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Innovation Amplifiers: 25 people who are turning up the volume on innovation in Boston

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 31, 2012 07:45 AM

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I have been asking a pretty straightforward question over the past few weeks, on Twitter and by e-mailing my best-connected contacts: who has been most active in 2012 at working to make Boston's innovation economy better?

I've curated that list, and woven in some names of my own, to come up with 25 people who are dialing up the innovation level in what is already a pretty innovative place. They're educating recent college grads about careers at startups, encouraging well-off individuals to try angel investing, organizing meetups and throwing parties, and setting up new collaborative workspaces. A key criteria was whether they were involved with starting something new, taking over an existing entity, or expanding something that already existed, this year.

Call them the Innovation Amplifiers. In no particular order, they are:

shaunjohnson.jpgAaron O'Hearn, Shaun Johnson, and Mark Chang: For launching Boston Startup School earlier this summer, a six-week course designed to make recent college grads more appealing new hires for fast-growing tech companies. The program wraps up with students presenting in front of an audience of prospective employers. A second semester begins this November. (Johnson is at right.)

Katie Rae and Reed Sturtevant: For expanding TechStars Boston, the region's top accelerator program for entrepreneurs, from one class of about a dozen startups each year to two. Each session concludes with a day of demos for investors, who typically pump millions into the companies. The fall session of TechStars started last week. (Rae and Sturtevant were also prime movers behind Boston Startup School.)

selkoe.jpgGreg Selkoe and Malia Lazu: For establishing a high profile, fast, for the Future Boston Alliance. The non-profit aims to make Boston a more hospitable place for young artists, creative types, and entrepreneurs. According to Future Boston's manifesto, "We believe whole heartedly Boston can once again be the premiere global city for arts, culture, ideas and innovation." Let's do it. (Selkoe is at right.)

Jason Hanna: For expanding Greentown Labs, a workshop space in Fort Point Channel dedicated to energy startups. It now has room for about two dozen companies over two floors. Greentown is the largest collection of cleantech companies under one roof in the region, and it regularly hosts a mixer for cleantech folks called Energy Bar.

abbyfichtner2.jpgFrederic Lalonde, Chris Lynch, and Abby Fichtner: For laying the groundwork for Hack/Reduce, a new collaborative workspace in Cambridge with a mission to "help Boston create the talent and the technologies that will shape our future in a big data-driven economy." The initiative has raised about $3 million so far from a group of tech companies and venture capital firms, including $50,000 from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It opens this fall. (Fichtner is at right.)

Cort Johnson and Jeremy Weiskotten: For creating a new hub of tech companies on the edge of Chinatown (specifically on Kingston Street, which Johnson is trying to rename "Terrible Row," after the software development shop they both work for, Terrible Labs.) As a founder of DartBoston, a "community of ambitious young entrepreneurs and professionals," Johnson regularly organizes big parties. Weiskotten is the host of the video series "Scotch O' Clock," which has him making tech industry personalities swill whiskey and take themselves a little less seriously. (Johnson is pictured up top.)

davebalter.jpgSarah Hodges and Dave Balter: For launching, a classroom space in the South End that hosts a series of courses on topics like tech, marketing, and design — all taught by industry veterans. (Balter is at right.)

Jon Pierce and Jean Hammond: For organizing dinners, workshops, and conferences that discuss the pros and cons (well, primarily the pros) of making angel investments in early-stage companies. Pierce puts on events under the Angel Bootcamp banner; Hammond runs an "Angel Education Series" under the aegis of the Angel Capital Association.

adler.jpgAlexandra Adler: For bringing more startups, sponsors, and mentors into the annual Cleantech Open Northeast accelerator program and competition. Adler also helped expand into New York state. The Northeast Regional Awards Gala takes place October 9th. (Adler is at right.)

Dmitri Gunn: For his invite-only "Entrepreneurs & Investors" series of dinners — each followed by a poker game. The next one, in September, features founders from companies including Endeca, Crashlytics, and SessionM.

derrick-greenst.jpgDerrick Cheung and Howard Travis: For putting an ultra-hip apparel store into the back of a truck and bringing it to the streets of Boston, forcing the city to (slowly) hash out the rules for retailers on wheels. More recently, the co-founders of Green Street Vault have been setting up a series of pop-up stores in the Back Bay. (Cheung is pictured at right in a photo by Cal Bingham. Travis left the partnership in May, according to Cheung.)

Paul Hlatky: For taking the torch at Greenhorn Connect from the site's founder. Greenhorn aims to connect current students and recent grads with Boston's startup scene, with a comprehensive events calendar, blog, job board, and regular events like the Greenhorn Summit, taking place October 6th in Cambridge.

Anita Brearton: For the new Women's Entrepreneurial Council, attempting to "connect the dots" between the many groups and initiatives locally that offer support to female entrepreneurs.

guicav.jpgGui Cavalcanti: For expanding the physical space — and the course offerings — at Artisan's Asylum, Somerville's spiritual center for people who like to make stuff. (Cavalcanti himself is making an enormous six-legged walking robot. He's pictured at right.)

Sean Lindsay: For his Founder Mentors program, which makes matches between entrepreneurs and experienced mentors — and which keeps getting bigger.

Now, obviously, lists always leave off deserving people. So who else deserves recognition as an Innovation Amplifier for what they've been up to in 2012? Post a comment if you would...

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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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