HUBweek festival planned to showcase Boston
Technology, education, medicine, arts are focus of October festival
Austin has South by Southwest. Miami has Art Basel.
Now, four prominent Boston-area institutions are hoping to give the city its own signature event: HUBweek, an annual innovation-themed festival designed to elevate Boston’s reputation as a center of learning, medicine, technology, and the arts.
Scheduled for Oct. 3-10, HUBweek is an unusual joint venture between MIT, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and The Boston Globe, which are billing it as “neither a conference nor a program but rather a new gathering of the people who power the innovation and creative economies of the region and the world.”
Organizers plan to host events throughout Boston and Cambridge, including hackathons, lectures, interactive art exhibits, and cultural performances. One event aims to turn Fenway Park into a 37,000-seat classroom where attendees will gather for “master classes” taught by renowned speakers.
The goal is to vault a city sometimes known as hidebound and parochial onto the national and international stage as a place that welcomes young people, innovation, and entrepreneurship. HUBweek will be formally announced Friday at a press conference with the presidents of MIT, Harvard, and MGH along with John W. Henry, the owner and publisher of the Globe, and his wife, Linda Pizzuti Henry, the Globe’s managing director, whom organizers describe as a driving force behind the effort.
“South by Southwest has helped put Austin at the forefront of being an innovation hub and HUBweek could do that for Boston,” said Walter Isaacson, president and chief executive of the Aspen Institute in Colorado, home to the annual Aspen Ideas Festival, who has been advising HUBweek’s planners. “It becomes an iconic thing that highlights Boston’s role at the center of arts, technology, and life sciences.”
Organizers have yet to announce the lineup of speakers or the full roster of events, but the four main sponsors are planning to host their own specialized sessions.
MIT, for example, is planning an invitation-only event called “Solve” to brainstorm solutions to problems in education, energy, the environment, manufacturing, and infrastructure. MGH will organize discussions on health care and medical breakthroughs.
“It’s a little bit of an effort to regain the narrative of Boston as a city synonymous with innovation,” said Jeff Bussgang, a Boston venture capitalist who has been helping to develop HUBweek. “It’s a narrative that we all locally have fully ingrained, but our global brand still needs some development.”
He and other organizers said HUBweek would not cater just to high-flying entrepreneurs and chief executives, and would include both ticketed and free exhibitions open to the public.
“It’s a holistic event, not just a nerdfest, and not just a Davos,” said Bussgang, referring to the annual gathering of global glitterati in that mountain town in Switzerland. “It’s going to be authentically Boston, which means a blend of brainpower, creativity, music, and fun. And, yes, innovation will be a theme throughout.”
Last month, HUBweek hired its first employee: Brendan Ryan, a former chief of staff to Governor Deval Patrick, to help define and execute the plan for the ambitious first-time festival.
Organizers said prominent figures in Boston’s tech sector have talked for years about giving the city a jolt of energy and excitement by launching an event in the mold of South by Southwest.
That festival, which began in 1987, has helped burnish Austin’s image as a haven for laid-back hipsters, musical types, and technology geeks. It has also become a powerful engine of commerce, drawing about 376,600 visitors, including corporate titans, movie moguls, bands, and partygoers, and injecting — by its own estimates — $281 million directly or indirectly into the local economy.
Art Basel Miami turns Miami Beach into an international art world destination every December, drawing more than 73,000 visitors, among them blue-chip gallery owners, collectors, artists, and celebrities.
Jon Auerbach, a Cambridge venture capitalist, said HUBweek itself grew out of informal talks he was having about a year and half ago with friends from Harvard, the Globe, and the venture capital world.
Auerbach said there was a growing sense that Boston, which had been a lively breeding ground for startups in the 1990s, “had lost its mojo from a marketing perspective,” and that buzz in the tech world had shifted to Silicon Valley. When he broached the idea of launching a festival with Linda Pizzuti Henry, she “got the bug,” he said, and began spearheading the effort.
After that, he said, Harvard, MIT, and MGH were enlisted as partners — no small feat, organizers said, given the universities’ prickly history of competition, not cooperation.
While organizers have high ambitions for HUBweek, they are also trying to set realistic expectations.
“This is a startup, so year one is going to be a little messy,” Bussgang said.
If the end result in October is a “fun time that shines a spotlight on the city for five days, mission accomplished,” Auerbach said. “But I think it will be much more than that.”