Entrepreneurial Walk of Fame Gets Some Legs at Cambridge City Hall Meeting

9/16/10Follow @xconomy

What happens when entrepreneurship meets politics? A task force forms and an idea inches its way forward.

The idea I’m talking about is an Entrepreneurial Walk of Fame, akin to Hollywood’s celebration of movie stars, in Cambridge’s own Kendall Square, a proposal that Xconomy’s CEO Bob Buderi first wrote about last month. MIT Entrepreneurship Center managing director Bill Aulet and others in support of the walkway hashed out the idea last night in a meeting of Cambridge’s Economic Development, Training and Employment Committee. The meeting was headed up by councilor Leland Cheung, who’s working to spearhead the Walk of Fame plans at the city level.

I had to miss the end of the meeting, but Aulet tells me that the walk of fame proposal passed through the committee to a task force, which is slated to bring the idea before the full Cambridge City Council by December 1st. So expect more meetings before anything official happens.

Personally, I got a taste of what it might have been like to start my journalism career at a local newspaper, where covering committee meetings on local infrastructure decisions seems to be the chief role of the entry-level reporter. (Thanks, Xconomy, for saving me from that fate. Or not.)

Like a true academic, Aulet made his case in a PowerPoint presentation to the committee. He posited that of the seven main elements seen as fostering innovation in a region, such as government support, infrastructure, and funding, an entrepreneurial culture is the piece that could use the biggest boost in the Boston area. The Walk of Fame is an answer to building a sense of cultural pride in our area’s entrepreneurial accomplishments in technology, he said.

I had to leave just as the group started to discuss the logistical concerns surrounding the Walk of Fame. That segment of the meeting kicked off pretty late, after it took an hour for the roughly 30 people in the room to introduce themselves and their stake in the Walk of Fame idea. Bob has outlined some of the devil-in-the-details issues before, like how to pay for the walkway and additional stars, and how to get around Cambridge’s moratorium on naming public spaces like street corners. Apparently some politicians have gone a bit overboard with that in the past. Let’s hope well-meaning innovation enthusiasts won’t have to suffer as a result.

A couple other takeaways from the meeting:

—Don’t go too local with this, said Paul Bottino, the executive director of the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard. “Anything that we do to celebrate should not have a parochial feel to it,” he said, “We have to create something here that resonates.” (They’ll have to keep that in mind when picking the entrepreneurs to honor in the walk, if it ever gets that far.)

—”This notion of celebration… we just don’t do a good job of this in Boston, Cambridge, and New England” said Gus Weber from Microsoft’s New England Research and Development Center. Celebration of entrepreneurial accomplishments, that is. Having grown up in New England, I think the area does a pretty good job of boasting loud and proud about other things, like its cultural history and sports accomplishments. My Yankees fan of a brother would agree. We’ll just have to wait and see if an Entrepreneurial Walk of Fame will create Fenway-like fervor for local startups.

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  • http://www.shinyorb.com Elizabeth Yin

    This is a really fascinating idea. I’m reminded of something I saw while at Infosys HQ in Bangalore. On their corporate campus, they invite notable tech leaders from around the world to visit and plant a tree or a shrub in the garden. This then serves as a representation and celebration of all the tech leader has achieved. But since this is an ever-changing/growing garden, new attention and publicity is brought to it when a new tech leader comes to town to plant a new tree/shrub.

    This Walk of Fame idea sounds like a brilliant way to bring publicity to entrepreneurship…especially if the landmark is constantly changing. Unlike other stagnant landmarks, this seems like it could be conducive to attracting continuous attention.

  • jake