Rosenzweig's non-profit, Smarter in the City, hopes to have an incubator up and running by June, with space for a half-dozen companies. But he's still in the process of rounding up prospective corporate sponsors to support the idea, and applying for grants from The Boston Foundation and others.
Smarter in the City would provide office space, mentorship, and educational programs for the selected entrepreneurs, along with a small amount of seed funding. But it wouldn't take a piece of equity from the startups that participate. Rosenzweig says he's primarily focused on "programming-based startups that are creating web and mobile applications or services," and "not manufactured or fabricated goods." The application process is now open. (I think the market for tech incubators and accelerators in Boston is already pretty crowded, and that focusing on different kinds of startups might be wise...like service startups, retail startups, apparel startups, etc. )
Rosenzweig's vision is to eventually create a network of incubators around the country. "The focus is to create high-tech startup incubators in the inner cities, spawning tech businesses in these neighborhoods and targeting a young, underemployed workforce as future innovators and entrepreneurs," Rosenzweig says. He has identified a few prospective locations for the program in Dudley Square, but says that he's focused on securing funding first.
Harvard economist Ed Glaeser wrote a Globe column last month about creating an entrepreneurship district in Dudley Square; in the town hall meeting referred to in the piece, Rosenzweig was a key participant in the discussion.
Rewind the clock one year, to December 2012, and the city of Boston didn't seem like a very obvious place to try to build a startup.
There were only a handful of places you could go to find a half-dozen or more startups clustered in the same spot. One was the MassChallenge entrepreneurship competition on Fan Pier, which was taking advantage of free rent in a mostly-empty tower. Another was Workbar Boston, a shared office space across from South Station where entrepreneurs and consultants could rent desks and conference rooms on a short-term basis. Space with a Soul brought together non-profits and mission-driven startups on Summer Street in Fort Point Channel, and Headquarters Boston offered a home for small manufacturing firms and artists.
The startup scene in Boston grew a lot in 2013, and it's going to have an even bigger year in 2014. This year saw the opening of Bolt in Downtown Crossing, a six-month long program for consumer electronics entrepreneurs, and PayPal's Start Tank, which offers free office space to a range of ventures at PayPal's Boston outpost at International Place. In April, I wrote about the community of entrepreneurs abandoning Cambridge for cheaper office space and more flexible leases in Downtown Crossing — including one, Mobee, that occupies the copper-clad dome of Boston's Old City Hall. In early December, a 3,000 square foot co-working space called Black House & Co. opened on School Street. Also in 2013: two Waltham-based venture capital firms, Battery Ventures and Polaris Ventures, announced they'd move into Boston's waterfront Innovation District, into the same building that currently houses MassChallenge. (Bolt is pictured above.)
Coming in 2014: Kayak co-founder Paul English opens a new incubator/nightclub/exhibition space on Summer Street called Blade. WeWork, a nationwide network of co-working spaces, is planning two Boston locations, both near South Station, on opposite sides of Fort Point Channel. TechStars Boston is moving from Cambridge to Boston, as I first reported in October, to space on Lincoln Street in the Leather District. (The building is pictured below.)
The biggest deal that may not yet be sealed: Cambridge Innovation Center has been negotiating a lease on four floors at 50 Milk Street in the Financial District, according to several sources, totaling about 65,000 square feet. Tim Rowe, CIC's founder, said he wasn't yet able to comment on any potential expansion to Boston.
Also: MassChallenge will move next summer from Fan Pier to the Boston Design Center on the edge of the harbor, which will likely spark even more startup activity on that far western edge of Boston's Innovation District.
This surprised even me, but when you put together the complete list, in 2014 there will be more places in Boston than Cambridge where you'll have a coterie of entrepreneurs working in the same office. (Cambridge has Intrepid Labs, Cambridge Innovation Center, Workbar Central, Koa Labs, LabCentral, and Hack/Reduce.) Here's an annotated Google Map I created of all these new incubators, accelerators, and shared office spaces in downtown Boston and the Innovation District.
(In November, after Marty Walsh was elected as Boston's next mayor, I wrote a column called "Welcome to Beta City" that explained how his administration could keep this momentum going, and spread the wealth to other parts of the city.)
Founder Roy Hirshland, right, says "it's not an incubator or a co-working space. It's a lab for the workplace," with donated furniture and fixtures from companies like Steelcase, Soft dB, and Reflex Lighting Group. In exchange for the goodies, "we let their clients to come in and see what they look like in a real workplace." Conference room technology lets multiple people plug in their laptops to a flat-panel display, and easily switch back and forth among them. Interior lights automatically dim when there's sunlight streaming in from outside. Sound-masking technology from Soft dB uses sensors to adjust the level of background music based on the activity level of a room. And there are a variety of different environments for small meetings, casual conversations, private phone calls, individual work, and social events like cocktail parties. None of T3's employees has a dedicated office.
"The idea is, 'Why do you need an office if you're only here 30 percent of the time?'" Hirshland says. In about 5,000 square feet of space, he says there are "spots" for about 60 people, far more than the typical cubicle-land arrangement. While "friends of the firm" will be able to work in the space on a transitory basis, Hirshland says there isn't really space set aside for fledgling startups to operate out of. The Boston architecture firm Visnick & Caulfield Associates designed T3's new space.
Working out of the Innovation Studio part-time are investor Nicole Stata of Boston Seed Capital and Dan Allred of Silicon Valley Bank. (Both Boston Seed and SVB have offices in the 'burbs — in Wellesley and Newton, respectively.) Hirshland hopes to add another two or three of those experts-in-residence, along with "lots of informal guests."
Among the events being planned for T3's new Innovation Studio are a saké tasting and a panel discussion about what Boston needs in terms of infrastructure to attract more innovative companies to the city. The firm works with a number of clients now based in the Innovation District, including LogMeIn, Battery Ventures, and EnerNOC.
Photos below:FULL ENTRY
Big shift: Governor Patrick now supports making noncompete agreements unenforceable in Massachusetts
It's a topic I've been writing about regularly for the past five or six years, since the contracts hamper the mobility of talented people in our state, especially when it comes to leaving one company to go off and start (or help build) a new one. Often, employees are asked to sign noncompetes after they've accepted a job offer, or on their first day of work.
But when I've asked Governor Patrick about the topic, he has typically said that he hears arguments for and against changing the rules around noncompetes in Massachusetts.
Today, however, after several years in which Beacon Hill legislators have submitted bills that would ban noncompetes entirely or make minor adjustments to the way they can be used — like limiting their duration, or the salary level of employees they can impact — Patrick's Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, Gregory Bialecki, said that the Patrick administration now supports "outright elimination of enforceability" of noncompete agreements. But Bialecki also said the said the administration wants to see Massachusetts adopt the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, intended to safeguard a company's trade secrets from being misappropriated by a departing employee.
That first move would give employees more freedom to change jobs and start companies, without naturally presuming that in every case they will be guilty of bringing along customer lists or proprietary data. The second move gives companies new protections against exactly those kinds of transgressions.
Here's the key passage from Bialecki's testimony today:
"Non-competes stifle movement and inhibit competition and we do not want that. The evidence is clear—we are not seeing the kind of spin-offs and starts up at the same rate that previously made Massachusetts an enviable model. Individual career growth is good for the Commonwealth: We encourage our talent to be creative, to be innovative, and to network with other talented people. Furthermore, we encourage employers to recruit talented people. However, we send a mixed message: providing the talent needed to support the kind of explosive growth we want in the innovation economy is considerably more difficult if employees are legally unable to move between jobs in the innovation economy."
It's a big shift for the administration — and it'll be interesting to see if this spurs the legislature to move. It's one thing for a governor in his last term to suggest big changes that affect big companies, but another for state legislators thinking about their own re-election to fall in step.
Bialecki's full testimony is below:
WeWork, which opened its first office in New York in 2010, already has multiple locations in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In addition to renting desks and offices by the month and offering conference rooms that can be reserved for meetings, WeWork also hooks tenants up with discounted rates on healthcare plans, credit card processing, and Zipcar memberships. Pricing for a dedicated desk at one of WeWork's San Francisco facilities, for example, is $400 per month. (Though WeWork hasn't announced pricing in Boston, that's a bit cheaper than the Cambridge Innovation Center in Kendall Square. CIC charges $635/month for a dedicated desk, according to managing director Geoff Mamlet, but he says that is an "all-inclusive price" that includes features that WeWork charges extra for, like tech support and phone service.) WeWork also organizes educational seminars and social events at each location. According to WeWork's website, "every WeWork location is staffed with Community Managers who work directly with members to understand their business needs, struggles and growth plans — and connect them to other members who can help."
In January 2012, WeWork raised $6.8 million in funding.
Mark Kasdorf, who runs the Intrepid Labs co-working space in East Cambridge, tells me that it is "packed to the gills," and so clearly there's unmet demand for flexible office space where lots of entrepreneurs and consultants can work alongside each other. John Harthorne, founder of the entrepreneurship competition MassChallenge, says that "we're all better off if WeWork winds up creating stronger ties between New York and Boston. The two cities have really complementary assets."
At realty firm T3 Advisors, CEO Roy Hirshland notes, "This co-working space sector has really expanded. I do think it signifies some fundamental shifts in the way at least part of the workforce will work in the future." WeWork's Boston space will total about 70,000 square feet; it'll be quite interesting to see how quickly it can fill that...
WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann didn't respond to my requests for an interview last week.
Update: On September 20th, MassChallenge announced it had signed a five-year, rent-free deal with Jamestown Properties, moving to the Marine Industrial Park.Innovation District, the MassChallenge entrepreneurship program, is looking for new digs. MassChallenge needs to be out of its 14th floor space at One Marina Park Drive on Fan Pier by next July, and founder John Harthorne tells me they're considering two possibilities: Jamestown Properties' Bronstein Center on Drydock Avenue (still within the Innovation District), and the Landmark Center, near Fenway Park and the Longwood Medical Area. Harthorne expects to announce the non-profit's decision by October 30th, when MassChallenge holds its annual awards ceremony — if not before.
Both landlords are offering MassChallenge a pretty sweet deal: free rent on about 25,000 square feet. That's the same deal that MassChallenge struck with Joe Fallon, the owner of its current home overlooking Boston Harbor. (Clearly Fallon now feels that he'll be able to attract a paying tenant for MassChallenge's full-floor office, with floor-to-ceiling windows and 360-degree views.) What's the upside for the building owner? MassChallenge provides space for about 125 startup companies, some of which could develop into future rent-paying tenants, and the program regularly attracts executives from larger companies as mentors and speakers. "We're basically like a marketing amenity for the building," Harthorne says, noting that tenants like Enernoc, Goodwin Procter, and Battery Ventures have signed leases at One Marina Park since MassChallenge moved in three years ago. Harthorne says that MassChallenge would probably share the costs of building out the new space with the landlord.
"We're kind of torn," Harthorne says. "We love the Innovation District, but Landmark is close to the medical center, which is a thriving area of the city. Our current lease is up in July of next year, and so we do need to do something ahead of next year's program," which typically begins in June. "We're eager to make a decision really soon," he says.
Which spot would you pick?
(Harthorne is on the right in the photo, with angel investor John Landry.)
edX, the online education nonprofit launched by MIT and Harvard, has leased two floors in ITA's old building, says director of communications Nancy Moss. (That's about 30,000 square feet.) Some employees are already working in temporary space there, but the full team — about 73 people — is expected to move in early next year.
