Cities and metropolitan areas are the wellspring of innovation, but the benefits of innovation, such as more jobs, greater access to education or transportation, or a higher standard of living, do not always reach all residents. Entrepreneurs and inventors may overlook the challenges of underserved neighborhoods, or aspiring entrepreneurs who aim to serve underserved people often cannot find technical assistance or financing. It’s hard to unearth great ideas in one community and transplant them in another one. Finally, innovation is inseparable from risk, and the institutions like government and philanthropy that support underserved neighborhoods have a low tolerance for failure.
The Aspen Institute Center for Urban Innovation exists to solve these problems. Led by Jennifer Bradley, the center will identify, connect, and support urban innovators, with a special emphasis on people who come from or work in underserved neighborhoods. The Center for Urban Innovation will also help leaders from government, business, and philanthropy better understand the needs of urban innovators so that their powerful ideas can spread rapidly from place to place.
In addition to convenings and leadership development, the center brings an innovation lab to the Institute. The DC Urban Innovation Lab, led by Eric Lavin, will support five or six urban innovators focused on addressing social challenges in the Washington region. The lab will connect these innovators with the wealth of policy experts on education, health, economic development and related topics at the Institute. The lab will also connect the growing number of people and organizations working to create an urban innovation ecosystem in the DC area. The lessons that the Institute team learns from supporting innovators in Washington can also guide our work in other cities and regions.