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Mass Tech Leadership Council Gobbles Up Mass Network Communications Council

Posted by Scott Kirsner  November 3, 2009 05:30 PM

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It feels like the end of the telecom era in Massachusetts this evening, as the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council takes over the Massachusetts Network Communications Council, which over the past few years had been idling.

They're calling it a merger, but...

...Tom Hopcroft, president of MassTLC, will remain president of the new group. (Here's his blog post on the news.) Mark Horan, formerly chief of MassNetComms, will be a senior vice president. Aside from Horan, the two staffers who'd been helping to run MassNetComms won't join MassTLC. (Horan said they've already found other jobs.)

...About two-thirds of the 500 corporate members of the combined entity will come from MassTLC, with MassNetComms bringing the minority.

...And the Mass Network Communications name will disappear, as will most of MassNetComms' annual events.

Steve O'Leary, the chairman of MassTLC, said the idea to blend the two trade associations started gestating last February at MassTLC's annual meeting. "We had a panel on cloud computing, and you just couldn't ignore that the network and the software were starting to converge," said O'Leary, a former investment banker who recently left an entrepreneur-in-residence gig at General Catalyst to go off and do a new start-up.

O'Leary invited Steve Krom, an AT&T exec who is chairman of MassNetComms, to lunch at General Catalyst's Cambridge offices over the summer. "We mapped out our respective organizations, and saw that there was tremendous alignment in how they were structured," O'Leary said. MassNetComms' board discussed the idea at a later meeting at the Boston offices of WilmerHale, and then on October 19th, a formal vote to merge was taken on a teleconference call.

The combination of the two groups is a real coup for Hopcroft, who joined Mass TLC in 2005, when his own trade association (the New England Business and Technology Association, formerly the Mass Electronic Commerce Association) merged with what was then the Mass Software Council, run by Joyce Plotkin.

"This organization will have the scale to be the go-to organization for the tech industry," Hopcroft said. "The boundaries between the old councils just don't make sense any more." But what about MITX, the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange, I asked, which focuses on digital media, online advertising, and social media? Well, that boundary, Hopcroft and O'Leary assert, still makes sense.

Hopcroft says that Mass TLC will include networking topics -- especially mobile and video -- in its calendar of events, as well as its annual meetings and awards ceremony (the latter of which takes place this Thursday.) A few dozen MassNetComms board members will join Mass TLC's board.

MassNetComms was originally founded in 1992 as the Mass Telecommunications Council. "The people there at the formation were folks like Ed Markey and Bill Weld and Steve Levy, who was running BBN then," Horan recalled. "Paul Severino still had Wellfleet, and Eric Giler had Brooktrout. Bruce Sachs was at Cascade." Most of those companies have since been acquired. (And recently, of course, there was the big acquisition by Cisco of Starent, one of the few publicly-held networking companies of a more recent vintage.)

Giler, who once served as the group's chairman and is still on the board of MassNetComms, agreed with my suggestion that networking infrastructure companies are not as dominant on the state's technology landscape as they once were, but pointed out that there's still lots of activity in mobile communications. But Giler himself has gravitated away from the networking industry, and is now chief executive at WiTricity, in Watertown, a developer of wireless charging systems. "I think [this merger] is less a function of how the association was doing, and more a function of the industry," Giler said. "The 90s were a much more vibrant time for telecom and networking in Massachusetts."

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2 comments so far...
  1. The foresight of our friends at both Councils exemplifies the intellectual and practical thinking that propels the innovation economy forward. Litle & Co. is a beneficiary on both fronts as growth lifts us to a global payments stage.

    Posted by Tom Litle, CEO, Litle & Co. (Lowell) November 3, 09 07:14 PM
  1. This has the potential to be an outstanding development for all involved in "technology-enabled" business, which is virtually everyone, including the Clover Food Truck you tweeted after your lunch today. A food truck taking orders by iPhone?!?! Fantastic!

    But this also begs the question: Where will it end? Will more non-profits merge, or be acquired?

    I certainly think so, and even hope so. At the BBJ Corporate Citizenship Summit, Babson President Len Schlesinger moderated a panel discussion with the leaders of large and small foundations. I concluded that productivity, transparency, efficiency and dollars delivered to mission-based services would rise, perhaps dramatically, if all redundant administration were eliminated through centralization. Each executive director would lead the giving decisions aligned with their missions and leave accounting and money management to a smaller core of best-in-market managers.

    Apply the same logic to the business association community. Are their constituents better served by redundant infrastructure and administrative professionals, or by larger organizations that can dedicate a smaller share of each member's wallet to administration? Is the competition among them inspiring or provoking them to provide greater value? Is the differentiation of offerings clear and valuable, or murky? One might reasonably conclude that the equation for MassNetComms tipped to the point that "combining" with MassTLC was the best path for its members and staff. That's good. Can the MITX-MassTLC merger be far behind? I hope not, for I think the competition between the two is well-entrenched and generates higher quality programming, advocacy, recognition, and knowledge-sharing. Competition is good.

    Apply the same logic to the thousands -- literally thousands -- of non-profits in Massachusetts with budgets of less than $200k. Can they possibly deliver efficiently against their missions, or would they serve more effectively if they collaborated more on administration so they could focus more narrowly on service delivery? I'm struggling to find the evidence that supports the idea that "more is better." I sit on the board of a bigger-than-tiny non-profit, and still I wonder if our org would be stronger if it were part of a larger, efficient, broadly connected organizations.

    If I apply the same logic, what do you think the conclusion will be?

    Posted by John Marchiony, New Enterprise Factory November 4, 09 11:12 PM


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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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