And it looks like edX's neighbor will be Twitter Boston, which is in late-stage negotiations on another two floors of the building, representing about 30,000 square feet, according to several real estate industry sources. Pete Bekarian of Jones Lang LaSalle, said he couldn't comment on the transaction, and neither would Jim Prosser, senior manager of communications at Twitter.
If Twitter signs the lease, the new space could house about 150 employees, a big jump from Twitter's current local employment, which LinkedIn pegs at about 50, and a recent Globe article said was "roughly 75." Twitter bought two local startups this year that happen to be based across the street from 141 Portland Street, in the One Kendall Square complex: Crashlytics, a tool for mobile developers, and Bluefin Labs, which analyzes what people are saying about TV shows and commercials on social media. (Twitter picked up a third local startup in June, Spindle, but it said it will move key members of that team to San Francisco.)
It'll be interesting to see what happens to the ITA Software sign atop the building at 141 Portland Street; founder Jeremy Wertheimer told me once that he had to jump through plenty of hoops to get the city's OK, but felt it was worth it for branding and recruiting purposes. Will the building's facade eventually sport the Twitter or edX name?
(In the pic above are Crashlytics founders Jeff Seibert and Wayne Chang, and Bluefin founders Michael Fleischman and Deb Roy. Seibert recently relocated to Twitter HQ in San Francisco)
The Innovation Trail of Boston & Cambridge: See the past, present and future of science and technology, on foot
Update: We're doing a one-time-only walking tour of the Innovation Trail, on November 10th, 2013. Joining me will be innovation historian and Framingham State prof Bob Krim and Daniel Berger-Jones, CEO of Cambridge Historical Tours. The group is limited to 30 participants... and all ticket proceeds will go to a STEM/entrepreneurship-oriented nonprofit that you get to choose. Tickets available here.
It was conceived in 1951. The newest of its sites, the Bunker Hill Monument, was built in 1842, but it mainly focuses on Revolutionary Era Boston. Most people have walked it a few too many times, with kids and out-of-town relatives.
I thought the Freedom Trail could use a younger, hipper, science-and-technology oriented sibling. So in my Sunday Boston Globe column this week, I laid out an Innovation Trail of Boston and Cambridge.
Like the Freedom Trail, you can actually walk it. Unlike the Freedom Trail, all of the sites are free (except for the MIT Museum, which charges admission.)
And I also set up a guide to the Innovation Trail, using an iPhone app called Moveable Feast. The app is free (get it here), and once you have it, you can access the free "Innovation Trail" tour, which will guide you from place to place using a map, and also serve up audio, video, photos, and text related to each stop.
Obviously, I felt the urge to highlight every interesting spot related to science, technology, and entrepreneurship in the area, but I also wanted to design a tour that was walkable in less than a day. The stops are below, along with a few of the videos and audio clips that you can hear with the app.
Post a comment if you go on the tour... or think that other spots ought to be included. (Also worth a look are this map of Innovation in Cambridge from the Cambridge Historical Society, and Joost Bonsen's blog post about some important locations I didn't include.)FULL ENTRY
Now, it seems like the professional services firms are also pulling up stakes.
Law firm Foley Hoag LLP, which opened an "Emerging Enterprise Center" in Waltham in 2006 to work with tech and life sciences companies, plans to close the office by the fall. The EEC is home base for about a dozen attorneys and a handful of entrepreneurs-in-residence. It is also a venue for networking events and workshops.
Jasmine Trillos-Decarie, Foley Hoag's director of marketing and business development, explains in an e-mail:
...We established the EEC in Waltham because that’s where the entrepreneurs were at the time. Now, entrepreneurs gravitate to urban areas like the Innovation District and Kendall Square. ...Many venture capital firms have also relocated back to these areas in the past couple of years. For us, the synergies are even more perfect, as we have called the Innovation District home for ten years, and have been actively involved in supporting its development. Now we can support industries that are moving here. In addition, we are also focusing on supporting entrepreneurs on the ground in Kendall Square through our office at the Cambridge Innovation Center.
At our Boston office, we will continue to host events like TEC@FoleyHoag targeted at educating entrepreneurs, providing them networking opportunities with venture capitalists, and generally supporting the culture of innovation that is so essential to the continued growth of technology in Massachusetts. In addition, we will continue to host select entrepreneurs-in-residence in our Boston office, and we will shortly be announcing that two of those whom we are hosting in Waltham will be joining us in Boston.
(The firm opened a small outpost earlier this year at the Cambridge Innovation Center in Kendall, as Trillos-Decarie mentions above, though its primary office locally is on Seaport Boulevard near the World Trade Center.)
Trillos-Decarie says that the closure of the Waltham office won't have an impact on Foley Hoag's headcount locally; those employees will eventually be housed in the Boston office. Networking events and seminars will continue to be held at the Emerging Enterprise Center in Waltham through August.
We've all been looking at pictures and videos of what happened. It's hard to avoid. It's hard to believe this happened in our city, full of students, educators, healers, scientists, and entrepreneurs.
But there are also photos of the race that show it for what it has been for more than a century, and what it will continue to be in the future: one of our city's rites of spring, a celebration of life and endurance, a race that so many run to raise money for a cause, or in honor of someone else.
Next year, I hope that the entire city will find a way to run, walk, or bike the course... or cheer as spectators... because the marathon is now a bigger part of our city's soul than it ever was before.
(The picture above was taken by the Boston Globe's Dina Rudick.)
Angel of the Year
Andy Palmer- Koa Labs
Dharmesh Shah- Hubspot
Will Herman- Techstars
Nicole Stata- Boston Seed Capital
Ty Danco- BuySideFX
David Chang- PayPal Boston
Joe Caruso- Bantam Group
Rising Star: VC
Rob Go- NextView Ventures
Stephen Kraus- Bessemer Venture Partners
Kent Bennett- Bessemer Venture Partners
Rising Star: Entrepreneur
Sravish Sridhar- Kinvey
Eliot Buchanan- Plastiq
John Harthorne- MassChallenge
Fred Shilmover- InsightSquared
Andrew Paradise- Lookout Gaming
Justin Borgman- Hadapt
Hirshland tells me that T3's Innovation Studio will have space for "five to ten people," who might be patent attorneys visiting for two or three hours, or entrepreneurs working on a new venture for two or three months. "It's not an incubator or a co-working space," he explains. "It's really just a place where some of our firm's friends and people who work in the ecosystem can connect."
Hirshland says that the new office, on the building's third floor, will also be a kind of showcase for new approaches to workspace design. "We're planning to have interesting furniture and lighting and other elements that will show how different work styles can be supported," Hirshland says. None of the T3 employees, he adds, will have a dedicated desk; they'll use meeting rooms and desks on an on-demand basis.
Two of T3's clients, Battery Ventures and EnerNOC, have also leased space at One Marina Park Drive. A third client, LogMeIn, which had previously been based in Woburn, just moved to its new headquarters at 320 Summer Street this week, in the Fort Point Channel area.
Hirshland says the new office's proximity to Logan Airport was a big draw; T3 opened a Palo Alto outpost last year, and so he and other employees are hopping planes more often.
But he doesn't think the suburbs are over as a location for innovation-oriented companies: "We have a ton of clients who still want to be on Route 128."
There are a number of great programs in this vein already (such as RoughDraft.vc and MassDigi's Summer Innovation Program), but nothing that acts as a comprehensive scouting program across all industries, covering the entire state.
With the National Football League’s draft approaching next month, you can bet that every team has carefully constructed its list of the most promising college players they hope to add to their rosters.
What if Massachusetts devoted the same resources to scouting the next generation of entrepreneurs as NFL teams devote to finding their next great wide receiver? (The Patriots alone have 21 employees focused solely on identifying and cultivating future players.) Entrepreneurs, after all, can have a far bigger impact on the local economy than football stars, no matter how many seats they fill or jerseys they sell.
I’ve been brainstorming lately about how a scouting program might operate, soliciting input from entrepreneurs who got their educations here, as well as start-up coaches like Katie Rae of TechStars Boston and Jeffrey Bussgang of Flybridge Capital Partners. Here’s how we might identify high-potential future founders, and also what we’d do once we identified them.
Here's some of the Twitter conversation that the column sparked. I'm also interested in your comments below. How would you try to identify the top future entrepreneurs? What should we do for them?
Coming soon to Kendall: The Lab Cambridge, a workspace and showcase that seeks to blend art and science
The Lab Cambridge will include work space, an exhibition space, a small auditorium, a store and a café, Edwards says. It's the American incarnation of Le Laboratoire in Paris, which Edwards opened in 2007.
In Paris, Le Laboratoire "has a lot of open space," says Terry McGuire of Polaris Venture Partners, one of the backers of The Lab Cambridge. "It can sometimes feel like a gallery, but there's also the lab component, where people are trying new things. There's a store, so people off the street come in to try things, and give real-time feedback. It's this very open, experimental site." Students come from around the world to work on transforming ideas into prototype products, and Edwards regularly invites artists, performers, and scientists to collaborate on exhibitions. (One recent show used high-speed cameras to capture dancers in action, a 21st century update on the work of Doc Edgerton.) Flagship Ventures' Noubar Afeyan, another supporter of the new Lab in Cambridge, says Edwards is interested in "creating a social face for an innovation lab that is making things intended for consumers."
According to a promotional brochure for the project, "The Lab Store will sell innovative designs facilitating environmental sustainability and better human living." Inside the store will be the "WikiBar," where visitors will be able to sample foods wrapped in edible skins and shells, made by Edwards' Cambridge startup Wikicell. The Lab also will host "educational experiments" for Boston Public School students.
Clearly, The Lab is going to be an interesting addition to Kendall Square, where not much culture happens outside of petri dishes, and where all of the innovative work takes place behind locked doors, an elevator ride away from the street.FULL ENTRY
So where are the flexible living spaces, where they can rent a bed, share a kitchen, and schmooze over supper with other entrepreneurs?
Two local tech entrepreneurs who have done a bit of real-estate investing in Massachusetts and Maine recently opened CrashPad, the first "co-housing" facility for entrepreneurs I've heard about locally. It's already full, and they have plans for similar facilities in other cities.
Phil Fremont-Smith runs ImpulseSave, a startup that promotes saving over spending, and his wife Jennifer Fremont-Smith runs Smarterer, which creates online skill tests. "We have a long history buying, renting, and selling houses in Salem and Portland, Maine," Phil tells me. CrashPad aims to serve entrepreneurs who are new to Boston, helping them "find a group of like-minded innovators, and be able to get to know them by living with them." Phil says that they had "no trouble" filling a six-bedroom house in East Cambridge with twelve tenants, who moved in late last month. Some are participating in the TechStars Boston accelerator or the Startup Institute program.
But residents can't stay forever: Fremont-Smith says that the longest possible tenancy will be four months. "It's like a particle accelerator. We take people from different places and backgrounds and crash 'em together," he says. "What happens is magical." The first wave of tenants are paying about $1000 a month, though that rate could change in the future, he says.
The furnished house not only comes with two kitchens, a living room, and high-speed WiFi, but also a programming director who will arrange guest speakers and events like wine tastings, and an in-house "resident facilitator" who does things like coordinate who's cooking dinner on which night. Interestingly, there's no TV (but there are cleaners who come by twice a month.) This first "beta" CrashPad is a rental, but Fremont-Smith says the couple may consider buying properties in the future.
