Leading the Innovation DistrictSeptember 26, 2014
By Noah Purcell
Henry Ford’s Nancy Schlichting discusses the importance of invention
Looking to harness, amplify and spread the economic power of areas like downtown and Midtown, Detroit is hoping to create an innovation district. Mayor Mike Duggan tapped Henry Ford Health System CEO Nancy Schlichting to chair a 17-person advisory committee.The group is tasked with developing the framework for formal designation of the district in the greater downtown as well as how the district will function as a hub for innovation throughout the city. Schlichting shared her thoughts with the Detroiter on how the innovation district could help shape Detroit’s future.
What is the vision for the innovation district’s impact on the city of Detroit and the region?
I think the bottom line is growth. If we have a new center of gravity for the city that really builds on the legacy of innovation in Southeast Michigan and Detroit, we should be growing people, jobs and economic diversification.
What is the potential impact for Detroit in the short term?
When you bring all of the people together, it really speaks to, at Henry Ford, what we think is two of our core competencies: one is innovation, the other is collaboration, the opportunity to build new relationships and new partnerships. The reason we got into innovation – in fact one of the things that drove it – was some of our collaboration efforts. Partners that we created with Wayne State, their school of engineering, and the College for Creative Studies (CCS). When you basically put different types of people together, that’s where innovation often comes from, so to create the innovation district really does enhance what we’re trying to do in the community and frankly gives us broader bandwidth to do it.
What instructive lessons will you bring based on the Henry Ford Innovation Institute’s experience in partnerships with organizations like the College for Creative Studies?
The cool thing about working with CCS was that you had young people who had never ventured into health care coming in with a brand new set of eyes, seeing things that we in that space couldn’t see anymore, and I think that is the excitement around this district.
The other thing that’s exciting, we have a focus on action, taking ideas and making them commercially applicable – that’s what our innovation institute is really about. We’ve had ideas at Henry Ford and a lot of intellectual property for years, and we drove things from the bench to the bedside quickly, but we didn’t think about ‘OK, this is a good idea. How do we commercially apply it with a business mindset and a focus on job creation?’ … Putting this group together and having an action plan and a strategy that we can embark on is pretty exciting.
Will people start to notice changes in the physical appearance of the innovation district?
I think so. There’s a reason this is called a district because when you look at the area it’s relatively confined and yet it represents a huge amount of jobs and talent and change. Not only the anchor institutions, but also some of the entrepreneurial activity that’s going on within the district. We want to create more density of that. We want to physically change the plans for real estate and land, so they, in fact, can promote these opportunities that we see coming down the road.
It’s about creating an atmosphere for innovation. Young people today, who are often entrepreneurial and focused on innovation, want to live in certain types of spaces. We’re beginning to create that with a lot of the new housing and real estate that is coming into the district, but we want to, again, accelerate that pace, so that physically it is one of the really attractive places across the world that people want to come to participate in and to create change.
Noah Purcell is a metro Detroit freelance writer.