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opinion | John Harthorne

Tom Menino brought innovation to Boston

Mayor Tom Menino toured the Boston Innovation Center last year.Wendy Maeda/Globe staff/file/Globe Staff

As the longest-serving mayor in Boston history, Tom Menino accomplished a lot — improving access to quality education and affordable housing, lowering the crime rate, promoting a healthier lifestyle for Bostonians, and revitalizing Boston’s neighborhoods.

Transforming the waterfront into an innovation district is one of the more complex tasks he undertook, and it is one of his many accomplishments that will benefit Bostonians for years to come.

Prior to the revitalization of the waterfront, innovation activity was largely confined to Cambridge. The local startup community, while relatively robust, remained physically constrained, inaccessible to most, and in a state of gradual decline.

Today, Boston has one of the most vibrant, accessible, and dynamic innovation ecosystems on the planet. The Innovation District has become the preferred community for the world’s highest-impact entrepreneurs, and other regions study the Innovation District as a model for their own success.


The creation of the Innovation District enabled entrepreneurs — from all communities — to access new people and resources, and thereby catalyzed massive growth and collaboration.

Menino mustered tremendous support for entrepreneurs. Dozens of workspaces, accelerators, and startup support programs have launched or relocated to the Innovation District, including MassChallenge, District Hall, Blade, WeWork, and many others.

These organizations offer dedicated resources and equipment, and facilitate rapid connections between early-stage entrepreneurs, investors, service providers, corporations, established entrepreneurs, and the public sector.

Additionally, larger, innovative organizations like Vertex, Enernoc, MassVentures, Zipcar, and Babson call the Innovation District home as well, and further contribute to the atmosphere of collaboration, learning, and growth. This has become the model for revitalization through innovation.

In a neighborhood that was dominated by parking lots just five years ago, construction and growth are the new normal. It seems like a new venue opens every week. Hundreds of people fill the streets day and night, frequenting bars and restaurants, or visiting an exhibition at the BCEC or a show at Laugh Boston. This is a vibrant neighborhood full of enthusiasm and promise.

It all seems obvious now. It all feels as if it was meant to be. It wasn’t.


Tom Menino overcame significant opposition and obstacles to transform the Boston waterfront into a place of growth and collaboration. By doing so, he reestablished Boston as a beacon for the American Dream — a city where anyone who is inspired, creative, and hard-working is able to get the help they need to succeed.

John Harthorne is the Founder and CEO of MassChallenge.