Our view: Innovation District takes root

October 01, 2018


Article from GoErie.com

By the Editorial Board

Erie’s fortunes have been measured for decades largely by the loss, gain or retention of manufacturing jobs.

A new path forward opened in 2016 with the announcement of a $4 million grant awarded by the Erie Community Foundation in partnership with the Susan Hirt Hagen Fund for Transformational Philanthropy and the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority. It would be used to create the Erie Innovation District, led by Mercyhurst University and modeled on successful initiatives launched in other former manufacturing hubs. Innovation districts partner local academic expertise with entrepreneurs to create new economic engines.

Declaring the existence of an Erie Innovation District did not make it so. Erie’s needed a leader, a location and a viable niche to foster new industry. Just one year after the hiring of CEO Karl Sanchack, outlines of a potential new Erie identity — as a center of innovation for technology-driven companies focused on data and cybersecurity — are starting to emerge.

The Erie Innovation District opened a sleek headquarters at 717 State St. in March. It partnered with Quantela, a global data analytics company, to remake a section of downtown Erie as a “secure smart city” — equipped with free Wi-Fi, cost-efficient LED lighting, and security surveillance. For 10 weeks this summer, it hosted with Singularity University the first Secure Erie Accelerator, a business boot camp that brought nine tech-focused startups to Erie. Each received a $50,000 investment from the Innovation District, in addition to intensive training and mentoring.

Most recently, we learned that five of the 9 have chosen to root in Erie, as detailed by reporter Jim Martin. In just two months since the start of their accelerator work in Erie, Sanchack said, those companies grew their collective revenues by $2.4 million. One of them, CityGrows, is working with the city of Erie to improve customer service.

What’s more, Quantela has agreed to oversee a consortium that plans to invest $5 million to $7 million in private funds to expand Erie’s Secure Smart City program.

These early wins appear to be a credit to Sanchack’s drive and also to the creative, forward-looking tone set by both Erie’s private and public sectors.

Leaders of two companies who took part in the accelerator program said Erie stands out.

This is news to celebrate because of the potential for new growth and because it is so liberating. Ben King, a senior director at Singularity, in March stressed the importance of “setting the right tone and getting some quick wins for a city that is really looking at changing itself.”

These advances further bolster Erie’s ability to credibly view and present itself as a center of something vibrant, relevant and new, not a tired Rust Belt trope.