Innovate Raleigh was started eight years ago by city leaders in government, business and higher education to discuss issues facing the city and to inspire action to address them.

“Our summits take a design thinking approach where the community comes together on an issue, gets inspired and then rolls up our sleeves and says, ‘what can we do about it?’” Bridget Harrington, Innovate Raleigh’s executive director, said.

HQ Raleigh was born in the wake of the first Innovate Raleigh Summit. This summit determined that more physical space for innovation and entrepreneurship (the organization’s two main focuses) was needed in the city. Discussions after the summit then led to the founding of our community and other local coworking spaces.

Harrington said that because of this early partnership between the two organizations, that HQ Raleigh has been heavily involved with Innovate Raleigh from the beginning, especially with the annual summit and in striving to meet the goals that emerge from it.

This year’s summit theme

In our modern age of dizzying advances in all areas of technology, science and culture, it’s difficult for any of us to imagine what our lives may look like in 10 years, let alone 30, but Innovate Raleigh at least wants to broach the question.

If we are going to be intentional about the direction our city is headed and avoid the potential pitfalls we see on the horizon, how can we prepare now to ensure Raleigh in 2050 will be a place that we all want to live, work and play in?

“We want to ask the question of what it means to be a truly innovative city,” Harrington said. “We are taking a long horizon, 30 years out, thinking about Raleigh in 2050, and what that means for transportation, what that means in terms of the built environment, what that means in terms of the workforce.”

While the focus is specifically on Raleigh, Harrington said the summit will look closely at how each of these areas affecting us locally impacts and is impacted by the larger global trends. She identified two particular areas that the summit will make sure to delve into more closely: climate change and artificial intelligence.

“I think the big opportunity and challenge is really sustainability and climate change and that’s something we’ll be diving into. It just touches so many other areas. There is some interesting thought leadership coming from N.C. State and our other universities, and also from our entrepreneurial community. So we’re looking to bring together those leaders and spark some conversations”

She said they will also discuss how AI could disrupt areas of the economy, like jobs for knowledge workers who have mostly benefited from the technological advances so far. Some leaders in the community are concerned and may want to look at solutions like a universal basic income, affordable housing and preparing residents for the jobs of the future.

As a 501 c3, Harrington did want to stress that Innovate Raleigh would try to steer conversations that touch on government away from partisanship that could divide the community.

So… what will Raleigh look like in 2050?

Sorry, we have no spoilers. If you want the answer to this, you’ll have to stick around, and not just for the summit, but until 2050. Innovate Raleigh’s aim is not to look into a crystal ball and clearly declare what it will look like but to ask questions and work towards solving problems.

Asked about what she thinks Raleigh will look like in 2050, Harrington said, “I don’t know. And I think that’s the point of the conference. It’s to bring together people who are thinking about this question on the future of Raleigh. And that can bring us to a place where we learn where Raleigh is going. I truly believe that we are an innovative city, and we’ve got some amazing folks that are thinking about the future of our community, especially around the sustainability front.”

The summit will not be until October 3, but on June 21, Innovate Raleigh will have a panel of three prominent community members to start the discussion. These panelists are:

Eric Lamb  — Transportation planning manager for the City of Raleigh

Kia Baker  — Executive director of Southeast Raleigh Promise, a Purpose Built Community initiative to end intergenerational poverty in southeast Raleigh

Nathan Spencer — WakeUp Wake County, a nonprofit focused on smart, sustainable growth in the Triangle

Harrington said their two goals for the summit will be to spark forward-thinking leadership and to inspire some bold business starts related to the topics discussed. While the future is still open to many possibilities, she said a couple things to keep your eye on are N.C. State University’s nano technology lab and their quantum computing lab. Both are quickly expanding what those future possibilities may hold.

After last year’s summit, Innovate Raleigh was able to fund a fellowship at the Raleigh News & Observer newspaper to improve the region’s “storytelling,” an area that the summit concluded was lacking. Look for another exciting initiative after the conclusion of this year’s summit!