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Innovation Economy

Text messages tell if the table’s ready

By Scott Kirsner
Globe Correspondent / September 13, 2010

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Highlights from Scott Kirsner’s Innovation Economy blog.

Textaurant founder Josh Bob tells me his Waltham start-up just landed its first big customer in Boston: Finale Desserterie & Bakery.

Textaurant’s technology allows restaurants to use a laptop to manage their list of customers waiting for tables, sending out a text message to let them know when one becomes available. Finale will be using the system at the local chain’s two busiest locations, in Harvard Square and Boston’s Theatre District, starting this month.

You can already see Textaurant’s system in action at Cafe Luigi in Bedford and at Right Fork Diner on Martha’s Vineyard. Bob says that the Right Fork began using Textaurant just before July 4, “and they were handling about 400 people a day.’’

Instead of writing your name down and hollering it out when your table is ready — or handing you a buzzing pager that limits where you can wander — hosts using Textaurant type a customer’s phone number into an Internet-connected laptop. A few minutes before the table is ready, the diner gets a text message.

“You can go anywhere you want,’’ Bob says. “You can go to the bar next door, or you can go home and take a nap.’’

A gloomy outlook for IPOs. I sat down last week with the two founders of Aeris Partners, the newest mergers-and-acquisitions advisory firm in town.

It has been taking shape since earlier this year; its principals are Stephen O’Leary, chairman of the Mass Tech Leadership Council and a former entrepreneur in residence at General Catalyst, and David Joncas, who until last month was co-head of technology investment banking at Harris Williams & Co., working out of the Boston office.

Back in the dot-com heyday, the two worked together at Broadview International in Waltham.

Aeris intends to provide M&A advisory services to all kinds of software companies, the founders say.

O’Leary says “the IPO market is down 80 or 90 percent, compared to where it was pre-Internet bubble, and that’s not a statement about the value of technology companies — it’s the market.’’

Assuming there’s an appetite for IPOs, the surviving investment banks want to focus on taking companies public that have an enterprise value of $300 million and are looking to raise at least $100 million, says O’Leary, who left General Catalyst last fall.

That means most up-and-coming software companies will instead be bought by a major player that has already built a sales force, established distribution partnerships, and created a trusted brand.

Even EMC Corp., the biggest tech company in Massachusetts, is occasionally the subject of takeover rumors.

“I don’t think any [Boston tech companies] are untouchable,’’ Joncas said. “It’s not a bad thing necessarily. It’s just a statement of fact.’’

If the economy improves, O’Leary predicted, “we may get to 20 or 30 IPOs a year. But it won’t be 100 or 200.’’

That, they hope, will create an opportunity for one more M&A firm that helps promising young companies find deep-pocketed new parents.

New building for MIT’s business school. The newest building on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus has been given a characteristically un-glam MIT designation: Since no donor has coughed up a big enough check to plaster his or her name on the $142 million glass-and-limestone tower at the edge of Kendall Square, it is known as — drumroll, please —Building E62.

The 215,000-square-foot Sloan School of Management building houses an executive education center, a cafeteria, study rooms, offices for Sloan’s faculty and staff, and a half-dozen MBA classrooms. Planning began in 1997, but ground wasn’t broken until May 2007. The first year of construction focused on an underground garage (the cost of which isn’t included in that $142 million.)

Cindy Hill, director of capital projects at Sloan, says E62 is the most energy-efficient building on campus. (They have applied for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the US Green Building Council and may attain the coveted gold level.) There are shades that descend automatically to block the sun, recycled glass in the terrazzo flooring, a green roof planted with sedum, and heat, air conditioning, and lights that turn on only when someone is using a room. Solar panels are planned for part of the roof.

The building’s major donor so far is E-Trade cofounder William A. Porter, who earned his MBA at Sloan. Porter gave $25 million in 1999; part of the building will be the Porter Management Center.

The design architects were Moore Ruble Yudell of Santa Monica, and the executive architects supervising construction were Bruner/Cott Architects of Cambridge.

The official dedication takes place in May, as part of MIT’s 150th anniversary celebration.

For the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily, visit www.boston.com/innovation.