Kendall Square Wants an Entrepreneurial Walk of Fame—and So Should Every Innovation Hub

Republished from

Local legends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck rose from the bowels of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (the high school’s drama department really is in the basement) to become international movie stars—and Damon was chosen three years ago to get a star along the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame. But the business leaders who have arisen from places like Harvard University and especially MIT, creating jobs and changing the world in areas from health to education, energy and the environment, office productivity, and home entertainment, are ultimately far more heroic than movie stars. So why not create an Entrepreneurial Walk of Fame right here in the world’s densest innovation zone, Kendall Square?

That’s the inspired idea from Xconomist Bill Aulet, managing director of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center. Aulet’s concept is now being championed by Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung (who’s also expected to graduate in 2012 with a dual MBA/MPA degree from MIT’s Sloan School of Management and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government), who says it’s being considered in committee and that he hopes to bring the proposal to the full Council this fall.

Aulet likes a good celebration (he and I and a contingent of other touring basketball players once paraded through the streets of Donegal Town in Ireland, but that’s another story). The idea behind the Entrepreneurial Walk of Fame, he says, “comes from my belief that successful entrepreneurship is about spirit as much as it is about skills…Our model is Educate-Nurture-Network-Celebrate. The stars on the sidewalk falls right in line with the ‘Celebrate,’ which we should do more of. If you want to keep a culture of risk-taking and entrepreneurship, then we should treat our entrepreneurs as stars, and what better way than this?” Aulet cites two pieces he wrote for Xconomy that explain more of his thinking along these lines: Celebrate Entrepreneurs Like the Red Wings Winning the Stanley Cup, and How to Build a Successful Innovation Ecosystem: Educate, Network, and Celebrate.

For his part, Cheung says that “every community should take the time to celebrate what makes it great. In Hollywood it’s actors; in Cambridge it’s entrepreneurs. That Kendall Square is the most innovative square mile on the planet is something everyone who lives or works in Cambridge can be proud of. Innovations born in Cambridge have changed the world countless times; I’d like to memorialize a few of those to help inspire everyone who might walk by them.”

Cheung says he sees the courtyard around the Marriott Hotel and the Kendall Square T Station as the perfect place to put the first stars, which would celebrate the entrepreneurs, researchers, and visionaries behind “the great innovations or achievements that have started or taken place in Cambridge.” The squares containing the stars would include the name of the entrepreneur or innovator, the core contribution he or she made, and possibly other details such as the date of the innovation and even its outcome. “Handprints would be great as well,” he says.

I love this idea—and I don’t see any reason it couldn’t be adapted in any of Xconomy’s cities of Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, and Detroit, or any other tech cluster around the world. Imagine going to Tokyo or Singapore or Basel or Cambridge, England, and finding tributes to innovators you might never have heard of, but who changed your life or cured your disease. Since learning of the Kendall Square idea last week, I’ve been thinking about the top entrepreneurs and innovators to come out of Cambridge over the last century or so, trying to identify the best 25 to 30 to start things off. Here are some names I came up with, in order of their appearance in my mind. But I’d love to hear your thoughts about this list, or who I missed—just drop them in the comments section below…