The World’s Most Innovative City


Xconomy Boston — 

Most readers will be aware that Vertex announced it is moving from 900,000 square feet of laboratories and offices in Cambridge to over a million square feet in Boston.

Some are asking if this spells serious trouble in Cambridge. This question surprises me. Cambridge is one of the world’s most important sources of next-generation technology and companies, and regularly exports them. A 2009 Kaufmann Foundation study showed that MIT spin-outs alone, if collected together, would rank as the 11th largest economy in the world. Vertex and its Telaprevir hepatitis C drug, which is on the verge of approval by the FDA, follow a time-honored tradition.

Once ideas are proven, those pursuing them should and do move into production mode. Sometimes that means taking larger, cheaper space elsewhere. When this happens, it makes room for another generation of new companies in Cambridge. While nobody wants to lose a taxpayer, Cambridge should feel proud of the contributions it makes to the rest of the world.

For nearly 400 years, Cambridge’s powerful blend of intellectual and entrepreneurial oomph has given the city an enviable self-renewing quality. Let’s look at the record. It starts with the book. Cambridge printed the first book in North America 370 years ago. About that time, it also became home to its first university, Harvard. The first computer (the Mark II) and the Internet (then called the Arpanet) came out of Cambridge. Thomas Watson placed the first two-way telephone call from his lab in Kendall Square, the wires stretching across the river to Alexander Graham Bell’s home on Beacon Hill. Some other Cambridge creations include the microwave oven, the sewing machine, instant photography, ship-to-ship radar, synthesis of penicillin and quinine, fractionation of blood, and deployment of vaccines. Many of Cambridge’s inventions today are so complex, the inventors win Nobel Prizes while most of us don’t even understand them.

(If you want the full background on these inventions and others, you are in luck. The Cambridge Historical Society is readying a comprehensive website on the history of invention in Cambridge. Send a note to if you’d like to be notified when it’s up.)

Cambridge has launched some pretty interesting ideas in other departments as well. … Next Page »

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6 responses to “The World’s Most Innovative City”

  1. Nan Doyle says:

    Right. Coincidentally, Pfizer is looking for expansion space… Also: see the new “MIT 150th” exhibit at the MIT Museum for more on Cambridge innovation.

  2. Tim RoweTim Rowe says:

    Folks –

    As an update to the above, it appears that there may be more in the works on the Vertex story. See the BBJ’s piece saying Vertex’s move to Boston is no sure thing:


  3. Startup Veteran says:

    I think people are reading too much into things here – real estae / rent is the second largest expense for a company after payroll and benefits. Long term occupancy leases can reduce your cost quite a bit, and for a company that needs lots of capital for R+D, it makes sense if that is the case.

    We can be all flowery and touchy feely and rara Cambridge, or we can look at the fact that innovations occur out in places like Wakfield or Burlington where you can get office space for $12 a square foot.

    Considering some of the prices the landlords in Kendall charge, the biggest draw is that many of the tech staff need public transit and live in the city which is why startups end up paying for overpriced office space vs saving that capital and going further out.

    I am not trying to start a flame war, but anyone who is familiar with the real estate and rental market in Kendall knows exactly what I mean, and knows exactly who cranks the rents up.

  4. Guest says:

    This is the typical pattern:

    1.) Step 1 – Startup in Cambridge (or similar pricey locales), attract top talent and university IP and develop an amazing product.
    2.) Step 2 – Product takes off and you go into production mode.
    3.) Step 3 – Company gets complacent and turns it’s focus away from developing new product and towards cost cutting (it is quicker and lower risk to cut costs than it is to develop a new revenue boosting product).
    4.) Step 4 – As part of the cost cutting strategy company moves into the suburbs or exurbs or to a state with poor regulations and low taxes.
    5.) Step 5 – Company begins to run out of cost cutting ideas, patents begin to expire, talent leaves to work for new start ups rather than commute to the suburbs for a struggling company.
    6.) Step 6 – Company looks to acquire start ups if it can afford to.

    So what’s the lesson to be learned, companies need to work with cities like Cambridge so that they can stay in the region for the long term and continue an R & D culture indefinitely. Space only becomes expensive when a real estate cartel holds down supply, space can be created by building skyscrapers. Clearing spotty forests further out to build single story facilities is not the only option.

  5. Enrique Martinez Lozano says:

    Hey Tim, great article and thread of comments… Here is another link to one of my favorite sites including a solid reports that explains the correlation between Innovation and Boston (MIT):

    Greetings, Enrique.