Fremont-Smith says that the couple are "looking at properties in other markets — anywhere there is an innovation economy. This is not just a backyard project for us in the Boston area." He says the couple have raised money from individual investors to get the Cambridge CrashPad going, and potentially launch others.
From the ads that CrashPad has posted on Craigslist:
Hacin, right, says that the BIC will probably begin opening in stages this summer, with the complete facility online by sometime around Labor Day. It'll have a new name; Boston Innovation Center is a placeholder, and the City of Boston has been trying to crowdsource the permanent one. Managing the space will be the Venture Café foundation, a non-profit created by Tim Rowe of the Cambridge Innovation Center, which now operates a once-a-week networking event (with free beer, I should note) in Kendall Square.
The building's design was inspired by its location; Hacin explains that "this area used to be railyards and docks. Some of the docks are still in use, of course. But things were transferred from boat to train, or train to boat, here." The pointy left side of the structure echoes the prow of a ship, and the rectangular right side the geometry of a boxcar. Hacin says that the BIC will be "a writeable building — you'll be able to write on basically anything inside it" and that the space will be "raw and flexible on the inside," to support a broad spectrum of possible uses. (Among the groups that have expressed interest in holding events there are Mobile Mondays, Wonder Women of Boston, Design Museum Boston, and the Boston LGBT Film Festival.) The building's interior is about 12,000 square feet.
Here's the inside of that ship's prow, looking out toward the Institute of Contemporary Art. This is where the restaurant's indoor seating will be, connecting to a slightly-elevated outdoor patio that will have nice views of the park across the street and the water, too. The restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and also provide catering services for events that take place at the BIC.
This will be the BIC's central hallway. (The picture looks toward the main entryway on Northern Avenue.) On the left side of the photo are smaller conference rooms, and on the right is the building's large meeting room. The smaller conference rooms will all face a not-yet-built street that will connect Seaport Boulevard and Northern Avenue. They can have doors to the outside, which would enable them to host pop-up shops, exhibitions, or demos that would be easily accessible to pedestrians.
Exactly what is that? It's office space that can be rented in very small increments — perhaps a desk or a 200-square foot office — on a monthly basis, with shared resources like printers, kitchens, and conference rooms. Very much the kind of space that Cambridge Innovation Center or Workbar rent to entrepreneurs...
"We're thrilled that all these major players in the innovation space want to be in Kendall Square," Cheung says, "but it's a blessing and a curse. We want to be sure we maintain the right mix of startups and bigger companies. Cambridge is extremely active when it comes to creating affordable housing, because we value the diversity and the mix of people that attracts. We wanted to apply that same concept to office space."
But unlike affordable housing, the proposed alterations to Cambridge's zoning rules wouldn't set any sort of price ceiling for what landlords could charge for this innovation space. "We're trying to give the market the flexibility to figure it out," he says.
And developers and corporations putting up new buildings in Kendall wouldn't necessarily have to put the innovation space in their own buildings; they could set it up in a different building in the area. That could be a boon to Tim Rowe's Cambridge Innovation Center, which has already started expanding beyond its home base at One Broadway to a second Kendall Square space at 101 Main Street, or other shared offices like Intrepid Labs.
Cheung says Cambridge's Planning Board probably won't start considering the issue of "5% for startups" until the summer. If it is enacted, he says the next issue Kendall will have to grapple with is the question of where startups will go once they grow past the 10- or 12-person stage.
Interestingly, MIT has already voluntarily agreed to adopt the 5% for startups concept as part of a major redevelopment plan that is wending its way through the planning process. MIT's plan would add almost one million square feet of new office space in or near Kendall.
In a piece from last October, the Globe reported that the average price for office space in Kendall was then about $54 a square foot. And from last July, here's my construction report on what's going up in Cambridge and Boston.
My take: I'm glad that Cambridge is trying to ensure that there's a place for entrepreneurs to cultivate new ideas in Kendall, but the neighborhood is fast becoming a constellation of Fortune 500 brands, with startups mainly working out of the Cambridge Innovation Center (just as there are still a few buildings dedicated to artists in Fort Point Channel, which was once an artist-dominated neighborhood.) Some growing companies may find space in East Cambridge, but that area is rapidly heading upscale. I predict the big winner will be downtown Boston, where startups are starting to find cheap space in the Financial District and Downtown Crossing, with companies like PayPal Boston and EnerNOC serving as anchors.
Conine says that much of Wayfair's recruiting focuses on recent college grads, but that the company has also been trying to attract more senior engineers — people with at least eight or ten years of software development experience.
As an experiment, Wayfair has floated a couple of trial balloons, suggesting in job postings that it was planning to open an office in Marlborough, near Route 495, and in Nashua, New Hampshire. "We wanted to see if we'd get a different kind of person applying — an untapped group of engineers out there that already lives in the suburbs and likes the lifestyle," Conine told me. The company's headquarters are nestled between the Back Bay and South End, in a high rise that is part of Christian Science Plaza.
"We ran the ads for three or four months, and we just didn't see a different profile of candidate than the people we were already getting," Conine said. "Our theory is that maybe those people [in the suburbs and southern New Hampshire] are more interested in the lifestyle of bigger corporate employers, versus the scrappier, hard-charging startup."
"If we got a dozen or so interesting people, we would've set up a Marlborough office," Conine says. "And we already have a few engineers who commute from Nashua, so we tried that, too, as a secondary location. But we got, like, two interesting candidates in both places."
Conine adds that as Wayfair as grown into a mid-sized, adolescent company (it was founded in 2002), it has started receiving more applications from senior engineers at suburban companies like EMC and Raytheon, who don't seem to mind coming in to work in Boston. "We might have gotten to the size where we're in their comfort zone," he says. "But it tends to be the people itching to get back into something exciting — people who see an opportunity in the Internet startup scene."
Cambridge Innovation Center plans to expand this year, with new Hub Boston office for mission-driven entrepreneurs
Mamlet, right, wasn't ready to say much about the endeavor, but he did tell me it will likely be in or near Kendall Square, though no lease has been signed. "Boston has a really large community of people for whom the idea of making the next Facebook just doesn't make them excited," he said. "What they want to do instead is make the world a better place. Their goals are centered around doing good. It's a big, underserved population that we think is really important to serve well." That population could include someone designing a new kind of wind turbine, or starting a non-profit to promote music education.
Hub Boston will be a co-working space, which means that it'll offer lots of flexibility: individuals and teams can pay to use as much space as they need, on a month-to-month basis. It seems like it could be fairly similar to the NonProfit Center, on South Street in Boston, and Space With A Soul, on Summer Street in Fort Point. Both are operating at or near capacity.
"Space for non-profits is very badly needed," says Space With A Soul founder Stas Gayshan. "We're pretty jammed, and looking to grow." He said he views Hub Boston as a welcome addition to the local ecosystem.
Hub Boston could open as soon as this spring. Stay tuned...
Charles and Pickett say that the program will be self-funding, since students will pay tuition of about $11,000. The program will run 14-plus hours a day, according to Charles, with a mix of classroom instruction and hands-on "challenges" that will require students to work collaboratively. Launch Academy will culminate with a "hiring day," when companies will be invited in to meet the graduates — and ideally, make offers.
"When graduates get a job at a hiring company that we present at hiring day, we receive a recruiting fee from the hiring company," Charles says. "And we'll pass that along to the students, up to $5000, which helps reduce the cost of their tuition."
They hope to run the initial Launch Academy program in Kendall Square starting in May, perhaps at Cambridge Innovation Center. The class will consist of 25 students, and Charles says they've been conducting interviews for the last month or so. "The class is about 35 percent filled, and our acceptance rate is about 30 percent," he says.
Charles says that he and Pickett "got together because we both recognized the technical talent gap everyone is suffering from in Boston and abroad. We believe our non-traditional model for training web developers can help to heal that pain." The pair are considering New York as a second location for Launch Academy.
Desks cost $450 a month, and Palmer says his focus is on "young, first-time folks who want to be on the Red Line." Already working from the space are the Cambridge employees of Recorded Future, a predictive search engine; the Harvard-focused Experiment Fund, run by Patrick Chung and Hugo Van Vuuren; and an energy-oriented hedge fund. Koa is a Maori word that means "happiness," Palmer explains. While Harvard Square has been home to startups like Vlingo and venture capital firms like General Catalyst, this is the first shared workspace for entrepreneurs I've heard of.
Palmer has been involved with startups like Vertica, CloudSwitch, and Infinity Pharmaceuticals, in addition to a long-standing relationship with Novartis's Cambridge R&D facility as its head of software. He's also an active seed investor, having done 15 deals in the last nine months. Palmer says he's working on two more projects these days: another collaboration with database guru Michael Stonebraker of MIT, and a spin-out from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Palmer also writes a blog called The Fundable.
Here's a pic of the top-floor Koa Labs space, conveniently located right next-door to Otto Pizza. There are several offices overlooking Harvard Square, and a conference room at the end of the open area you see below.
Arlington seems to be working to change that. The town hired its first economic development coordinator, Alan Manoian, back in May. Manoian has been thinking about how to attract startups and how to promote what he calls Arlington's "innovation lifestyle." There have also been discussions about creating an Arlington Innovation Center, where early-stage ventures could congregate and share resources.
When I met recently with Manoian and Carol Kowalski, Arlington's director of planning and community development, they didn't have many specifics to share. (Manoian and Kowalski are pictured above.) But Manoian mentioned that companies like VisiCalc, Mitre, and Wang Laboratories all had roots in the town. And there are some historic mill buildings in Arlington, as well as second-floor offices along Massachusetts Avenue and Broadway that could provide space for fledgling companies. But Arlington isn't home to any large office buildings or corporate campuses, unlike neighboring Lexington, and Manoian says the town's niche could turn out to be companies in the "10 to 100 employee range."
I polled a handful of people from the startup scene who live in Arlington, and none of them had yet heard from Manoian, or were familiar with the town's initiative. Larry Bohn, a former tech exec who is now a partner at General Catalyst, said he'd lived in the town for 30 years, and "the only startup I remember is Boston Light Software," an e-commerce company founded by Paul English and acquired by Intuit. English, another Arlington resident who went on to co-found the travel search site Kayak, said he had found cheap, $8-per-square-foot warehouse space for Boston Light "walking distance from my son's nursery school at the time," on Lowell Street. (Kayak's technology operation, which English runs, is based in Concord.) Rob Go of NextView Ventures and Chris Lynch of Atlas Venture both sounded skeptical that the town could build enough critical mass to become appealing to startups, and also that there's enough space that'd be suitable. "There isn't really any commercial space, except storefronts," Lynch wrote via e-mail.
Kowalski says that she has been talking with some commercial property owners in the town about making their buildings more hospitable to startups, which often want small spaces with an opportunity to expand as needed, and short-term leases. The town may soon organize a design charrette to bring together property owners, entrepreneurs, and interested residents to talk about making the town more welcoming to innovation-oriented businesses. Manoian talks about an "open source process."
We'll see how that process plays out — and whether startups and Arlington residents cotton to the concept.
(One thing that could be a forerunner of this future startup community in Arlington: the newly-expanded Barismo coffee roastery on Mass. Ave., which may actually include space for seating.)
