Innovation district in the works for Downtown

Colleen Michele Jones

Reporter- Jacksonville Business Journal

The people behind Jacksonville’s first Innovation Connection Conference are working to create an innovation district Downtown.

Ed Baldwin, founder of the Jacksonville tech startup Profile Gorilla, announced at the convention last week plans for a clustered grid within the city’s urban core that will promote existing sites and resources that support startup culture and activity. Baldwin said its boundaries will largely mirror those laid out in the Downtown Vision Inc.’s Northbank district.

A web page that will brand the five-square-block district with an official name will be live within the next two weeks and be followed by more details about future plans for the zone.

“It will be kind of similar to what they’ve done with The Elbow,” said Baldwin, referring to the loosely bound district of live music and entertainment venues that cross-promote each other and hold common events.

The landing page will include a map and directory to places such as CoWorkJax, JaxBridges, JaxCoE and CoLabJax that serve entrepreneurs, as well as startups themselves. The hope is it will not only direct aspiring innovators to the resources and facilities that can better serve their goals but also bring attention to the existing startup community and grow it, Baldwin said.

“It was like how can we create this place so we can bump into each other on the streets and coffee shops and restaurants and have that sense of community,” added Baldwin.

Baldwin said the innovation district had the support of partners such as DVI, InvestJax, the Downtown Investment Authority and other ad hoc groups, but he emphasized it wasn’t an initiative of the City of Jacksonville.

While Baldwin has worked for months to develop consensus and partnerships around the idea of such a zone, “A lot of people had this vision before me — I’m just the one who came in at the right time and pushed it across the finish line.”

The website is being built and maintained by volunteers at this point, according to Baldwin, adding that the community groups it was partnering would provide more in marketing and guidance than any monetary support.

The hope is that eventually the district could spur more initiatives, such as opening up office space, loans, capital and other resources to entrepreneurs.

“It’s as much about shining a spotlight on all the positive work that’s already been done,” Baldwin said, “as it is about pushing the needle forward.”

Colleen Michele Jones

Reporter- Jacksonville Business Journal