in Thinking

Thoroughly Considering one of the winning ideas from OpenIDEO – building a startup incubator in Cluj

Attracting Start Ups

Declining cities could attract start ups/SMEs and create local incubators by offering (really) cheap real estate, equity investment, and more…


Many declining cities already have a consequent amount of underutilized and cheap real estate. These places could be transformed into shared office space, in order to create centers of innovation (similar to the Hub in San Francisco -acknowledging that SF is already a vibrant city, or Haarlem, Netherlands), which can inspire in the longer run locals to be more entrepreneurial and create their own companies. During the inspiration phase, many contributions pointed out examples of using empty building (in SeattleNew York, London and Bilbao, as well as Detroit). In Seattle, the project is a program of the City of Seattle, funded through multiple city departments along with various neighborhood groups, business improvement associations, and merchants’ associations.

“Incentive package” for the start-ups

— Cheap real estate: The city can give away free or very cheap buildings.

— Furniture: Steelcase could provide tables, chairs and other setup for offices (Thanks Ken) and common work facilities (kitchen, TechShop type of place, etc.) (Thanks Craig).

— Other amenities such as affordable housing (Thanks Josh).

— Funding: 

  • For example, of you locate for at least a year, the city will invest in your company
  • More investment would be allocated to start ups that hire local people (to help the city struggle less economically)
  • For non-profit partners, corporate sponsors could underwrite the utilities to get these workspaces up and running, literally “empowering” a cause and their brand (ThanksCatherine).

— Talent:
  • We could think of having a partnership between the incubator and organizations likeVenture for America to attract more talent.
— Mixed use and cross-pollination:


  • Perhaps food and beverage (coffee!) entrepreneurs could be sought alongside start-ups? (Thanks Avi and Meena)
  • Having non-profits as well as start-ups (Thanks Iwona).
  • Creating a network connecting different incubators together (Thanks Jeroen).
— Mentorship/training programs: These can tap into volunteer-based efforts (esp. university students giving pro-bono advice) (Thanks Sushmita and Adriana).



Advantages for the city / the sponsor

— Tax revenue that the city wouldn’t be getting if the offices / buildings sit vacant.

— Shares in the companies: In exchange for free rent, you could issue the city some kind of convertible shares in the company. If the company ends up doing well (i.e., it’s the next Apple, Google, etc.) then the city reaps the upside and if not, then the shares aren’t worth anything and the city did its best to try and seed innovation (Thanks Rob).

— Places like these act as ideal laboratories for studying the way people work and collaborate, similarly to Workspring, a project that was spun off from Steelcase (Thanks Melanie).

— The biggest advantage of all: job creation. As Rob phrased it: 

Image source:


What resources (money, time, people, technology, etc) will your concept need to be successful?

– A city’s development fund / municipal money, city department budgets, associations, etc.
– Local VCs
– Empty buildings / offices
– Start ups willing to relocate 🙂

How can your idea be scaled so that it’s implemented in cities around the world?

This idea could work in most struggling cities around the world. The more cities will try this, the more they can inspire other cities to do the same.

My Virtual Team

– Melanie:
– Ken:
– Josh:
– Meena:
– Avi:
– Mike:
– Rob:
– Iwona:
– Jeroen:
– Sushmita:
– Ciara:
– Vincent:
– Adriana:
– Dan:
– Sara:
– Juan:
– Craig:
Thanks everyone!
Florin Muresan
Innovator & CEO
Everything In Life Is Touched by Digital Magic. I brought Digital Magic Into The World Through 29 Products I’ve Built and Sold World-Wide

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