In the video, Feld says that there are four pillars to his "Boulder thesis" about how vibrant startup communities are built:
1. Startup communities are led by entrepreneurs
2. Entrepreneurs have to take a long-term view (20+ years)
3. Be inclusive of anyone who's interested in being part of the startup ecosystem
4. Organize activities and events that are substantive (moreso than cocktail parties or award dinners)
I think one crucial element of point #3, and an area where Boston can do much better, is recruiting people from larger companies into the startup ecosystem -- not necessarily as employees, but as advisors and mentors and board members. There are scads of people at former startups (companies like TripAdvisor and Zipcar and Akamai) with great experience in hiring, marketing, business development, and other areas, who can be extremely helpful to startups that are trying to scale. We should be doing more in Boston to find those kinds of experts and weave them into our startup community.
So it was an interesting role reversal when the New England Venture Capital Association commissioned a survey over the summer to find out what entrepreneurs think of them, and the current state of Boston's startup ecosystem.
"It was very much an experiment," says C.A. Webb, right, the Cambridge-based organization's executive director. "But we wanted to establish a baseline, so that we can repeat the survey every year." Webb shared the results of the survey this morning with NEVCA members in a conference call.
The group surveyed 111 entrepreneurs who said they were either planning to raise capital, in the process of doing so, or had done so within the last two years. The respondents came from a mix of industries.
Some of their opinions were surprising, but others can be heard any time you convene two entrepreneurs near an open bar. Among the results:FULL ENTRY
Here are the four companies that received awards, with descriptions supplied by the Museum. (Pictured at right are a pair of $90 padded "Crash Shorts" from G-Form LLC of Rhode Island, one of the winners.) Love that one winner makes knee pads and elbow pads for extreme athletes, and another makes a customizable implant for broken bones... Synergy, baby!
IlluminOss Medical Bone Stabilization System Inventors: Robert Rabiner, Dennis Colleran, Anthony O'Leary, Justin Dye, Mark Drew Assignee: IlluminOss Medical, Inc. (East Providence, RI)
The patented IlluminOss Photodynamic Bone Stabilization System is a revolutionary orthopedic system for minimally invasive stabilization and treatment of broken bones. The ground breaking IlluminOss Photodynamic Bone Stabilization System fixes fractured bones from the inside out. By positioning a customizable implant into the intramedullary cavity of the fractured bone, support and stability for the bone fracture is achieved as the bone is healing. The system utilizes a photodynamic (light-curable) reinforcing material to customize the implant in the body, and is intended to eliminate the need for traditional, inconvenient and painful methods of bone fixation with external pins, plates and screws.
iWalk Power-Foot BiOm
Inventors: Hugh Herr, Joaquin Blaya, Gill Pratt
Assignee: MIT (Cambridge, MA)
The invention is a variable-impedance active ankle foot orthosis (Power-Foot BiOM) that simulates the responsiveness of a human foot and ankle joint to changes in gait during a normal walking cycle. The orthosis allows individuals, whether they are single or double amputees, or the victims of loss of motor control, such as from stroke, to walk, run and negotiate stairs with a normal stride and at variable speed.
TeraDiode Wavelength Beam Combining
Inventors: Bien Chann, Tso Yee Fan, Antonio Sanchez-Rubio
Assignee: MIT (Cambridge, MA)
The invention is an apparatus and a method for combining the output of any number of laser emitters, of any type, wavelength or power, into a single, incoherent laser beam while retaining the brightness of the original emitters (brightness = watts/steradian/square centimeter). The invention is called wavelength beam combining, or WBC. In less technical terms, imagine one thousand laser pointers, each emitting 10 milliwatts of laser light. An industrial laser product with WBC at its core is expected to launch in 2012. This kilowatt-class laser will be aimed at the global metal cutting market, which includes automotive, consumer products, aerospace, and medical devices among its segments. TeraDiode has won numerous defense contracts since 2010, and is delivering a series of experimental systems to its customers.
G-Form Flexible Cushion Pads (Fan Favorite)
Inventors: Daniel Wyner, Richard Fox, Thomas Cafaro, Stephanie Rogers, Ami Newsham, David Foster
Assignee: G-Form, LLC (North Scituate, RI)
G-Form's proprietary Reactive Protection Technology (RPT) leverages a composite blend of rate-dependent and other proprietary materials and technologies to provide athletes with superior protection without compromising range-of-motion. Other protective pads can be heavy, hot, non-breathable, and restrictive. G-Form's pads are lightweight, flexible and conform to your body shape so that they are comfortable and don't get in your way. On impact, at a molecular level, the pads absorb the shock by stiffening temporarily like body armor, and then immediately return to their soft and flexible form. The harder the impact, the more G-Form's RPT reacts, absorbing 94% of the impact forces. G-Form also integrates the same proprietary RPT in to protective cases for cell phones, tablets, and laptops.
With a three-month visa in hand, Hardi Meybaum came to the United States from Estonia in late 2010 to consider where to set up a new front office for his startup. Meybaum spent half the time in Boston, and half in San Francisco. He found advisors here, and later investors, who understood his vision of creating an online community for mechanical engineers who design new products.
And, Meybaum adds, “part of our engineering team is in Estonia, and on the east coast, you can make the time difference work more easily.” His startup, GrabCAD, is now headquartered in East Cambridge.
Like a left-behind lover, I sometimes get a little obsessed with the entrepreneurs who start their companies in Boston but then pack their bags for California. (Zuck, why’d you have to leave?) But I also regularly hear about founders like Meybaum moving here to give their ideas a better shot at success.
Boston does exert an entrepreneurial pull that can be felt in Estonia, Israel, Kentucky, and Idaho. Instead of conducting exit interviews with those who left, I surveyed more than 20 company founders — and the worker bees who help companies grow — to ask why they came....
I wanted to share some bonus material here...e-mails from several of the people who shared their perspectives with me as I was working on the column. They founded or work at places like Wayfair, PayPal Boston, Wayfair, and Atlas Venture.
We also discussed this theme on September 7th on the WBUR show Radio Boston, with Nick Francis of Help Scout. You can listen here.FULL ENTRY
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:
"Out west, the individual towns don't really market themselves as destinations for entrepreneurs," says Finer, who is on the board of the WPI Venture Forum and an adjunct professor at Emerson College. "So you have these fragmented markets with no cohesion. We want to make the TechSandBox a fun, engaged community, which is definitely missing out here." (Finer lives in Hudson, and her business, QuiVivity Marketing Partners, is in Westborough.) She notes that most places where solo entrepreneurs and small teams can rent space, or attend events regularly, are inside of Route 128: "Our premise is that Metrowest is truly underserved."
Finer says she hopes to offer below-market rent to about 10 founders or small teams, and set up a classroom/conference area that would accommodate 150 people. Other elements she is planning for the TechSandBox are a "networking parlor" that'd provide free short-term hang-out and schmoozing space for denizens of the area, as well as office hours with various topical experts. She says that groups like the MIT Enterprise Forum and the 128 Innovation Capital Group have already expressed interest in holding events there. Finer is in the process of setting up the TechSandBox as a non-profit organization; that'll enable her to chase government grants and also corporate sponsorship. She's hoping that the space itself might be donated by a local benefactor — perhaps an EMC-type tech company that has a bit of vacant real estate on its hands.
Finer's target is to have TechSandBox open by next spring. It'll be interesting to watch how the project proceeds...
The 'burbs strike back: Videogame exec Peter Blacklow argues that surburban workers won't be wooed by Kendall or the Innovation District
So it was nice to hear an argument on behalf of the 'burbs from Peter Blacklow, who runs one of the biggest game-development studios in Massachusetts: the Waltham office of GSN Digital, which produces web and mobile games like Plants vs. Zombies, Wheel of Fortune Slots, Hangmania, and Deal or No Deal. Blacklow is also a partner at Boston Seed Capital, an early-stage investment firm in Westwood.
He makes a point that often gets overlooked in writing about all the companies chasing recent college grads by relocating to Cambridge and Boston: that there's still a pretty deep talent pool in the suburbs, and many of the people in it would prefer not to commute into the city.
I keep reading articles about the wave of technology companies abandoning the suburbs and heading to Boston...all of them headed to the lure of either the Innovation District of Boston or Kendall Square. All searching for young twenty-something engineers who wouldn’t be caught dead in a leafy suburb, slogging away in some anachronistic office park.FULL ENTRY
At first glance, the recruitment argument for relocating into the city seems compelling. I found some recent stories from The Boston Globe and here are some excerpts:
• “...the 27-year-old had one more condition that was not negotiable: The job had to be in the city; none of those long commutes to an isolated office park in the suburbs. ‘If I had to go out to Waltham or somewhere else like that, it would have been a deal-breaker for me.’”
• “There are a lot of cool young companies in the area that have great backers and are enjoying great success,’’ said Chris Menard, Brightcove’s chief financial officer. “We’re excited to be part of that.’’
• "[Gemvara CEO Matt] Lauzon says...'Most of our last five hires probably wouldn't have considered working for us in Lexington.'"
I don’t get it. Why are companies fighting with each other over 24 – 28 year-old engineers when there are amazingly talented 30+ engineers who want to work in the suburbs? You don’t believe it? Who would want to work in Waltham (I guess we forgot that 128 was America’s Technology Highway once upon a time, before Kendall Square and the Seaport got trendy)?
I walked around the hallways of GSN Digital [on Monday] and asked a few of our engineers about working in Waltham. Here’s what I heard:
Boston Startup School, a six-week program designed to transform recent college grads into high-impact hires for startup companies, is wrapping up on Wednesday morning with a match-making event it calls "Exposé." On stage, there will be 72 participants delivering one-minute summaries of their qualifications — and in the audience, there will be 84 companies hoping to land them. Not a bad candidate-to-recruiter ratio...
Registration for the event closed last week, says Aaron O'Hearn, one of the organizers of Boston Startup School. The companies who'll be present range from publicly-traded businesses like Constant Contact, Brightcove, and TripAdvisor to earlier-stage startups like Fiksu, YesWare, and Crashlytics. Many of the smaller companies, O'Hearn says, "typically don't have resources to recruit talented, junior people."
Participants in Startup School have chosen to spend their six weeks focusing on either marketing, business development and sales, product design, or software development. (I wrote about the plans for Startup School back in February.)
"The idea behind the pitches is for each student to quickly explain what they can do for a company, show evidence backing that up, then explain what they are passionate about/looking for," O'Hearn writes via e-mail. "Not all the pitches are the same. We've encouraged folks to follow a story line but be creative. Some are showing, some are telling, others teaching and engaging the audience in unique ways." (A few examples of participants' online profiles and school projects are below.)
The event happens Wednesday morning. It concludes with lunch and networking.
Boston Startup School is something of a spin-out from the TechStars Boston accelerator program and Project 11, an investment firm co-founded by TechStars Boston director Katie Rae. It is free to participants, and this year was headquartered at the Harvard Innovation Lab.FULL ENTRY
What exactly will be in all those new buildings? Here's my report on ten projects, all currently underway, that will upgrade our city's innovation infrastructure. You'll notice that most of it is being driven by life sciences companies like Biogen and Novartis, and also healthcare delivery institutions like Boston Childrens Hospital.
Add it all up, and the cost of these ten projects is just north of $3.2 billion bucks. Wow.FULL ENTRY
Massachusetts non-profit working to create new network of angel investors focused on science- and engineering-intensive startups
"I think there's some need to aggregate investors interested in things that aren't Instagram," says Steig, referring to the mobile photo-sharing service recently acquired by Facebook for $1 billion.
While Steig says the group isn't yet formed, or meeting regularly, it is now registered as an "in formation" entity with the Angel Capital Association, the trade association for angel groups. Steig says he is working on the project with Judith Giordan, a former R&D executive at PepsiCo and Henkel Corporation, a large German cosmetics and consumer products company.
