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Society & Culture

Brookings’ Innovation District Report Highlights Drexel’s Involvement in Strengthening Neighborhood

May 18, 2017

Photo courtesy Brookings Institution.
Photo courtesy Brookings Institution.

A new report released today by the Brookings Institution takes a deep look at the “innovation district” of University City and western Center City, highlighting Drexel University’s role in encouraging, strengthening and improving the area surrounding its campus.

The “Emerging Innovation District Pilot Study,” produced by the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Initiative on Innovation and Placemaking at Brookings, showcases the results of a two-year “audit” of the area between 17th Street to 43rd Street along the Market Street corridor and south along the Schuylkill River to Grays Ferry. First proposed in 2015 by a group of 10 major Philadelphia institutions situated in the area — including Drexel, Comcast Corp., the University of Pennsylvania, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University City Science Center — the study analyzes the area’s entrepreneurship outcomes, industry strengths and research expertise.

In the final report, Brookings announced that while Philadelphia has a strong innovation economy, district leaders can partner with the local private, public and civic leaders to build a more inclusive and entrepreneurial innovation district that is better positioned to benefit local communities and compete globally.

The report’s conclusions are in line with Drexel’s own long-range development and inclusion pursuits. If the suggestions from the plan are implemented successfully, then the area, and Drexel’s University City Campus, will be better integrated with the city and poised to participate in the cultural and economic gains that an innovation economy promises. Drexel and its fellow anchor institutions will be collaborators in creating an ecosystem for innovation and success that will benefit researchers, residents and graduates alike.

Speaking at the Brookings Innovation District Pilot Study Stakeholder Presentation this morning as the chairman of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Drexel President John Fry said, “The Brookings Institution has provided a strategy for greater Philadelphia to take its rightful place in the innovation economy. Fortunately, the city and the region already have the critical anchor institutions in place that can help guide our efforts to become one of the top 25 metro regions in the world.”

Photo courtesy Brookings Institution.
Photo courtesy Brookings Institution.

The study was created in part through President Fry’s leadership in spearheading the project and drew upon the expertise and experience of Harris M. Steinberg, FAIA, director of Drexel’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation, and Keith Orris, Drexel’s senior vice president for corporate relations and economic development.

The University’s partnership with Brandywine Realty Trust to break ground this year on the Schuylkill Yards development, which will create nearly 5 million square feet of mixed-use office, research, retail and residential space on Drexel’s campus adjacent to Amtrak’s 30th Street Station, was highlighted — and already exemplifies the report’s recommendation for innovation district inhabitants to work together.

Drexel’s expertise in technology transfer and commercial collaboration was also recognized through the Drexel Ventures University accelerator, which supports Drexel’s academic innovators who patent, license, commercialize and form startups to promote their innovations. The Coulter-Drexel Translational Research Partnership Program created from a grant from the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation to encourage faculty to translate biomedical engineering research into market-based products was also referenced in the report.

The University’s $10 million internal venture fund with Ben Franklin Technology Partners, housed in the Innovation Center @3401 (ic@3401) on Drexel’s campus, was referenced as a key example of bringing entrepreneurs to the area.

The report also stressed the need to advance new technology clusters in the area. The $75 million Advanced Functional Fabrics of America partnership between the Department of Defense and 31 academic institutions, with Drexel serving as the anchor for partners in the mid-Atlantic region, was highlighted for its ability to bring new and advanced materials and textiles to the marketplace.

Additionally, the study applauded the multi-year Promise Neighborhood Grant recently awarded to Drexel and the City of Philadelphia to work with seven schools in the West Philadelphia Promise Zone, highlighting the University’s collaboration as a district anchor to develop an academic-industry educational partnership. Drexel’s relationship with its surrounding communities was also highlighted through its Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, which functions as a meeting place for residents of the Mantua and Powelton Village communities, as well as the University’s commitment to encourage and help support local businesses through a reframing of its procurement spending, supplier diversity program and commitment to form an anchor alliance for local goods and services in West Philadelphia.

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