The Think City is a project that has consumed most of the last decade of my life and it finally went live last month.
It is the online community for the ICT industry of Saint John that reflects the confidence, ambition, and unique characteristics of our community here. Here is an excerpt from the proposal we provided to Enterprise Saint John last Spring:
"Saint John is the East Coast’s urban technology sandbox. Heritage architecture, professional service support, the most advanced Internet infrastructure in the world to the greatest proportion of homes and businesses, all in a vibrant urban setting and a connected community." - Sociallogical
While the RFP spoke heavily about a website, our proposal made it clear we wanted to build an online community so the people and their activities show wants happening here and the energy of this place. If we know each other and share with each other we will offer countless points of attachment for visitors and partners who wish to plug-in to what we have going on here.
Identifying Our Best Assets With Our Brightest Activists
I have been growing New Brunswick's ICT sector for over a decade, chairing an ICT conference, as propel ICT's Executive Director and now as founder of an ICT company. These roles have put me in relationship with the people most active in building our ICT businesses. So on the first day after being awarded the contract, I requested meetings with 10 of our thought leaders from Saint John, Fredericton, and Moncton.
My list was not determined by influence, wealth, or number of employees under their command. Instead, the people on my thought leader list were people who I have learned also obsess about growing our community and helping others to grow their businesses and careers. It was a pretty long list for such a small city and it was hard to choose my top 10. (So I continued to add to my list over the summer).
I asked each person 3 questions:
- What are our most unique assets in Saint John that are important to the ICT sector?
- What are the main challenges to bringing people to join ICT here?
- What are our 3 biggest opportunities for growing ICT in Saint John?
I came up with a 4th "bonus" question to satisfy my curiosity as we talked: "if we get this project right, what would be the ideal outcome?"
Amazingly, the answer to that question was almost unanimous: "people would stop asking if there is really an ICT industry in Saint John." And that became the goal for The Think City.
I wanted to take that goal a step further. As Chris Boudreau said, "all the excitement, investment, and priority created in this city by the 'Energy Hub' needs to be repeated, focused this time on our very real, very measurable ICT opportunities." This is how I continue to measure the success of this project.
Pulling Our Stories Out of Our People
The Think City is home to dozens of amazing stories such as:
- The inside scoop on our big wins like radian6 and Genesys and their roots in the people of Saint John and New Brunswick.
- Our leaders who laid fibre under our streets decades ago when their colleagues around the world thought they were nuts.
- Our big brains who have created intellectual property that has fueled amazing innovation and wealth in companies outside our region.
- The non-ICT business leaders whose careers have been uniquely shaped by simply being amoung such collaborative, creative people here.
In August 2011, we helped Enterprise Saint John and the City of Saint John decide that the time was right to throw its hat into the Intelligent Communities Forum ring to be named a Smart City.
We benefited from great advice and encouragement from people such as Ben Champoux of Moncton who shared with us how positive the experience was for his city and offered his help. Lisa Hrabluk put the application together and her research turned into some of the best early content for The Think City.
What It Is
People. Think City Ambassadors are what we are calling the growing list of people who make themselves available to anyone, from here and away, that wants to reach out and talk to someone about what it's like to live and work in ICT here.
There are strong leaders and energetic champions in every corner of our ICT companies and a lot of us here know who they are. But for those who don't we hope The Think City pulls them out and gives them a vehicle to use their leadership skills and passions to lead more, do more, and attract more people to their causes and help us all grow.
Our local ICT community has always had glue that pulls people together - in the past, NBTel and propel ICT have been the glue of our coming together (propel continues to be with an amazing passion and focus for new business acceleration).
The Think City takes advantage of the scale, reach, and familiarity that social media provides us and floods us with our own stories and successes that many of us have never known or have forgotten. We are remembering again and sharing so everyone can know and be motivated to build on our amazing heritage. The Think City is the new glue for urban ICT.
What It's Not
There is no grand plan to suck ICT workers away from our neighbouring cities and to steal the thunder from the successes of our region. In this global market, if we see our neighbouring cities and businesses as our competition, we are all in huge trouble.
Instead, it identifies our unique value as what truly is the only urban ICT campus on the east coast. While most North American cities have struggled to cluster their ICT businesses, Saint John, for some reason, finds itself with a significant majority of our ICT companies naturally clustered all in one neighbourhood with the professional resources and cultural amenities that feed a potent creative energy around them.
Urban is not for everybody and many people and companies are going to look for alternative environments and resources. But for those who want urban and are drawn to the advantages of a talent pool physically located near each other, this is the place for that on Canada's east coast.
To date we have featured Fredericton and Moncton as our neighbours with strengths and assets that we rely on here and can't grow without. We have maps that show how close we are and how easy it is to commute between our cities and we plan to go further in building ties with our partners. It is the role of each community to decide their own unique value and to share it. And The Think City will amplify those communities as they grow online and include them with our own.
What We Hope It Will Become
On each channel - Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ - the people who work in ICT will talk to each other, share their stories, successes, challenges, job posts etc. People will plan seminars, milestone events, tweetups, Startup Weekends, and more and we will all know about them, attend them, and support them by sharing and feeding them with our personal perspectives added.
We also hope that it will attract our neighbours to join us. Every day people drive down the road to and from our neighbouring cities and work with people to build ICT companies throughout our region and the world. We hope that the identifiable community we start here will be a benefit to our neighbours in demonstrating an attractive urban option nearby and a resource for collaboration.
The purpose of The Think City is to create an identity and a community that we can put our finger on and say "that's the ICT community of Saint John, New Brunswick".
Saint John is going to stop trying to be all things to all people and we are now focusing on what we really are and reaching out to the those who want that. When the world finds The Think City, they will find a community. A social, urban ICT sector that wants new people to come join us in building our businesses and actively helps people who show an interest.
During our thought leader discussions the words "gritty", "determined", "survivor", "social", and "global" were often repeated in an endearing way, especially by those from our neighbouring cities. That's what we are so that's what we need to represent. And I, like many others here, find those qualities incredibly attractive.
The project isn't 100% complete and, if things go the way I hope, it never will be. There's always something we could make better, new functionality to add, new layers for the maps. But if we engage the community we'll have a lot of talented people who can help add these things and tell their stories into our social channels in whatever way interests them. Sociallogical's contract is complete. We are all members and builders of The Think City now.
Why This Project Matters
We stumble into each other every day and talk business standing in the street as we cross paths between meetings. We talk in our gyms, our coffee shops, restaurants, boardrooms, and parks. We collide with each other because we are an urban campus at a time when place matters more than it ever has in history. And we work in a collaboration economy that depends on strong social fabric for success.
We talk to each other proudly and supportively every day in Saint John. Let's take it online and become champions for each other and a fine way of life.