Both Steig and Giordan are based in western Massachusetts, and both have connections to the non-profit National Collegiate Innovations & Inventors Alliance in Hadley. (Steig is an employee, and Giordan an advisor.) NCIIA gives grants to college students interested in further developing and commercializing academic inventions, and a network of angel investors willing to back capital-efficient concepts could help those students and their startups. "The idea is," says Steig, "how can we begin to better aggregate or associate with investors who are interested in supporting not just NCIIA-funded projects, but interested in capital-efficient deals in particular categories?"
As examples of the types of companies that have received NCIIA grants, and which might be interesting to angels, he mentions Strongarm, a startup from the Rochester Institute of Technology that is working on devices to help people lift heavy objects, and Ecovative Designs, which wants to replace styrofoam in packages with a material made from mushrooms. It came out of Rensselaer Polytechnic, and recently attracted funding from 3M.
"The whole project is still speculative," says Steig. "We're talking to investors about how this might take shape. There's no critical mass of investors yet."
That's just a month after the launch of Intelligent.ly's first classes in the South End. Both entities aim to offer evening sessions, taught by professionals working at startups, on topics like technology, web design, and marketing. And both primarily focus on one-off courses, as opposed to those that meet multiple times, with price points starting around $30. General Assembly's classes will be held in conference rooms and event spaces at the Cambridge Innovation Center.
Adam Pritzker, a co-founder of General Assembly, tells me that his company's classes focus on "skills you need to thrive in the workforce," and that about 6000 students have taken classes at GA since it launched last year. The class roster for Cambridge hasn't yet been announced, but Pritzker says some of the more popular classes offered in New York have included "Programming for Non-Programmers," "Front-End Web Development," and "Introduction to Startup Law." One of GA's producers in New York is putting together the first few classes for Cambridge, but Pritzker says, "I think we'll hire someone locally in relatively short order."
"All of our offerings take place in a social environment," says Pritzker. "Everybody is building a project. They're very goal-oriented. People are looking to start a company, or level up at work."
In New York, in addition to offering classes, General Assembly is a bit like a mini Cambridge Innovation Center, in that it provides workspace to early-stage startups. GA raised $4.5 million last year from Jeff Bezos, Maveron, and Yuri Milner, among others.
John Harthorne of MassChallenge, a startup competition based in Boston's Innovation District, tells me that his facility could also host General Assembly classes in the future, though there aren't yet definitive plans. "It is possible and being discussed, but isn't certain," he writes via e-mail.
It'll be interesting to see how much demand there is in Boston from learners — and also, how General Assembly's Kendall Square location performs compared with Intelligent.ly's South End location, which is far from the T.
2 BR w/great views & whiteboard wall: Cambridge startups find that apartments in Kendall Square can be cheaper than offices
So expensive that some startups are finding it easier and cheaper to rent a luxury apartment in the neighborhood than compete for commercial space alongside Amazon, Staples, Google, and a zillion small biotechs.
I went to visit Yesware last week at Archstone Kendall Square to see what it looks like when an eight-person company moves into a two-bedroom apartment. Yesware helps salespeople manage their e-mail communications with prospective customers; the company raised $1 million last year from Google Ventures and Foundry Group.
When I visited, the lobby and halls of the building were completely empty. Chief executive Matthew Bellows greeted me at the door of their fourth floor apartment. "No one else is around during the day," he explained, "and we blow out of here at 6 or 7 PM, when all of the other people come home from work." Bellows (pictured at left in the kitchen) said he'd been "totally up front about what we were using the space for" with the building's leasing office.
Bellows said that the company is up to eight employees, but two or three contractors or interns sometimes show up to work, too. (When I visited, I counted a half-dozen employees working in what would've ordinarily been the living room.) Thanks to walls of windows facing east, the apartment gets better natural light than most offices.
All of the furniture, Bellows explained, had come from IKEA: "We rented a U-Haul, drove down there, and then we hired a Task Rabbit guy to put it together." Everything else came from Amazon, including computers, monitors, an LCD projector, and some nifty adhesive material that turned the wall of one bedroom into a whiteboard. That bedroom, with the whiteboard wall, had become a conference room. The other was still a bedroom (pictured at right); co-founder Cashman Andrus lives in Brazil, but he sleeps there when he's in town.
That was the question I've been posing to dozens of entrepreneurs and investors over the last few days. Basically, I wanted to know where they went regularly and were most likely to run into others of their ilk, in Boston, Cambridge, or the 'burbs. I asked 74 people — including venture capitalists like Lucy McQuilken, angel investors like Joe Caruso, and CEOs like Glenn Batchelder, Michael Simon, and Diane Hessan — and got 78 different answers. I tried to include in my sampling people who work and invest in tech, life sciences, and cleantech. I also asked people who work in Waltham, Newton, Needham, Woburn, Somerville, Boston, and Cambridge. But I wouldn't say the mix of industries or locations was precise.
The top spots:
1. Voltage Coffee & Art (Cambridge)
2. Henrietta's Table (Cambridge)
4. Naked Fish (Waltham)
5. Meadhall (Cambridge)
(Voltage isn't always as crowded as it is in the picture at right; it was taken during a special event last December.)FULL ENTRY
I'm running a little experiment every Friday at noon: a weekly live webcast that'll run down the top five innovation economy stories of the week. Each Friday, I have a different co-host. And in addition to discussing that week's big stories, we talk about some of the events that we're looking forward to in the week ahead.
I hope you'll tune in, or watch once it's archived, and serve up some feedback. If you're watching live, you can use the Ustream client to send us messages — like suggesting stories that we've missed, or events that you're planning to attend. We'll try to weave those into the webcast, too.
You can watch the latest episode above, or at Ustream.
I've got a few co-hosts lined up, including:
April 13: Antonio Rodriguez of Matrix Partners (@antrod)
April 20: TechStars Boston managing director Katie Rae (@ktrae)
April 27: Daphne Zohar, co-founder of PureTech Ventures (@daphnezohar)
May 4: Dan Primack, Fortune Magazine's venture capital reporter/blogger (@danprimack)
May 11: Laura Fitton, Inbound Marketing Evangelist, HubSpot (@Pistachio)
May 18: Week off
May 25: Cambridge Innovation Center CEO Tim Rowe (@rowe)
June 1: Rudina Seseri of Fairhaven Capital (@rudina11)
June 8: C.A. Webb, executive director of the New England Venture Capital Association (@ca_webb)
June 15: Scott Johnson, managing partner of New Atlantic Ventures (@VC_Scott)
June 22: Live from TEDxBoston
June 29: Kate Castle of Flybridge Capital Partners (@FlybridgeCap)
We'll be webcasting from the Venture Café at Cambridge Innovation Center, so if you'd like to come be in the, um, live studio audience, you can do that, too.
Among the reasons to feel good:
Boston is already home to MassChallenge, an entrepreneurship competition that attracts more than 100 fledgling companies from the United States and abroad and awards $1 million in prize money with no strings attached. And several new programs are getting started this year, including Bolt, which will focus on entrepreneurs trying to design physical products (as opposed to mobile apps or websites), and Rock Health, for teams interested in devising health-care-oriented software. There’s also Boston Startup School, taking place for the first time this summer, which aims to make recent college grads more appealing hires for young tech companies.
And from the list of things to be concerned about:
We’ve seen a handful of initial public offerings in the past year, including companies like Brightcove, Zipcar, and Merrimack Pharmaceuticals. But the forthcoming Facebook IPO will dwarf them all. Why is that a big deal? The IPOs of companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Zynga will create dozens, if not hundreds, of new “angel’’ investors in Silicon Valley, who sprinkle small amounts of money onto new crops of start-ups. Angels often support companies that seem too risky to venture capitalists (they put money into Zipcar years before the venture capitalists did, for instance). We just aren’t minting enough new angel investors in Massachusetts.
I asked readers to share some of the things they boast about — or worry about. Here are a few excerpts...FULL ENTRY
Walsh started Geekhouse, which custom-crafts steel bikes, in 2002. The company had been operating out of 1,000 square feet in Allston, but Walsh had a vision of a larger space that could also house other makers and artists who didn't mind the smell of welding fumes. HQ Boston is 24,000 square feet, and the rent is about $10 per square foot. He calls it a "co-working space for artisans and creatives."
Already, Walsh says he has found tenants for half of the space, including visual artists, sculptors, a cabinetmaker, and the maintenance operation of Hubway, the Boston bike sharing network. "The concept is that it's hard for product makers to find a place where they can freely do their thing, whether it's making musical instruments or snowboards or furniture," he says.
Here's a look at the space.
Two new education initiatives, Startup School and Intelligent.ly, want to bring aspiring start-uppers up to speed
TechStars managing director Katie Rae took the covers off Boston Startup School first, on Tuesday night at the Ruby Riot mixer. It'll be a six-week-long program for recent college grads, focused on making them appealing hires for fast-growing tech companies. Participants will choose one of four tracks: marketing, business development and sales, product and design, or software development. "In six weeks, we want to bring a student to a much deeper level of understanding about what it would take to succeed and be hyper-productive for a start-up on the day they join," says Rae. There will be several opportunities throughout the program for students to interact with potential employers, she adds.
Fledgling companies participating in TechStars often face challenges in hiring, as do the entrepreneurs who serve as TechStars mentors, Rae says: "The #1 thing everyone wants to do is increase the talent pool in Boston that can help us grow faster. And we're all trying to keep the students here in Boston. So it was like, 'Duh, let's do this.'" While the Startup School concept was hatched by Rae and TechStars colleagues like Reed Sturtevant and Aaron O'Hearn, she says it isn't part of the TechStars program, but a separate initiative that will have its own director. I asked whether the inaugural program would include 40 students, figuring ten students for each track. "My desire would be many more than that," Rae said, declining to toss out an exact number. Participants won't pay a fee, with the costs of the program being covered by sponsors or underwriters.
You have to squint really hard to ignore all of the great financial services, fishing, and brewing activity that takes place in the district. It's also home to Au Bon Pain's headquarters, a working dry dock, the Boston Convention and Expo Center, and a couple of vast parking lots.
It's not yet easy or enjoyable enough to walk between the four neighborhoods, and because they're so spread out I suspect there isn't much interchange between people who work in, say, Fort Point and the Marine Industrial Park. The MBTA's Silver Line connects two of the neighborhoods — Fan Pier, where the MassChallenge building is located, and the Marine Industrial Park — but the other two are a decent walk from Silver or Red Line stops. Hopefully, as the district grows up, there will be more connectivity between these four pockets of activity.
My four-subzones are:FULL ENTRY
DeLeo is a Democrat who represents Winthrop and Revere. An excerpt from his prepared remarks:
"The student population is by far the most valuable resource we have in Massachusetts, but we really need more good ways to integrate them into the start-up ecosystem," says Bolotsky, who worked briefly for the MassChallenge start-up competition before becoming the first director of Startup Massachusetts in December. (Startup Massachusetts is part of the national Startup America Partnership, which seeks to promote entrepreneurship and is marking its one-year anniversary today.)
Startup Summer will be a major project of Startup Massachusetts, he says. (Bolotsky is overseeing both on a pro bono basis, as his Northeastern co-op project.) One element will be collecting internship opportunities from local companies and then promoting them to students. "We'll do outreach to students and pre-screening of their applications, so we can send only the top of the top to companies," Bolotsky says. "But in addition to the internship matching, we'll also do events and workshops for the students this summer, so they can get to be comfortable in the ecosystem and build relationships."
