Spotlight Q&A: Erie Innovation District


Entrepreneurship and innovation often go hand-in-hand — specifically when it comes to the pursuit of new ideas, new solutions and new products. Here, Karl Sanchack, president and chief executive officer of the Erie Innovation District, LLC, provides an overview of this visionary innovation hub and its goals for the future.

Please describe the Erie Innovation District and how it came to be.
The Erie Innovation District (EID) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the transformation and revitalization of the city from an economic and infrastructural standpoint. This will be achieved by establishing Erie as a destination for secure cyber and connected services. The District was established in September of 2016, when Mercyhurst University (EID’s lead partner) received a $4 million grant from the Erie Community Foundation.

Why is an innovation district so critical to our area’s economic development?

Historically, manufacturing has been the lifeblood of the Erie region, but this industry is changing and there are more opportunities for technology jobs, as well. As a university town, we believe Erie is in an optimal position to create a new sector comprised of highly skilled, family-sustaining jobs in the cyber security and data science fields. An innovation district will play a vital role in this objective, serving as a hub for this activity to be created, particularly in attracting new startups (through accelerator programs) and existing companies looking to test their products in our market.

You were appointed as the inaugural president and CEO of the Erie Innovation District in September 2017. What progress have you made so far?
There has been a significant amount of progress made in a short period of time. We have solidified collaborative agreements with firms such as Singularity University, Quantela, Erie Insurance and Dell. The Secure Erie Accelerator, a 10-week program for businesses in the cyber/IOT space, has opened its application process for its July start time, receiving applications from over 35 countries including Singapore, United Arab Emirates, U.K. and Sweden. Additionally, the Innovation District has announced its first “win” in an effort to attract jobs to the area, as Federal Resources Corporation will be moving their headquarters from the D.C. area to Erie, bringing several job opportunities with them.

What are the Erie Innovation District’s long-term goals?

Ultimately, the Erie Innovation District seeks to create a secure digital services ecosystem in the city, which in turn would generate high-paying jobs and allow the city’s economic situation to improve. We would like to mold Erie into a test marketplace for secure digital services and products in this space so that companies are attracted to the area and ultimately invest in Erie as a result.

How can other employers get involved?
There are a number of ways to support EID and its initiatives. One area of support is startup mentorship. We are actively searching for companies and individuals to act as mentors for the startups that we will be bringing into the city to participate in the Secure Erie Accelerator. This will play a crucial role in the experience for these teams as we look to entice them to establish headquarters in Erie upon the completion of their time in the accelerator. Another area of support is through corporate sponsorship. We are openly searching for companies that are willing to partner with us and our initiatives, offering direct investment along with in-kind support and services.

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