New Committee to Support Local Innovation

joe curtatoneMayor Curtatone, photograph by Jess Benjamin.

As tech companies and start-ups flock to Somerville, Mayor Joseph Curtatone is launching an advisory committee to help foster innovation in the city through policies, programs, and partnerships.

In addition to providing various forms of support to innovators, the committee—or the “Innovation and Opportunity Lab”—will be tasked with forming public-private partnerships to weave companies into the Somerville community.

“This committee will be about how to build not the hard infrastructure, not buildings or streets, but the soft infrastructure,” Economic Development Specialist Ben Sommer says. “So partnerships, programs, leaders in our community who can connect those companies to our residents, we’re going to be thinking about how we can support those companies that are filling those spaces but also how we can build deep connections to the Somerville community.”

“Innovation” is a broad term, but the lab will focus primarily on technology companies and start-ups, Sommer says. The lab will work with companies, non-profits, and academic institutions, according to the city website.

The city is looking to fill the nine-member committee with people who live or work in Somerville. Applications are open through Sept. 22.

The committee members will largely shape the lab’s projects, but Sommer says some partnerships are already underway in the city that are examples of what officials hope the lab can accomplish.

“A partnership that we have been engaged in is between the city, the school, and Formlabs, which is a 3D-printing company. They’ve taken high school kids to tour their facility, they had staff help out with our youth entrepreneurship program, they’ve donated equipment to the high school’s Fab Lab. These aren’t enormous dollar-amount partnerships, but the sum of the different connections is really meaningful,” Sommer says.

Other partnerships could include training entry-level software programmers through the Somerville Community Corporation’s First Source program to foster a local workforce for incoming companies.

The committee, which will meet monthly beginning in October, will ideally include a mix of non-profit leasers, academics, and people in the technology sector, according to Sommer. Curtatone will make the final selections.

“Invention and innovation spur the creative economy, and contribute immensely to the fabric of Somerville,” Curtatone said in a statement. “The new Innovation and Opportunity Lab will be charged with exploring partnerships, researching best practices, supporting entrepreneurs and existing businesses, and more to ensure that we’re creating and maintaining a diverse, representative, and prosperous local innovation ecosystem that serves the city.”