He's hoping to do a pilot test with 100 internships this summer, and eventually scale up to 500 internships each year. Bolotsky is working right now to try to scare up some state or philanthropic funding for the program, so the interns' stipends would be subsidized. "The ideal would be that we'd have a subsidy that would cover $3600, for instance, and the company would pay $3600 per intern," he says. The program will primarily focus on internships for software developers, designers, and general businesspeople.
Students will be able to send in their internship applications next week, and Startup Summer is looking for more companies to participate in this summer's pilot test.
"The end goal," he says, "is fixing this brain drain problem."
That's a pretty important problem to work on...
My worry is that we aren’t producing new “pillar’’ companies, which employ thousands of workers, recruit new talent to the state, and set the direction for their industries. If all you do is grow guppies, it’s hard for people to regard you as anything other than a small pond.
...Where is the new generation of Boston-bred biggies? Biogen was founded in 1978, EMC in 1979, Fidelity in 1946. When I went hunting for companies born in the past decade that now employ 1,000 or more people, I came up with one answer: the battery-maker A123 Systems, which has just over 2,000 employees (but only 330 work in Massachusetts).
I end the column by asking how we can create better conditions for building new "pillars" in Boston.
Here are some thoughts from Boston-area entrepreneurs and investors that didn't make it into the column in their entirety. I'd love to hear your thoughts via e-mail, or as a comment below.
Brian Halligan, CEO and co-founder, HubSpot
1. I think Bostonians are rational folks. When weighing the upside of an acquisition for enough money that will set the founders family up for generations, versus continuing to run as a stand-alone company with the hopes of long-term fame/wealth, Bostonians tend to make the very rational choice of selling it. I suspect that has got something to do with the fact that Boston was founded by religious zealots. When faced with the same choice, it seems like the Silicon Valley companies tend to make the economically irrational choice of going long. I suspect it has got something to do with the fact that San Francisco was founded by a bunch of gold rushers.
I feel like in recent years, the west coast investors have embraced a new playbook in the later venture rounds that involves buying some of the founders' shares from them. This play makes the move to go long a lot more rational for the founders when you can take some money off the table. The play has likely spread to the east coast at this point, but I can tell you from personal experience that the west coast investors led with this play in their playbook.
2. I think there is a negative reinforcing loop that is happening here around scale. For example, we are at 300 people at HubSpot and want to scale to thousands of employees over time. It turns out that there aren't a ton of tech companies who have done this around here, so there isn't a lot of institutional knowledge about what it takes to really scale and not a ton of executives who have "seen the movie." I saw an interesting movie at PTC in the '90's. Some folks have seen the movie at EMC, Constant Contact, and Vistaprint, but there's not a long list. In the Valley, folks have seen the movie at Google, Salesforce, Apple, Yahoo, Oracle, Intuit, LinkedIn, Facebook, VMWare (yes, the west coast growth engine behind the east coast EMC), Twitter, Zynga, HP, etc, etc, etc. There's so much more institutional knowledge and so many more executives who have seen the movie and can replay it.
Andy Palmer, serial entrepreneur / advisor (Recorded Future, VoltDB, Vertica)
Lever 1 - Attract and empower young and high IQ startup biz talent. We've lost too much of this talent to CA in the past 20 years. Many of these folks come to school here, but few of them stay here to start their companies. We need an all-out recruiting effort within the community to attract and retain these folks.FULL ENTRY
Lever 2 - Get the New England VC community to abandon their Yankee conservatism. This conservatism is evidenced in a few ways:
- NYC has left Boston in the dust in the past two years. Union Square is now the hotbed of startup activity on the East Coast. Could have been us.
- Unwillingness to give premium valuations to the best entrepreneurs. I have watched many people raise money from out West or NYC as the New England VC community "stuck to their models."
- Unwillingness to "pay up" for great young business talent.
- Unwillingess to seed lots of new ideas rapidly. More people need to behave like Eric [Paley] and David [Frankel] at Founders Collective
- Shifting focus/activity towards later stage deals/private equity, which are inherently less risky
I think for many of them, taking risk has become synonymous with "not selling for $300M so that you can sell for $1.5B." But in order to do this, the venture funds in New England need to have larger percentage of their capital come from the partners themselves, vs. pure institutional funding.
Building great companies that are independent requires complete and long-term commitment to these businesses regardless of potential exit. It requires truly mission-driven companies, entrepreneurs, operating people, and venture capitalists.
1. I'm listening to my Bose QuietComfort 15 noise-cancelling headphones ($299) as I write this blog post; they're great for tuning out noise from the next cubicle, or the loud conversation taking place across the aisle of your commuter train. A single AAA battery powers them for 35 hours. They're comfortable enough that I've slept with them on, on red-eye flights. Framingham-based Bose has stores in the Burlington Mall, Wrentham Village Premium Outlets, and the Natick Mall. (I wrote about how the headphones work, and how the company markets them, last December.)
2. I love my Tivoli iPal radio ($219). It sounds great, and it can either be plugged into a wall outlet or run for up to 16 hours using its internal rechargeable battery. You can easily plug an iPod or iPhone into the input jack in the back. The exterior is covered with a grippy rubber. Mine even survived a rainstorm, when I accidentally left it outside. Tivoli is based in Boston, and they have retail kiosks at the Prudential Center and Natick malls.
3. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters may be headquartered in Vermont, but the Keurig division that designs single-cup brewing systems for homes and offices is in Reading. Their lowest-priced brewer, marketed under the Mr. Coffee name, is $79.95. The plastic K-Cup containers that hold the coffee grounds cost about 70 cents apiece. (Last year, I wrote a piece headlined, "An environmental quandary percolates at Green Mountain Coffee Roaster," and in August, the Globe Sunday Magazine ran a great piece that told the Keurig story, from start-up to the coffee industry's force to be reckoned with.)
4. Released in October, Dance Central 2 ($49) is a videogame from Cambridge's Harmonix Music Systems that encourages players to get off the couch and shake their respective groove thangs. You can compete against, or dance collaboratively with a friend, and the game features songs from Lady Gaga, Donna Summer, Daft Punk, Nicki Minaj, and the inevitable Justin Bieber. Playing Dance Central 2 requires the Kinect motion-sensing accessory for Microsoft's Xbox.
5. If you've got any budding Eadweard Muybridges or John Lasseters on your list, they might enjoy the Strobotop Lightphase Animator ($19.95) from Eye Think in Waltham. They get a stroboscopic flashlight that brings pictures to life on spinning tops. My favorite is the set of tops that let you make your own animations.
6. BabbaCo mails out boxes of activities that parents can do with their children, geared to kids between the ages of three and six. You can gift three months worth of boxes for $90, or a year for $299. Each box contains books, art projects, and prepaid digital downloads. (I wrote about the company in September, when founder Jessica Kim moved it from Chicago to Boston.)
7. Wayland-based Vers makes all kinds of nifty iPhone and iPad cases from sustainably-grown walnut and bamboo, as well as earphones and an iPod/iPhone docking system. Their wood case for the iPad 2, pictured at right, is $79.99.
8. Schylling Toys, located in Rowley, mainly makes low-tech and retro toys, but their product line does include Erector sets, a make-your-own volcano project, and a kit to build several solar-powered vehicles. (I wrote about Schylling last December, looking at the development of one of the toys in their catalog.)
9. Newton-based Zeo, one of the pioneers of helping consumers monitor and improve the quality of their sleep, introduced a $99 headband back in September that can communicate with your iPhone or Android phone. It serves up data about how much deep sleep and REM sleep you're getting, and can also gently wake you up at the ideal moment in your sleep cycle. The Zeo system is available at Best Buy stores, and also online.
10. A 16 gigabyte USB flash drive shaped like Wicket the Ewok is pretty much the ideal stocking stuffer. Boston-based Mimoco makes them, along with flash drives in the shape of dozens of other fun characters.
12. If you know someone who likes to cook, consider some of the kitchen goodies from Waltham-based Preserve Products, all made from recycled plastics. They include cutting boards, colanders, measuring cups, and food storage containers. (I wrote about the development of Preserve's cute little single-serve yogurt container earlier this year.)
13. Gemvara sells customized jewelry: you pick the gemstone, the metal, and specify things like what kind of backing you'd like on an earring or what you'd like engraved inside of a ring. The company is based in Boston, across from South Station. (I first wrote about Gemvara, founded by two Babson College alums, in 2008.)
14. Isabella Products of Concord makes the Vizit, a $229 digital photo frame. It has a 10.4 inch color screen, and any of your family members can send photos to it via e-mail or text message. (Or you can use the built-in SD Card or USB ports.) The frame can store up to 300 photos at a time, and you can use it to forward favorite photos to another family member's e-mail account — or to their digital photo frame. (Unfortunately, since the frame relies on a cellular network rather than WiFi for its connectivity, you'll pay a monthly subscription fee to cover that.)
15. Burlington-based iRobot makes an array of robots to handle unpleasant household tasks like scrubbing the floor. One of their least-expensive products is the iRobot Looj ($169), a tank-like bot that roars through your gutters, knocking out leaves, pine needles, and other debris. You control it with a handheld remote. The company says that it can clean 60 feet of gutter in 10 minutes. My idea of fun: race your next door neighbor, who's still using the primitive hose-and-ladder approach.
[Boston is a] second-tier financial services town. Second-tier tech town. Second-tier retail town. Second-tier defense contracting town.
[Boston has] an Avis strategy without the Avis motivation: "We're #2, but our sense of entitlement keeps us from trying harder."
On the show, entrepreneur and angel investor Bill Warner, a fellow guest, was hopping mad, and he pointed to many ways in which the tech scene in particular has improved over the past few years.
And since then, Bill and I have had two lengthy conversations about how Boston can do better.
Here's where we agree: the energy level in the Boston start-up scene has increased exponentially over the past four years. (I moved back to Boston from San Francisco in mid-2007, so that's the timeframe I think about.) There's much more support and mentorship available to first-time entrepreneurs. New programs like Dogpatch Labs, MassChallenge, CriticalMass, DartBoston Family Dinner, and TechStars Boston are helping to cultivate and fund companies that might have never got beyond the sketch-on-a-cocktail-napkin stage before.
But I think there are two phases to making Boston better.
Improving the entrepreneurial support system for people who are already here, or have come here for an education, is Phase I. If I were to grade our performance there, I'd say we get a B+.
Phase II is building giant businesses here that people outside of Boston recognize (Zipcar is one good recent example, and Kayak is on its way)...businesses that attract attention from the national media...and that serve as talent magnets, bringing in armies of new employees from elsewhere in the world. It's nice, for instance, that the online jewelry merchant Gemvara has recruited two or three people from New York City lately, but compare that to the hiring Digital Equipment did when it had 140,000 employees. (Gemvara has about 80.)
As I see it, Phase II is all about scaling, and then making sure we communicate our success to the rest of the world to create a virtuous cycle. When you're seen as a region that can spawn significant companies, people feel that they may be able to start their own significant companies there.
So far, I give us a D- on Phase II.
Some reasoning behind that:
1. A dozen years ago, you could still come to Massachusetts and work for an Internet company or a telecommunications company and legitimately say you were at the center of the action. (Remember CMGI and Cascade?) But between 2001 and 2009, 47,000 technology jobs vanished, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Half of the jobs in computer and communications equipment manufacturing just went away for good.
