers Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Connecticut.
My trip took me from student laboratories to entrepreneurial apartments. Whether I sat down with student inventors creating businesses and new jobs in Orono after graduation or accelerators hoping to empower more entrepreneurship in Boston, the collegial vibe filled the atmosphere.
Unlike in our nation’s history where universities were solely educational institutions, the University of Maine sees itself as not only a place of learning, but also a place of entrepreneurial growth through collaboration. The campus is transforming into a 21st century center for innovation, and they are accomplishing their mission by capitalizing on technological innovations developed within the community. While their students and professors are joining forces to solve problems through research, they are also taking the research to market. For example, in the Advanced Structures and Composites Center, UMaine students and professors worked together to create the Bridge-in-a-Backpack. In this case, transforming a class project into a product for public consumption, Bridge-in-a-Backpack’s efficient assembly process and light weight manufacturing parts led to six bridge building contracts in Maine alone. Moreover, supporting student enterprise leads to a twofold positive impact on the rural Maine community. Number one, it brings economic growth to the region, and number two, it creates local job opportunities helping eliminate the brain drain post-graduation. UMaine is ahead of the game, and their innovation-nurturing environment will be a model for fellow universities and colleges across the country for years to come.
As I left the Black Bear campus, I was thinking my trip could not get any better than a university educating students and generating jobs. However, life never ceases to amaze me, and the people in the Boston Innovation District (BID) were every bit as impressive.
I started my morning in Boston surrounded by leaders from area incubators, accelerators, and workspaces. Again, the name of the game was the same: collaboration. The Boston Innovation District is home to office communities—an environment where one location houses multiple startup companies. The concept allows for different companies to bounce ideas off one another, creating an innate support system. However, collaboration in the innovation district goes beyond the walls of their workspaces. It starts from the very beginning when a startup is searching for the perfect place to set up shop. If the first site an entrepreneur visits is not the right fit, they are sent to the guy next door to see if that works for them. Everything is about group effort over competition, and it is working. The Boston Innovation District has brought more than 4,000 jobs to Boston since its inception in 2010. Companies are choosing Boston as a place to get down to business, and around the corner they find the place to call home. In addition to communal offices, Boston architects have created entrepreneurial apartments, small living quarters for those that spend more time at the office than in their living room. Forget the years spent in your dormitory, as an adult your apartment can be within walking distance from your next gazelle and your neighbor could be the next Mark Zuckerberg. The collegial atmosphere continues.
While competition is necessary, we must remember the importance of collaboration. A university and rural community are better off when students work with professors and other private companies to develop life-changing products and more local jobs. A city finds unbelievable success when the community stands together in the face of global competition, and our nation overcomes adversity when we stand united.