Entrepreneurial Walk of Fame Idea Resonates—Although A Few Potential Cracks Have Surfaced in the Pavement

8/23/10Follow @bbuderi

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innovators in general, not all of whom might actually have started or run a company? As Xconomist Tim Rowe, CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center and president of the Kendall Square Association, commented, “Are we talking about people who invented something important? Or people who led businesses that became successful? Both? Some have argued that Bill Gates has ‘invented’ relatively little, but he certainly is an icon of entrepreneurship.” The overriding consensus of those I’ve heard from is that we should honor entrepreneurs, not, say, great inventors. But clearly defining what/who is an entrepreneur requires some real thought.

Who runs it, and who chooses? How do you establish specific criteria by which to filter nominations—and who administers the process and decides on who gets honored? Is it the city council? (No offense, but if they are already having trouble naming street corners…) A committee of innovators? Are they known publicly, or do they stay private to avoid harassment and lobbying from PR people trying to win kudos for their clients (yes, that has already come up!).

Who pays for the stars? As my colleague Bruce Bigelow, editor of Xconomy San Diego, pointed out based on his days covering Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremonies for the Associated Press, those stars aren’t free. “Somebody has to pay the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. In some cases, it was the studio promoting the celebrityhood of a particular actor. In some cases, the celebrity buys their own star.” Does the city pay? Do we get a general corporate sponsor, or state grant? Whatever we decide, says Robin Chase, a cofounder of Zipcar and also an Xconomist, the Entrepreneurial Walk of Fame can’t be something that you can buy your way onto. If you did, that could create a scandal that would be hard to smooth over, so to speak.

What is the geographic scope? Do we only honor local, Boston-area entrepreneurs, Massachusetts entrepreneurs, New England entrepreneurs? What about Mark Zuckerberg, who went to school at Harvard but brought Facebook to fame in California? Does he get a Kendall Square star, or do we leave him to Palo Alto?

Do we use stars as icons or something else? I really liked Scott Kirsner’s comment about using light bulbs. But then in “light” of the question above about honoring innovators who bring things to market, as opposed to inventors, I thought twice. Light bulbs to me symbolize getting a brilliant idea—not implementing the idea as entrepreneurs do. The idea is really the easiest part of the process. Therefore, I think it is better to stick with stars, or come up with something else.

Where do you put the stars? Is the plaza in front of the Kendall Square Marriott the right place, or too commercial? What about in front of Edwin Land’s house on Brattle Street? Or just all over town, to be discovered? Argues Robin Chase: “The purpose is national inspiration and local inspiration…So you would need to have it in a high traffic area, ideally.” I personally like the plaza idea, but think the stars should eventually spread all over Kendall Square, widening the zone of inspiration.

Where does it go from here? Should we create a Museum of Entrepreneurship or an Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame the same way Akron, OH, has the National Inventors Hall of Fame? Whoa! That is, to keep the metaphor going (kind of), trying to run before we Walk.

I asked Aulet for his take on some of these very questions—figuring why not hear from the horse’s mouth what he envisioned. In his view, the only question that really matters is, Who gets a star? “The issue is how do you choose them—what’s the criteria,” he says. “All this other stuff is minor, like where will it be” or who pays for it.

So what is his idea? “The idea was entrepreneurs who inspired, who not only created great companies, but had a ripple effect to inspire other entrepreneurs,” he says. “It’s not just some guy in a closet creating a great company. What ripple effect did that have as well? To me, Mitch Kapor is just classic. Mitch Kapor inspired a whole generation of people.”

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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