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The Friday Five: Coolest Companies in Boston

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 25, 2009 07:31 AM

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Every Friday, I post a list of five things here, and invite you to build on the list by adding more in the comment section.

This Friday, it's the coolest, most innovative companies in the Boston area.

How was this list created? Last month, at a planning meeting for the new Innovation Open House series, we put a list of 40 or more companies on a whiteboard. (Innovation Open Houses enable a small set of students to get a "backstage pass" to interesting local businesses.) Then, a group of about 25 entrepreneurs, investors, marketing execs, students and trade association heads voted on which ones would be the coolest for students to visit.

These were the top five vote getters (along with a few of the runner-ups.) The list is an interesting mix of home-grown companies and branch offices of out-of-town firms.

1. iRobot Corp. Burlington-based maker of military, industrial, and consumer robots.

2. Harmonix Music Systems. Developer of music-oriented videogames like "Rock Band." Based in Central Square, Cambridge.

3. IDEO Cambridge. Local outpost of the Silicon Valley-based design firm.

4. Cambridge Innovation Center. Houses dozens of fledgling companies, start-up oriented service providers, and venture capital firms.

5. (A three-way tie!) Google Cambridge, the local office of the California-based Internet behemoth; Kiva Systems, a developer of robotic warehouse workers in Woburn; and Cambridge-based Zipcar, the dominant player in car-sharing.

A few of the top runners-up were Terrafugia, the Woburn start-up building a "street-legal airplane"; tissue-engineering pioneer Organogenesis; and Blue State Digital, the Boston Internet consultancy that built campaign Web sites for President Barack Obama and the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

Many of these companies will open their doors to currently-enrolled students starting next month (if you know any, encourage them to join the Innovation Open House Facebook group to find out more.)

And do add others below you think deserve to be on this list...

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12 comments so far...
  1. WiTricity. Wireless electricity - pretty amazing stuff!

    Posted by Rob Go September 25, 09 09:41 AM
  1. evergreen solar

    Posted by wdchip September 25, 09 10:40 AM
  1. It was fun to be a part of the IOH meeting group!

    Posted by Aditya Thaduri September 25, 09 11:08 AM
  1. A big thank you to the group for voting for us. To the extent Cambridge Innovation Center deserves any credit, however, it is a function of the cool things other people are doing inside our walls. These are things for which we really can't take credit.

    There are about 215 companies here today. Here is an unscientific, incomplete sampling of some of the neat things others are within this this community of entrepreneurs, in no particular order: Covalent Solar inventing new solar panels, Conduit Labs creating next generation music games, InVivo Therapeutics working to reverse paralysis, Linden Lab leading the new world of 3D virtual spaces with Second Life, Gloucester Pharmaceuticals soon we hope to be receiving approval for a new drug to fight a form of cancer, MassChallenge--a seed fund and competition for MA startups, Hubspot which has made Cambridge the center of a revolution in online marketing--and which may be the fastest growing company in Cambridge, Design That Matters, which is inventing low-cost breakthrough products to solve knotty problems in the developing world--like cheap infant incubators. More detail about these companies and others at

    We have worked hard to be a "Switzerland"-- a non-aligned open-platform for people to build businesses.

    We're coming up on our 10th anniversary, and I want to thank everyone in the community for helping us get to this point.

    Posted by Tim Rowe September 25, 09 11:15 AM
  1. Great list but you need 3Play Media on there -

    Posted by Kevin September 25, 09 11:21 AM
  1. They're not in Boston, but ZoomInfo in Waltham is quietly redefining Internet search technology, while making a profit at the same time. A neat trick for a 60 person, pre-event company.

    Posted by Martin September 25, 09 11:53 AM
  1. A little shameless but, you could add our company to the list.

    We have built websites for Bob Dylan, Madonna, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Beyonce, and The Beastie Boys to name a few.

    Posted by Aaron Perrino September 25, 09 01:46 PM
  1. Preserve

    Posted by John Lively September 25, 09 04:38 PM
  1. +1 for 3Play Media

    Posted by Seph September 26, 09 04:58 PM
  1. Emo Labs (invisible speakers)

    Posted by Jackson September 28, 09 12:27 PM
  1. sonicbids - a site that helps musicians connect with promoters and talent buyers like cmj, sxsw.... based in south end.

    Posted by Heather September 28, 09 02:00 PM
  1. IdeaPaint - they turn virtually anything you can paint into a dry-erase surface and any room into a hub of creativity and collaboration.

    Posted by Cathie Briggette, NSK Inc. September 29, 09 09:49 AM


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Innovation and technology news that matters, on a new website from the Boston Globe, featuring Scott Kirsner and other original reporting.

About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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More from Scott


March 3: Web Innovators Group
Demos, drinks, and schmoozing at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge.

March 7-8: MassDigi Game Challenge
Competition for aspiring game developers... plus panels and keynotes related to the business of play.

April 3-4: Mass Biotech Annual Meeting
Issues facing the region's life sciences community.