U.S. Chamber, Startup Incubator 1776 Release Innovation that Matters, Spotlight Methods to Build Successful Innovation Economies in Cities

Friday, May 15, 2015 - 10:00am

Report Studied Best Practices in Eight Major U.S. Cities Driving Civic Innovation

WASHINGTON, D.C.—According to the new Innovation That Matters report, building strong local networks that enable connections between civic startups and diverse groups of local stakeholders is the key to jumpstarting civic innovation in cities. The report, released today by 1776 and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its Foundation, is a first-of-its-kind study on the state of civic innovation in eight leading American cities. The results provide a roadmap for how cities can catalyze entrepreneurial innovation in the civic sector.

Over the last six months, 1776 and the U.S. Chamber traveled the country to hear firsthand what is working and what is not as cities build healthy and vibrant startup communities in key civic sectors, such as education, energy & sustainability, health and cities. The report also evaluates how cities can empower startups to work with established corporations and government agencies to foster growth.

“Building and sustaining a vibrant civic entrepreneurial culture is key to empowering cities to tackle civic challenges and drive new economic growth,” said 1776 co-founder Donna Harris. “In collaboration with our partners at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we spanned eight of the nation’s leading cities to assess how well cities are empowering local civic entrepreneurs, and highlight what more cities can do to unleash innovation. The secret sauce truly lies in the strength of a city’s networks—once you get everyone to the table and working together, incredible things happen.”

The report examined how eight cities—Austin, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.—have fared in spurring civic sector innovation and creating strong innovation economies. 1776 and the Chamber surveyed 230 civic entrepreneurs to get their take on the development of their city’s innovation economy, and conducted a series of eight roundtables with investors, elected officials, corporate partners and business leaders from across the eight cities to gain a broader stakeholder perspective.

“We’ve gained a lot of valuable insight into how the business community, state and local governments, and entrepreneurs can work together to create innovation economies,” said U.S. Chamber Foundation Director for Emerging Issues and Research Michael Hendrix. “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is, at its core, devoted to helping businesses of all shapes and sizes to grow and help drive the American economy forward. That is why working with 1776 and supporting this effort is such a mutually-beneficial partnership. We are excited to be part of this conversation and look forward to learning more about what we can do to help achieve greater business growth.”

Click here to download and read the report in its entirety.

Key Insights

In its findings, the report identified the five keys to success for promoting a vibrant civic innovation economy:

  • Establish System Connectivity – Connect the dots between startups and city stakeholders to help create a collaborative community
  • Embrace the Friction – Allow conflict and competition to flourish as a necessary complement to collaboration, in order to create more effective and dynamic solutions
  • Build the Market – Open opportunities for startups to propose and create new solutions to the existing needs of civic institutions
  • Turn the Lights On – Partner with startups to create information that reveals what is already happening within civic institutions
  • Unlock Hidden Capital – Build avenues to better channel communities’ existing wealth toward startup activity

Among the additional key insights, the report found that cultivating diverse networks of entrepreneurial, civic, business, municipal, and community leaders who are interested and engaged in helping startups grow and scale is a critical component of promoting local civic entrepreneurship. The more robust a city’s network of support for startups and the more proactive city leaders are in bridging and activating stakeholder relationships, the further along a city will be in its development of a civic innovation economy.

The report also found, however, that none of the eight cities have fully leveraged local institutional and corporate networks on behalf of civic entrepreneurs, an important ingredient to entrepreneurial success. Entrepreneurs in each city revealed that local civic institutions—from schools and hospitals to utilities and local governments—and local corporations are the entities with which they have the least engagement.

Moreover, the report shows that each city starts with the most important commodity for growing a vibrant civic innovation economy: a strong talent base. From traditional tech talent and STEM workers to large teacher and healthcare workforces, each city has significant numbers of local residents who, if mobilized, can help drive innovation in their industries and promote new entrepreneurial initiatives.


This information provided the report with enough feedback and information to classify each city in one of the following four categories: Nascent, Emerging, Established or Leading, based on a given city’s progress in cultivating an environment that fosters civic entrepreneurship, and highlighted insights gleaned from each city and each industry (education, energy & sustainability, health, transportation and cities). 

In the survey, San Francisco was rated a “leading” market for civic entrepreneurship, indicating an advanced best-in-class environment for civic startups. New York and Boston received an “established” rating, indicating a middle-to-advanced stage of development. Austin, Chicago and Washington, D.C. were rated “emerging” markets, signaling early-to-mid stage development. And Detroit and New Orleans were rated “nascent,” indicating they show promise, but remain in early stage development. 

In discussing each city’s strengths, and areas for improvement, the report provides an unprecedented look at what cities are doing—and could be doing—to drive civic innovation, and underscores the priority cities are placing on civic entrepreneurship as a pathway to solving challenges and promoting growth.

In addition to the city insights, the “Innovation that Matters” report contains key industry insights cities should consider when trying to drive innovation in the four civic sectors the report covers. Among the critical takeaways in the four sectors:

  • Education: Schools can do a lot to cultivate more effective Edtech startups by proactively communicating to entrepreneurs what they actually need
  • Energy: Energy consumers benefit from competition in the energy market, so cities should embrace that friction, not fight it
  • Health: Health startups will sink or swim based on their ability to reach and empower consumers, so cities should support their outreach efforts and bridge connections to major health institutions in their market
  • Cities: To drive innovation in city government, local leaders must help mobilize the marketplace by issuing challenges and partnering with startups to create new products that improve city services.  

“We hope cities will take this report and use it to inform their policies and strategies for driving civic innovation,” said Evan Burfield, co-founder of 1776. “The promise here is clear: create a robust infrastructure of support for startups, and they will unleash the kind of innovation that will solve civic challenges, grow economies and improve lives.”

ABOUT 1776

1776 is a global incubator and seed fund that helps engineer the success of the world’s most promising startups tackling important challenges in areas like education, health, energy & sustainability, and transportation & smart cities. Just two years old, 1776 has helped more than 250 startups grow by vetting their viability and connecting them to a “swat team” of support, from investors to mentors, government officials, and institutional market partners that they need to succeed. By creating a global community of startups, mentors, partners, and investors, 1776 is proving that its unique approach to incubation can create a sustained cycle of innovation that connects existing enterprises, corporations, and government entities to the startups that are solving the world’s biggest problems. Visit http://www.1776.vc or @1776 on Twitter for more information.

ABOUT the US Chamber of Commerce

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations.

ABOUT the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation is dedicated to strengthening America’s long-term competitiveness and educating the public on how our free enterprise system improves society and the economy. The Foundation conducts research on issues facing business now and in the future.