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Resolved, for 2011: Let's put the comparisons on pause, and just be great

Posted by Scott Kirsner  December 27, 2010 08:55 AM

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I have a resolution for 2011 that I'm hoping you'll sign on to:

What if we stopped comparing and benchmarking? What if we stopped wondering whether we're as innovative as New York or Silicon Valley? What if we stopped positing that New England in the 1970s or 1980s might have been more competitive than it is today?

Basically, what I'm asking is: what if we put all comparisons on pause for 2011, and just focused on creating companies, solving big problems, and kicking a--?

I confess: I'm more guilty than most when it comes to making comparisons. But I promise that in 2011, I'm not going to give an exit interview to every entrepreneur who leaves Boston because they hope to do better in New York or the Valley, asking them to opine on Boston's shortcomings. News flash: entrepreneurs can fail in those places too. When I'm at a panel discussion where the panelists start bloviating about the Valley versus Boston, or New York versus Boston, I'm walking out.

California, New York, Texas, Washington, North Carolina — all can be great places to start companies. Entrepreneurs should feel free to give it a go wherever they believe they're most likely to succeed.

But the data backs up my assertion that the New England region is incredibly supportive of entrepreneurs with big ideas in all sorts of industries, from life sciences to energy to information technology to transportation to financial services.

A recent study from Australia named Boston the top city in the global innovation economy. A recent analysis of the paperwork that start-ups file when they raise money found that, on a per capita basis, entrepreneurs are more likely to get funding in Massachusetts than California, New York, Colorado, or any other state. When CNBC looked at the best states in which to do business earlier this year, it ranked Massachusetts at #5. No state receives more research funding from the National Institutes of Health, per capita, than Massachusetts. When Highland Capital Partners looked last year at the number of venture-backed companies worth more than $1 billion that had gone public over the prior five years, it found Massachusetts had spawned five; California four. Every year for the past half-decade, Massachusetts has been the state best-positioned to compete in the "new economy," according to the Kauffman Foundation. (Connecticut is ranked #5.) Oh yeah, and we also run the biggest start-up competition in the world here.

And we are insecure about our stature why, exactly?

Here in New England, we've spent the last couple hundred years doing things that haven't been done before... and building companies that transform breakthrough research into marketable products. We like to solve big problems that make a big difference in the world. That's not a bad position to occupy in an increasingly competitive global economy.

Now, does this resolution mean we shouldn't focus on how to make the region even more supportive of risk-takers?

No way. I know there's much more we need to do, especially when it comes to spreading the good word about what's happening here in New England; creating opportunities for students to connect with the innovation economy here; and making it easier for people to leave one company and start or work for another.

But if you think there's something else we ought to do better, why not resolve to help us do it better in 2011?

I'd love your comments on this resolution, or your help sharing it with others.


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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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