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Building an ecosystem – District Hall

Michael Freer

Michael Freer


Split Tech City isn’t just a local portal, but we also promote our community all around the world. Thanks to the various existing clients our members serve, we get many chances to do this throughout the year. Most recently we were representing over in Boston, USA. 

Our vice president, Tomislava, went along with the Agilo team, to meet new and existing partners, and one that caught her was District Hall. In Split we have seen the fluctuating numbers of coworking spaces, accelerators and incubators, however we still have a lot to learn about sustainability and long-term approach. 

Tomislava spoke to Dan Vidaña, Director of District Hall, to find out more. 

So Dan, tell us what is District Hall exactly?

We’re the world’s first free-standing civic innovation center, purpose-built to foster innovation and entrepreneurship as a mission-driven, not-for-profit building. We’re part of a project that looks to transform 1,000 acres (4km2) of former industrial land on the South Boston Waterfront into a 24-hour neighborhood designed to support innovators and entrepreneurs. As of 2018 held, we’ve held over 3,600 events. People come to to enhance the human connections that drive innovation. Whether it’s for a brainstorming session, to learn from experts in their field or pitch their idea.  

Who funded District Hall?

The idea behind District Hall came from the City of Boston and is the result of a collaborative public-private partnership. The 12,000 square foot building was privately funded and built by Boston Global Investors as the first project in their twenty-three acre master plan for Seaport Square, though it’s now owned by WS Development. Operations and programming are run by the Venture Café Foundation, which also runs the Roxbury Innovation Center, Starthub, and Venture Café Thursdays, among other programs.

What makes you stand out from the crowd?

Unlike other innovation centers, we are first and foremost part of a non-profit, that believes innovation is for everyone.  Taking that statement alone, everything we do, every programming and the use of the space is to support our mission. We take the view of how do we activate a space and see ourselves as leading the way in space activation.

How does it work being part of a non-profit? What happens to your revenue?

As part of our mission, we discount and donate space to mission-aligned organizations and events. Furthermore, we make sponsorship decisions based on four criteria (though you don’t have to meet all to be qualified): if the event is free to attend, if the event is open to the public and we can promote it on our public calendar, if the event aligns with our mission of fostering innovation and entrepreneurship, and the nature of the organization — we like to support community and/or innovation focused organizations (startups, nonprofits, etc). 

Our discounts range from 25% to 100%. Every full year of operation since opening, we have donated over $1 million worth of space back to the community, and we’re on track to exceed that target again. This model has been very successful for us since our inception and we continue to evolve it.

A fine example of how the public-private partnerships work, and how using non-profit or social enterprise models can really ensure innovation and development is made open for all. With Split set to see further hubs over the coming years, let’s hope we can boast something equally as impressive next time we meet Dan in Boston.


About author:

Michael Freer

Michael moved to Split at the end of 2015, and after a year and a half of living here, he decided to open his own start-up Ensoco. Ensoco supports social entrepreneurs with starting their own businesses, and with this in mind he saw the perfect fit to volunteer at Startup.hr.

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