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  • Mike J. Walker

Episode 34: Building Innovation Districts

In this episode, I'm speaking with David J. Adams, the University of Cincinnati Chief Innovation Officer and CEO University of Cincinnati Research Institute. We explore the Cincinnati Innovation District, a physical ‘live, work, learn and play’ environment centered around the University of Cincinnati (UC) for student, research and educational talent and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) for research talent. The area encompassed by the Cincinnati Innovation District includes the vast majority of the city’s innovation resources, such as scientific and academic facilities and talent. We also discuss how David is creating an innovation district playbook to help other cities tackle this challenge.


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In this Episode 2:37 - Who’s David Adams?

5:50 - Adjusting to Higher Education Role

7:00 - Tell us something interesting about you that people may not know

9:30 - What does innovation mean to you?

12:40 - “Economic Long Waves” propelling us forward

13:26 - We are on the cusp of major innovation

15:50 - What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned about innovation?

20:21 - What are innovation districts?

27:50 - Building a Playbook for all other innovation districts

28:43 - There are innovation hubs across the US and the world, what do you think are the key drivers for success?

31:18 - What’s the scope of the innovation playbook?

34:00 - Why innovation districts work

37:02 - What are the challenges the innovation hubs face in the wake of COVID-19?

41:40 - Will business leaders operate in virtual modes more often after the pandemic?

43:10 - What is the Cincinnati Innovation District?

49:02 - Cincinnati Innovation Districts unique approach to Intellectual Property (IP)

51:10 - You’ve got some big names that have joined (Kroger, P&G, Fifth Third, Cincinnati Insurance, FIS, and Cincinnati Bell) what were their drivers for joining and have they achieved them?

53:40 - Innovations of note that have come out of the Cincinnati Innovation District

55:42 - Why innovate in Cincinnati? What makes it special?

1:02:40 - For those that may want to join the 1819 Innovation Hub, how would they achieve that? Email David “Davidj.adams@uc.edu” or the contact page on the Cincinnati Innovation District website.

1:03:37 - What do you want people to take away from our conversation?



About the Cincinnati Innovation District


What is the Cincinnati Innovation District?

The Cincinnati Innovation District, www.cincyid.com, is a physical ‘live, work, learn and play’ environment centered around the University of Cincinnati (UC) for student, research and educational talent and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) for research talent. The area encompassed by the Cincinnati Innovation District includes the vast majority of the city’s innovation resources, such as scientific and academic facilities and talent.


Innovation districts are located in geographic areas where leading edge higher education, research institutions and companies cluster to connect with talent (student, research and educational) and each other – they are powerful economic engines within a community. They are physically compact, transit accessible and technically wired to offer mixed-use housing, office and retail – a live, work, learn and play environment. They are designed to grow, attract and retain talent and the organizations that seek that talent. Talent is attracted to innovation and companies are attracted to locations that have talent.


What is the investment and expected outcomes?

JobsOhio leadership is taking a highly innovative approach to economic development. JobsOhio is investing up to $100M in the Cincinnati Innovation District with specific goals and outcomes by each institution. Half of the capital is being infused in the institutions to accelerate the STEM graduates by 15,000 and research by $2B+ over the next 10 years. UC and CCHMC have contractual obligations to achieve these numbers. The remaining half is focused on intentional placemaking. Specific goals and objectives must be achieved. The expected outcomes are 20,000 new jobs and $3B+ in economic impact occurring within the Cincinnati Innovation District over the next 10 years.


What is the investment by the institutions?

The leading anchor institution, UC (a Carnegie Level 1 public research institution) had made significant investments prior to the discussions with and subsequent investment by JobsOhio in 2020. In 2017, UC invested in a new organizational structure within the university focused on economic development. The Chief Innovation Officer, who leads this multi-million-dollar organization, reports directly to the president and has overall responsibility and accountability for the development of the Cincinnati Innovation District. In addition, multi-million-dollar investments were made in the purchase and refurbishment of a 100K SF former Sears building, www.uc1819.com, and in the Digital Futures Complex, a 400K SF development scheduled for completion in mid-2022. The 1819 Innovation Hub is already home to numerous Fortune 500 companies and headquarters to two of the region’s most important startup funds.


The university is making significant investments in teaching and research faculty and administration functions to achieve the stated goals. In addition, the university will be making significant investments in additional real estate placemaking to support the needs of organizations and talent to achieve the economic outcomes.


Why is this important?

In today’s economy, it’s all about attracting and retaining talent and accelerating those efforts in Ohio. Lt. Governor Husted stated goal is to make Ohio “the most innovative state in the Midwest” - Innovation Districts are key to that effort. The Lt. Governor is chairing the advisory council of the Cincinnati Innovation District.


About David J. Adams

As the first Chief Innovation Officer at the University of Cincinnati, David J. Adams oversees the university’s innovation agenda and is the architect of the newly unveiled Cincinnati Innovation District, anchored by the University of Cincinnati. Adams’ focus is simple: to ensure the world knows that Cincinnati is the global blueprint of innovation districts with the goal of empowering transformation for all. He led the effort of the $100M infusion by the State to accelerate talent development with the goal of job creation and $35B economic impact. His tenacious leadership style has led to the rapid success of the 1819 Innovation Hub, an innovation ecosystem of industry, students and researchers. Opened in Fall 2018, the 1819 Innovation Hub is now at capacity and is home to global, mid-sized and small companies like: Kroger, P&G, Fifth Third, Cincinnati Insurance, FIS, Cincinnati Bell, Kingsgate Logistics, CincyTech, Hillman and other social, non-for-profit and for-profit innovation centers. Since its opening, the 1819 Innovation Hub has hosted in excess of 500 events and welcomed more than 60,000 visitors. The next phase, the 360,000 SF Digital Futures complex, is on-track to open in 2022.

David is a lifelong entrepreneur and has successfully engaged that spirit in many different environments. He was a founder member of the leadership team that grew software giant i2 from $4M to $1.1B in 7 years, established the supply chain marketplace and became a NASDAQ 50 company in the process. David was recruited by Indiana’s Governor Mitch Daniels to lead the turnaround and merger of Indiana’s $35B pension systems. He has started, invested and successfully exited numerous companies. David’s work ranges from engaging start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. His work includes engagements with private equity and venture capital firms such as The Carlyle Group, Thoma Bravo and Bessemer Venture Partners.

David is passionate about education and was a founding board member of the Enlace Academy in Indianapolis. He serves on the Purdue Research Foundation board of directors and is a board member of REDI, Chamber and CincyTech among others.

He was named a CEO ‘C-suite finalist’ by Cincinnati Business Courier, a finalist for ‘Catalyst of the Year’ by VentureOhio, one of ‘Indiana’s Leading Entrepreneurial Business Mentors’ by the state of Indiana. He has performed numerous media interviews including appearances on CNBC, Business Week and Forbes.

Mr. Adams is a graduate of the Speed Scientific School of Engineering at the University of Louisville.He holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Industrial Engineering.Mr. Adams was awarded the ‘Outstanding Young Engineer of the Year’ and ‘Professional Award in Engineering’ from the university.


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