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HUBweek shines spotlight on Kendall Square’s innovation ecosystem

MIT community plays central role in Greater Boston’s third annual festival of ideas and innovation.
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A rendering of The HUB in Boston's Government Center.
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Caption: A rendering of The HUB in Boston's Government Center.
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A rendering of The HUB in Boston's Government Center.
A rendering of The HUB in Boston's Government Center.
Image: Courtesy of HUBweek

It’s been called “the most innovative square mile on the planet.” But from Oct. 10 to 15 Kendall Square will mark a new milestone, when it becomes a veritable innovation playground, as part of the third annual HUBweek celebration of creativity across Greater Boston. MIT’s neighborhood will host a range of interactive events and activities highlighting the inventiveness of community members of all ages.

On Oct. 11, more than two dozen events will unfold across Kendall Square, and throughout the week many more MIT-related events will shine a roving spotlight on the excitement, innovation, and creative energy pulsing through Boston and Cambridge. This year’s HUBweek is expected to draw over 20,000 people to 175 events, with participation from 180 partner organizations. MIT is one of the co-founders of HUBweek, along with Harvard University, The Boston Globe and Massachusetts General Hospital.

When Kendall Square becomes a “hub” for HUBweek on Wednesday, the MIT List Visual Arts Center will lead a public art and architecture tour across the MIT campus, showcasing buildings by architects Frank Gehry, I.M. Pei, and many others. Throughout the day, from noon to 8 p.m., Kendall Square: Innovation Playground will offer a broad menu of activities and games free and open to the public. Tents at One Broadway will host hands-on opportunities including drone-racing, digital graffiti, spontaneous Snapchat art photo booths, Lego art makerspace, and more. At 5 p.m., a ground-breaking ceremony for a new graduate student residence hall, the first building to rise as part of MIT’s Kendall Square Initiative, will take place, with a reception to follow. A new, larger-than-life mural on the Main Street pedestrian walkway — designed and produced by youth from the Community Art Center’s Teen Media Program around the theme “my vision is a world where…” — will also be unveiled.

“The idea is to offer cool ways of having fun to convey the Kendall style of innovation,” says Sarah Gallop, co-director of MIT’s Office of Government and Community Relations, who also serves as President of the Kendall Square Association. “We want to bring people into the conversation about innovation happening in Kendall Square. With all of these HUBweek events, we’re trying to amplify the fact that Kendall Square has all of the key innovation ecosystem ingredients, from research institutions to industry to good transportation, housing, retail, and a vibrant mixed-use district. And anyone can participate in that.”

HUBweek aims to spotlight, support, and strengthen the broader innovation ecosystem of the Boston region, by fostering connections and dialogue. A new feature of this year’s festivities is The HUB, a central communal gathering space in Boston’s City Hall Plaza centered around a temporary village of over 80 shipping containers, art exhibits, and geodesic domes showcasing the region’s inventiveness. MIT will host a shipping container featuring giant canvases of student art and exhibits, with students on hand to explain the various ways in which research and teaching at MIT are making a better world.

“Our vision was to create a large-scale communal space to bring together incredibly inspiring visionaries across a number of different industries here in Greater Boston — all in one location,” says Linda Pizzuti Henry, co-founder and chairwoman of HUBweek. “We strongly believe in the power of convening to bring about positive change and shape the narrative of a region.”

In addition to hosting conversations among community members, artists, and change-makers, the HUB site will be the venue for one of the week’s highlights: the culmination of the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge. The IIC, the flagship initiative of MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, is a global platform for identifying and supporting technology-driven solutions for making the fast-changing digital economy work for underserved communities. In a gala event open to the public at 6 p.m. on Oct. 12 at The HUB, this year’s challenge will recognize 16 organizations chosen from 1,000 registrants, and award over $1 million to problem-solvers shaping the future of work in the digital economy. Featured speakers will include Sheila Marcelo, founder and CEO of; Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Inc.; and Leila Janah, founder and CEO of Sama Group and LXMI; and FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

Another set of events with strong MIT participation is the Future Forum. From Oct. 12 to 15, this festival of ideas within HUBweek will present dozens of speakers’ visions of the novel solutions and big trends that will shape the future. In addition to influential thinkers such as Malcolm Gladwell and Atul Gawande, several MIT faculty will offer their insights on the changes to come in the realms of urban design, machine learning, and biotechnology, among other topics. On Oct. 12, Andy McAfee, co-director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, will share his perspective on the “Second Machine Age,” and David Sun Kong, director of MIT’s Community Biology Initiative, will give a presentation at intersection of hip hop and biology called “Bio Meets Beats.” And on Oct. 13, Karl Iagnemma, CEO of MIT spinout nuTonomy, will consider “A Driverless Future?”

Citing the IIC and other events, such as an open innovation brainstorming session on high-impact solutions to climate change that will be hosted by MIT in Faneuil Hall, Henry notes that the partnership with MIT is integral to the weeklong celebration.

“HUBweek exists to strengthen and support the innovation ecosystem here in greater Boston and to connect more people to it both locally and from abroad,” she says. “MIT is one of the key drivers behind the success of this region, and there’s no question that the innovations that come out of this institution have far-reaching, global impact. We are so proud to have MIT as one of our founding partners of HUBweek, and we are grateful for their continued guidance, support, and unwavering commitment to this mission.”

That commitment to growing a thriving innovation ecosystem includes support for new business ventures. On Oct. 10, there will be an open house at the Central Square headquarters of The Engine, a venture launched by MIT to support entrepreneurs working on “tough tech,” with collaborative work space, business advice, funding, and access to specialized equipment. The MIT Enterprise Forum will host the fourth annual Beantown Throwdown, a startup pitch competition featuring student participants from a dozen colleges and universities around the Boston area, on Oct. 13 at City Hall Plaza. And on the final two days of the week, a signature HUBweek event will take place in City Hall Plaza: the massive startup showcase called Demo Day. Veteran entrepreneur panelists will share their stories about starting ventures in Boston and persevering through setbacks, and the work of over 100 of the region’s most promising startups — including several led by MIT alumni and faculty — will be on display.

“The relationship between MIT and HUBweek has only deepened over the past three years, and we are collaborating with more partners throughout the institution, from the Initiative on the Digital Economy to the Climate CoLab, CSAIL, Media Lab, and more,” says Henry. “We look forward to deepening HUBweek’s engagement in Kendall Square and to continuing to showcase the groundbreaking work happening there, both this year and for years to come.”

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