2. In the past five years, we've seen VC firms that once considered Massachusetts their home turf move their headquarters to California (Greylock, most notably), and others set up new branch offices there (Polaris, Highland, General Catalyst, and most recently, Bain Capital Ventures.) In the most recent quarter, New York start-ups raised more money than start-ups in Massachusetts for the first time ever.
3. Even in the wake of Facebook's notorious departure in 2004, it's not hard to make a list of fast-growing companies that got their start in Boston, perhaps found some funding or key advisors here, but decided to decamp for the Bay area anyway. The list includes companies like GreenGoose (which went through the Betaspring accelerator program in Providence in 2010, and found angel investors in Boston), Dropbox (MIT alums who participated in the Y Combinator program in Cambridge), RelayRides (HBS grad who won a major prize in the inaugural MassChallenge competition), TaskRabbit (incubated at Zipcar's offices), ThredUp, and WePay.
4. It was nice to have Mark Zuckerberg say that if he had it to do over today, he might've kept Facebook in Boston. But those comments were followed by the announcement of a Zuckerberg recruiting trip to Harvard and MIT.
5. Success for Boston tech entrepreneurs and their backers is too often an acquisition by Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, or IBM. As I've written before, instead of creating new Larry Ellisons here, we are creating VPs who report to SVPs who report to Ellison.
Now, maybe you believe that Boston's tech community had its moment in the sun in the 1980s, and can't reach the top tier again. (I don't; I'm an optimist.)
Or maybe you believe that Boston's strengths have shifted, and we are now leading the world in life sciences innovation, or robotics, or cleantech... just not consumer devices, mobile innovation, and the Internet.
I happen to believe strongly that in today's global economy, to generate jobs and wealth in our region, we need to focus on industries where we can dominate, not just be content to be a quiet and mildly profitable #2 or #3 player.
Entrepreneurs and investors play the most important part in doing that. But I see my minor role as occasionally aggravating people like Bill Warner by talking not just about what is going well, but where we're still falling short.
"We're not quite ready to talk about it," says real estate developer John Hynes of Boston Global Investors; his firm is building the Seaport Square project that the Boston Innovation Center would be part of. "But the primary purpose will be meeting room and conference and networking space for the younger workforce. It'll be geared to new businesses in innovative industries."
As part of gaining approval for the vast, 23-acre Seaport Square development, which will include offices, condos, shops, and restaurants, Hynes committed to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the city's planning agency, to build and operate the BIC for ten years.
Unlike the Cambridge Innovation Center, the BIC won't have office space or co-working space that entrepreneurs can rent by the month. The one-story, 12,000-square foot structure will primarily consist of meeting rooms. It may include a café, and seating areas where visitors can work for a few hours on a laptop. The Boston architecture firm Hacin+Associates is handling the design.
And while city officials responsible for the BIC have spoken to several current and former employees of Microsoft's New England Research & Development Center, the BIC probably won't offer free meeting space for groups (as NERD does). Hynes says there likely will be a "nominal charge" for groups using the BIC. "We need to create some revenues to cover staffing and utilities," Hynes says, adding that he won't be looking to turn of profit on the facility.
"I basically gave them the NERD playbook," says Gus Weber, a former community liaison at Microsoft who now works at Polaris Venture Partners. "We talked about building a nucleus that can grow and grab more energy." Two issues key to the BICs success, according to Weber, are selecting the right "curator" to oversee the facility, and making it easier to get there from Cambridge. Weber notes that it takes him about 45 minutes to travel from Kendall Square to the BIC's future neighborhood using the Red and Silver lines.
"Having a place like [the BIC] in the Innovation District could do the same thing that NERD did in Kendall Square," Weber says. "The ecosystem is big enough that there's room for both. And hubs in each of the two neighborhoods could be magical, especially if you could do something to connect them more directly."
A City of Boston spokeswoman, Susan Elsbree, says it hasn't yet been determined who will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the BIC, such as bringing in events and speakers. My bet is that it will be someone — or some group — from the private sector, rather than a city employee. When I repeatedly asked Tim Rowe, chief executive of the Cambridge Innovation Center, whether he'd been talking with the city about being involved with the BIC in some way, he gave me several "no comments." Interesting...
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino briefly mentioned the BIC back as a magnet for business activity in June, in a speech at Boston College. From the Globe's coverage:
Menino said he hopes businesses will be attracted in part by the opportunity to collaborate with their peers on new business.
“We know that million-dollar VC deals, billion-dollar development deals, and business hires routinely happen outside of the office in common spaces,’’ Menino said in a speech at Boston College’s Citizen Seminar.
“We will be one of the first cities in the world to have a public innovation center — a place that fosters this type of collaboration.’’
Hynes says his zoning permits from the city require that the BIC will get built in 2012.
"By the end of November," Hynes says, "we will identify how it's going to be operated, who's going to operate it, what it will look like, and what will be in there."
One interesting possibility: if a corporate sponsor came along with some big bucks, the BIC is being designed so that it could be expanded from one story to two.
I'm eager to see the designs for the BIC, and hear more about it...
The Wall Street Journal this week covered some of the ways that New England states are trying to entice recent grads to stick around, from funding internships at private companies (MA) to simply "forking over cash" (VT). From that piece:
With census figures showing New England leads other parts of the U.S. in the decline of its under-45 age group, the Granite State and its neighbors are desperate to keep young people around.
..."I can't think of anything more important," said Steve Boucher, legislative director of the New Hampshire Division of Economic Development.
I totally agree. And today, I had the chance to survey a class of about 30 Harvard undergrads about how they think about where they'll wind up after graduation. (The class was "Reinventing Boston: The Changing American City.")
Here's what they said:
- Is the city an epicenter for the field I want to be in, and are there plenty of job opportunities?
- Cost of living
- Are some of my peers going there too?
- Is it a safe place to live?
It's a small sample size, I know. And I think you have to consider cost of living in the context of whether you can make a living somewhere. (It's easy to buy a house in Albuquerque, but you may not be able to do much with your biomedical engineering degree there.) But interesting that "jobs" and "culture" appear so high up, and "weather" so low...
If you're a student, is there something else you'd include on the list? Does this sound right to you?
Major acquisitions or initial public offerings can produce major wealth for a handful of early employees, giving them the financial security to start making risky bets on early-stage start-ups. (Often, they're start-ups founded by their friends and friends-of-friends.) eBay's acquisition of PayPal created the PayPal mafia. Google's IPO and ever-ascending stock price minted at least 50 new angels.
While I'm hopeful that the Endeca and BNI Video deals will produce some new angels, we've only seen a trickle appear on the scene in the past few years, after companies like Harmonix, EqualLogic, and Quattro Wireless got bought. Recent IPOs of Carbonite, Zipcar, and A123 Systems don't seem to have spawned a new flock of angels — yet.
One reason may be that in Boston, newly-rich people have long attained status by donating to institutions like the Museum of Fine Arts, the Boston Symphony, and their alma maters. I wonder whether we can somehow bestow angel investing — which supports entrepreneurs trying to create jobs in their communities — with the same aura of goodness as traditional philanthropy has. Helping to build the next EMC or Akamai (which in turn make their own contributions to non-profits) ought to confer as much status as having your name etched in marble somewhere.
AngelList (which is supported by the Cambridge-based VC firm Atlas Venture) has done a lot to make angel investors more visible, and also give them a better sense of which companies are out in the market looking for funding. Tomorrow, AngelList founder Babak Nivi is in Boston, speaking at a sold-out event organized by Atlas and BostInnovation. It's mostly targeted at entrepreneurs raising money, but who knows — it could also attract people considering their first angel investment.
And on Monday, the Angel Capital Association is running another of its regular educational workshops about how angel deals work.
Let's hope that those two events, coupled with more big exits, help increase the angel population in New England...
(Perhaps you have some other ideas?)
Hollywood, Nashville, New York, and Boston: In the battle for the best talent, the 'Avis strategy' doesn't work
If you want to get in line to be the next Zuckerberg or Jobs, you head for the Valley.
Why do people come to Boston?
The most common answer you'd hear, I think, is to get an education.
And that's wonderful if you're employed by one of our city's great universities.
But not so great if you work outside of higher ed, or care about Massachusetts' economic health over the long haul.
Right now, Massachusetts has an Avis strategy without the Avis motivation: "We're #2, but our sense of entitlement keeps us from trying harder."
Keep that up, and in twenty years we'll all either be working for universities or the burrito shops nearby.
We're a second-tier financial services town. Second-tier tech town. Second-tier retail town. Second-tier defense contracting town.
That doesn't attract the best talent in the world, and it doesn't give you a strong position in the global economy. It leaves you to play a retention game — let's try our best to hold on to the people who grew up here, or who got a degree here — rather than an attraction game.
And it leaves you exposed to sniping from boosters of the top-tier locales, seeking to attract even more talent to their companies. For example, Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape, recently told The Economist that "a massive brain drain from Boston to the Valley... has all but gutted Boston as a place for high-tech entrepreneurship." (That didn't stop his venture capital firm from funneling money a few weeks later to a Boston mobile technology start-up...perhaps the last one left in town?)
Rather than letting others define us as past our Prime in industries like high-tech, we need to do a better job of explaining where we are leading the world.
I think Boston can make a compelling argument that we are the nucleus of the 21st century life sciences business. All the key players are here, from big pharma companies to small biotechs to teaching hospitals to e-healthcare pioneers to medical device makers. All are working hard to eradicate disease, extend lives, make the system more efficient, and distribute better healthcare everywhere it's needed. And the companies and research institutions based here can successfully lure the best scientists from around the world.
But we're way too quiet about it. The people running the Mass Biotech Council, Mass Medical Industry Council, and the Masssachusetts Life Sciences Center, unfortunately, lack a single strand of promotional DNA.
And we need to shape, support, and promote those other sectors where we can be world champs.
In digital marketing, the trade group MITX has done well in the past two years with its FutureM Week to position Boston as the epicenter of people and companies thinking about the future of marketing. The message that FutureM sends: "Madison Avenue and 'Mad Men' knew how to move product in the 20th century. We're thinking about how things get sold in the 21st."
There's obviously the potential for so much more: Boston can make a good case to be the nexus of thinking about how technology can improve the classroom experience...how we can produce energy and consume it in a cleaner, more efficient way...and developing next-generation robots for defense, manufacturing, logistics, and floor-scrubbing. Boston could also highlight itself as a hub for mission-driven entrepreneurs.
I'm not suggesting that we ought to neglect our Internet start-ups, our defense contractors, or our hometown financial services biggies. Those companies will continue to create jobs, and some of them are quite high-profile in their respective industries. (It also never hurts to explore how we can improve the environment for these types of companies.) I just don't think you get much attention — or become a global talent magnet — by boasting that your state is home to the #2 or #3 agglomeration of anything.
"Psychology makes such a huge difference," says Saul Kaplan, founder of the Business Innovation Factory in Rhode Island, and a former economic development chief for the state. "Growing economies have positive psychology. They feel good about themselves. In Austin, for instance, there's a general positive attitude about what they're capable of doing collectively. But in New England, we have this innate cynicism. I don't think we're losing the war on talent, but we're losing the psychology game." Even when we're winning, it's not our style to wear the foam "We're #1" finger.
I don't think positive psychology is about being delusional, or being able to sell people on steering their careers to Boston when that may not be in their best interests.
