Massachusetts is known for Tom Brady, Superbowls, and its active entrepreneurial community support system – including the MassChallenge—a highly successful private accelerator that goes beyond the work of a traditional incubator to “catalyze a start-up renaissance.”
So if you are the new Mayor of Boston and three of your top priorities are jobs, jobs, and jobs, how do you go about ensuring that your city is the one that attracts top start-ups?
In a model entrepreneurship and government partnership program, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh focused on the Goliath in the room: the City’s unwieldy and lengthy permitting and licensing procedures that ate up entrepreneurs’ time and money. Obtaining permits and licensing in Boston had become a marathon itself, taking way too long to get through the confusing permitting and licensing race.
So, Boston’s young, tech-savvy mayor decided to replace the marathon with a sprint, and implemented a new best-practices approach to attract fresh entrepreneurs.
If the system’s broke, fix it.
Mayor Walsh knew that his job was to manage the change rather than create the solution; that is, he needed to reach out to the right people, find the right technology, and secure the right resources to enable the change.
The right people: The City’s organizational chart simply did not reflect the right framework for this challenge, so Mayor Walsh began his approach to creating a friendlier environment for entrepreneurs by establishing an interagency team. Traditional departments became subservient to individuals and getting the right people together to accomplish the task.
The right technology: As Harvard’s Ash Center reports in Data-Smart City Solutions, the interagency team applied technological solutions in two ways:
- First, they began with a Hackathon challenge. Teams that included all stakeholders, developers, designers, city employees, and residents came up with new ideas to handle “the most pressing pain points for those seeking permit applications.”
- Second, the team followed the Hackathon with overhauling and streamlining their online system. They wanted a system that was user-friendly for “small business and homeowners who do not have the resources to hire an attorney and/or permit expediters,” as Data-Smart City Solutions reported.
The right resources: A major part of the old time-consuming licensing and permitting marathon was the process for obtaining variances—a significant aspect of the burden for entrepreneurs.
- Mayor Walsh did the practical thing: He doubled Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) hearings—the path to obtaining variances—and the Mayor didn’t stop there.
- In an innovative move, the Mayor added what was in effect a second ZBA: another board working under the ZBA for expediting short hearings. To make it easier for small business entrepreneurs to attend, these subcommittee hearings are held outside of regular business hours.
Boston Now a Welcoming Municipal Partner
With the backlog of licensing and permit applications now shrinking, and a shiny, new, streamlined and user-friendly process in place, the City of Boston has met its own challenge to ensure that the municipal barriers to entrepreneurship are gone. The City has become a true partner to entrepreneurs by dissolving its red tape.
Combined with the MassChallenge accelerator and support networks such as the Boston Entrepreneurs Network, the Revolve Nation Boston Entrepreneur Group, and Greenhorn Connect, Boston is a welcoming hub of entrepreneurial activity.