What was the inspiration for the Bezos Center for Innovation?
When we were discussing themes, we realised Seattle has seen a persistent focus on innovation during the last 100 years: companies come to this region to invent the future. So a museum with innovation as the core theme seemed to be appropriate.
What’s its main aim?
We set out to present the story of innovation and engage the community with that story, encouraging young people to discuss innovation, the tradition of innovation and how to build the future of innovation. To safeguard our own future, we want to prepare the workforce and community mindset.
It’s not just about inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs, we want young people to understand that innovation comes in all areas: not just research and development, but civic life and culture and other areas as well.
The lone inventor with a great idea is not necessarily a great innovator: innovation is a team sport.
Have you been inspired by any other museums?
There are some great innovation museums out there, including the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose and the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit.
However the main inspiration has come from the great innovations within our own community. We talked with several dozen history makers about what they felt was important to share with seventh graders and then we have presented their thoughts.
Where has funding come from?
Overall, the Bezos Center has cost US$10m (£6m, E7.3m). The primary funding came from Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos and the rest has come from general funding raised by the museum. Like all US museums, we’re self-funded.
When did Jeff Bezos become involved?
We began talking to him in the fall of 2011. He became familiar with our programme and we shared our ideas and expanded the mission of the museum.
He felt passionately about sharing the story of the history of innovation with a broader audience. Seattle is his hometown and being involved with this centre was one way of reaching out to the broader community.
Among our goals was to reach young people. We wanted to share the innovation tradition with them.
How involved was Jeff Bezos in the project?
Jeff Bezos inspired the development of the centre and continued to encourage us throughout the project.
MOHAI is honoured to be associated with him and the other great innovators included in the Bezos Center.
Who were the designers?
We worked with local architectural firm, Olson Kundig Architects, who have a reputation for being wonderful experimental exhibit designers. Another Seattle firm, Pacific Studio, was responsible for the primary design fabrication and San Francisco company, Stimulant, did the interactive media.
What was your brief to them?
Create something beautiful and engaging, present the rich history of Seattle and inspire innovation.
Can you describe some of the content?
The centre is a combination of exhibits, oral history, programmes and interactives, asking what it means to be innovative and how we stay innovative.
The Patent Tree details patents over the past 100 years for all types of objects from umbrellas to medical equipment. There are first person oral accounts from innovators themselves about what inspired them: you can hear people like Howard Schultz, who started Starbucks, and Jeff Bezos talk about what it takes for a company to stay at the cutting edge, or hear them talk about their personal lives.
Visitors can also record what they think about innovation, and what they think will be the next challenge. They can post their ideas in a number of ways: graphically, digitally, or by typing ideas in response to questions from other visitors. They can also conjure up their own invention, or build a business plan and compare it with others.
What’s the most popular feature?
What’s Next is an exhibit which changes and discusses the future of innovation. Recently we looked at what would come next in the video game industry. Seattle is home to the US headquarters of a number of big names in the industry including Nintendo, Xbox and Valve. We invited young producers to come in and talk about what’s happening and visitors had the opportunity to test games which aren’t yet on the market. Their feedback was then used in games development.
How many companies are showcased?
Hundreds. From big names like Boeing, Starbucks and Amazon to lots of companies that are still seeking venture capital. We’ve identified some of the most cutting edge innovation companies, and although some may not be in business next year, we expect others to be shaping the world in 10 or 20 years’ time.
Who’s the target audience for the museum?
We’re a general museum, so we want to target everyone, but the main demographic we want to engage with is younger people at high school: the pre-teens and young teens who are receptive to information. We also want to reach young professionals.
How many visitors do you expect to attract?
In the last year, MOHAI has attracted 250,000, which is more than anticipated in our business plan. It costs $14 (£8.40, E10.20) for adults, and under-15s go free.
What has been the response so far?
Visitors to MOHAI have participated, become members, shared ideas and attended events, so the response has been great and we will keep growing and expanding.
What sort of community and educational programmes are you running?
All young visitors get an innovation pack, in a backpack, to help them engage with the centre. We’ve also run classroom programmes, lectures and panel discussions and are identifying partnerships with Seattle companies.
What were the main challenges?
Getting all of the stories and artefacts in. Making those decisions was hard because there are so many stories and people and voices.
How has the Bezos Center benefited the museum?
It’s the first thing you see on the visit, so whereas history museums usually start with the distant past and work up to the present day, we begin our experience with today’s history, making you think of the future.
What are you most proud of?
There’s a cliché in the US: build it and people will come, but in the museum world you do wonder about that! So I’m very proud of the fact people are coming, engaging and learning.