It's about being able to say that Boston is the absolute best place in the world for people who want to make their careers in ______, and having that be irrefutably true.
Her employer didn't want to let her go, and Angela obviously wanted to keep the job. But Angela had signed a non-compete contract with an old employer — a job she'd left voluntarily last October — and the employer, Bullhorn, was now threatening to sue over it. (Angela requested that I not use her last name, to avoid hurting her reputation in the job market.) Angela told me, "The gist of the letter was, if you don't fire her immediately, we're going to take you to court." She'd signed the non-compete in 2007 without giving its implications much thought. But it prevented her from working for any other company that developed software for the staffing or recruiting industry for a year after she left Bullhorn.
Non-compete agreements are a drag on the Massachusetts economy. They prevent people from taking their talents wherever they choose. They prevent people from starting new companies in the business sectors they know best. And rather than protecting our state's biggest companies, they make them complacent and less competitive by allowing them to effectively lock up their best people, dissuading them from ever leaving to compete with the mother ship. So new rivals don't pop up here in the Bay State... just everywhere else in the world.
This morning, the state legislature's Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development is holding a hearing that will discuss changing the way non-competes are used by Massachusetts employers — or eliminating them entirely. (I'm rooting for the latter, and here's the background on my position.)
Angela's story illuminates many of the problems with the status quo in Massachusetts. Not only do non-competes prevent the all-star engineer or PhD chemist from leaving Company A to start Company B, but they can sideline much more junior people, even in industries that have nothing to do with intellectual property or trade secrets. This summer, I exchanged e-mails with a woman whose son — a 24-year old gymnastics instructor in Reading — decided to leave one gymnastics school to teach at another. His old job was part time and offered no benefits. His new job was full-time, with benefits. Just last week, the old employer sent a letter threatening legal action because the man was violating the terms of his non-compete agreement.
And these cases do sometimes wind up in our court system, taking up judges' time. Earlier this year, a judge blocked a South Shore hair stylist who was fired from one salon from taking his blowdryer over to another salon.
This is no way to run things in a state that hopes to cultivate and attract the best talent in an intensely-competitive global economy.
Angela worked at Bullhorn for about three years. She left the company on her own terms in October 2010 to work as a software trainer at a Boston-area hospital, but after seven months decided "it wasn't what I wanted to do." So she took a job as a business analyst with another company that sells software to recruiters. (Angela declines to name the company.) She suspects that someone at Bullhorn saw her update her LinkedIn profile with the new job, and within two weeks, the legal wrangling began. She was sort of surprised that Bullhorn would care about a relatively low-level person going to work for a competitor. "I'm not a VP or director-level person," she says. "I wasn't in sales. I didn't have client lists. I didn't know how their code is written, or what the future product plans are. I was making $60,000 a year."
Her new employer tried to work something out with Bullhorn, Angela says. "They tried saying that I wouldn't work on any clients that conflicted, but the negotiation fell apart." Her non-compete agreement extended through October 2011, and just before July 4th, she found herself suddenly out of work.
She consulted an attorney to see whether she might be able to contest the non-compete. "He told me I'd have to put up something like $20,000 if the case ended up going to court," she says. "And if we wanted to try to write some letters, it was going to cost $250 to $300 an hour for his time. He didn't sound that optimistic about being about to fight it."
Non-compete agreements are contracts, of course, and unless we decide that they shouldn't be used in Massachusetts — as they aren't in California and a few other states — employees like Angela can be held to them. I've been writing about this issue for more than two years now, and I've yet to hear an example of a prospective employee who was offered a job, asked to sign a non-compete, and successfully refused.
I asked Bullhorn's chief executive, Art Papas, to explain his company's rationale for choosing to pursue Angela's non-compete, but he wouldn't talk about her specific case. He did say that every employee at the Boston company is required to sign a non-compete lasting one year — pretty typical for companies in Massachusetts — that prevents them from working for another company that sells software or services to the recruiting and staffing industry.
Incredibly, Papas concedes that getting rid of non-competes would make our state's economy more competitive. But he doesn't want to unilaterally disarm, allowing his employees to go work for rivals without being able to hire their ex-employees. Papas wrote via e-mail, "As far as I know, every other big employer in the state [asks employees to sign non-competes] because without them, you're at a competitive disadvantage. I agree that eliminating non-competes state-wide would change things. It would force everyone onto a level playing field, and make Boston much more competitive on the national front."
Angela, meanwhile, just got approved for unemployment insurance payments last week. (Unemployment pays about 50 percent of her old salary.) She has been studying for some certification tests in her field, and taking a photography class for fun. When the non-compete she signed expires in October, she plans to go back to work for the very same employer that was forced to lay her off this summer. "I'm trying to stay busy and positive, which is tons easier now that I have an official start date and that unemployment insurance," she writes in an e-mail.
By its nature, Massachusetts has never been a state that has been satisfied with the status quo. It's time to acknowledge that our stance on non-compete agreements keeps talented people from applying their skills where they want, and that the contracts only give companies the illusion of being protected from competition. Rivals can crop up anywhere in the world, and why wouldn't we want them growing, creating jobs, and keeping more established firms on their toes, right here in Massachusetts? We live in an era of creative destruction, and while it's vitally important to protect the patents and trade secrets developed by companies, it just isn't wise to shackle employees, most of whom don't have the leverage to insist on not signing a non-compete agreement.
It's time to make some change.
Update: Here's the testimony being presented today by Greg Bialecki, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development in Massachusetts.
- Sept. 8: Betaspring Demo Day. Providence-based start-up "accelerator" program debuts its 2011 class of a dozen new ventures. Primarily an event for investors, though there are a small number of seats available for community members.
- Sept. 12-16: FutureM Week. Series of panels and conferences focused on the future of marketing, organized by the trade group MITX.
- Sept. 13: Web Innovators Group. Three fledgling companies present to a large audience at Cambridge's Royal Sonesta, and six others have demo tables that offer an early look at their products.
- Oct. 12-28: Boston Region Entrepreneurship Weeks. A collection of events geared to entrepreneurs, both in Boston and the surrounding 'burbs.
- Oct. 18-19: Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT. Speakers include author Steven Johnson ("Where Good Ideas Come From," venture capitalist Bill Joy, inventor Dean Kamen, and Joi Ito, the new head of MIT's Media Lab.
- Oct. 20: Dave Balter Tech Prom. The appealing premise: a second chance at prom, now that you're an adult.
- Oct. 28: Mass TLC Innovation Unconference. Brings together investors, entrepreneurs and tech execs in an "unconference" format. What does that mean? Participants create the agenda on the morning of the event, with 10 or more sessions happening simultaneously. Light on PowerPoint. Short sit-downs allow entrepreneurs to ask questions of volunteer "experts."
- Oct. 24: MassChallenge Awards Ceremony. Hear short pitches from start-ups participating in the second annual MassChallenge competition, and see who goes home with $50,000 and $100,000 cash prizes. (The total pot is $1 million.)
- Oct. 20: IDEAS Boston. A diverse group of speakers deliver short talks on technology, culture, science, and the law. Roster includes Harvard's Lawrence Lessig, WiTricity's Eric Giler, and MFA curator Elliot Davis. (Note: I'm an advisor to this event.)
- Nov. 10: Future Forward 2011. A day-long series of briefings, demos, and discussions about emerging technologies, and how they will — or won't — be adopted by consumers and businesses. (Note: I'm an advisor to this event.)
- MIT's Technology Review magazine offers a list of innovators under 35. Among those on it this year: Paul Wicks of PatientsLikeMe, a site that enables people with chronic diseases to discuss treatments, and Ben Rubin, chief technology officer of Zeo, which makes a consumer device that monitors sleep quality.
- Inc. Magazine's ranking of the 500 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. (at least, those willing to disclose their revenues to Inc.) includes nightclub operator Big Night Entertainment Group, digital marketing start-up HubSpot, and Gazelle, which buys and resells used consumer electronics. The issue includes an interview with HubSpot chief executive Brian Halligan that discusses how the company fosters entrepreneurship among its employees.
- Mass High Tech chose its 15 "all-stars" for 2011, including Yankee Group chairman Emily Nagle Green, Akamai CEO Paul Sagan, and Kiva Systems CEO Mick Mountz.
But he wouldn't trade his commute for any other. McDonald, a 33-year old software development manager at Endeca, travels to and from work in a bright red kayak, just about every weekday from May to October. (See the slide show below.)
I first heard about McDonald's unorthodox ride from Pete Bell and Steve Papa, the two founders of Endeca, a Cambridge company that develops software for e-commerce and business analysis. (They also mentioned that when Governor Deval Patrick visited the company earlier this year, he chatted with McDonald about it, somewhat incredulously.) When I e-mailed McDonald, he told me that he considers it "the best commute of anyone who works within 495." So I decided to tag along one day earlier this month.We met at a doorless brick garage in Brookline at 7 a.m. McDonald was in shorts and a life jacket, and he was extracting the kayak from its spot next to a non-working car. McDonald stuffed his lunch and a polo shirt into a dry bag that went into the kayak's cargo compartment. He hefted the 42-pound kayak onto one shoulder, and we set off for the Charles River. (When I picked up the kayak later, I estimated that I could perhaps carry it half a block.) "I wasn't in bad shape before," McDonald told me as we walked, "but I wanted something that would help me get in better shape, while also getting me to work." In the fall and winter, the watercraft is replaced by a pair of Rollerblades. He stoops to walking (or riding the T) only on very rainy days, or when there's snow or ice. "I want to walk as few days as possible," he says.
Part of the route took us along Commonwealth Avenue, with Green Line trolleys zipping past and the traffic of the Mass Pike thrumming beneath us. McDonald explained that the bridge he normally used to get to the Esplanade, near BU Beach, was still being repaired, so he was forced to take a bridge another two blocks to the east.
McDonald said that after he moved to Brookline in July 2009, he started wondering about the possibility of kayaking to work, noting that both his home and office were near the Charles. He bought the kayak last year, and inquired about whether he might be able to keep it in his office building's indoor bike storage room. The answer was no.
So he rents a parking space from Charles River Canoe & Kayak, which operates a small rental marina in the Broad Canal, just behind Endeca's Kendall Square building. The monthly rate? $150.
No one remarked on McDonald's transit through the BU campus with a kayak on his shoulder, but he told me he did occasionally get comments. "A couple of people walk along and want to have some meaningful discussion about the kayak. A cop who directs traffic sometimes says, 'Do you have a license for that?' Sometimes people ask me if I need help with it. Fewer comments than I would expect." When the students return to BU's campus in late August, he said, the walking part of his commute "gets much more difficult, because there are so many of them on the sidewalks. You have to be careful not to bash them in the head when you make turns."
After we'd crossed Storrow Drive on a pedestrian bridge, McDonald put the kayak on the grass near the river's edge. He took a plastic case that contained his mobile phone and strapped it to his leg. "The second day I started kayaking, I got caught in a downpour and lightning storm, and had to wait it out under a bridge for maybe 20 minutes," he told me. "After that, my wife insisted that I get a phone." (He typically uses it to listen to novels as he paddles to work.) As he got ready to get into the boat, he also mentioned that he was once hit by a rower: McDonald was facing forward, and the rower backward. Neither was injured, and McDonald's kayak wasn't damaged. "I haven't flipped," he said, "and I haven't hit anyone else. I have seen dead ducks and dead fish — all kinds of weirdness out there. But I missed both the seal and the alligator that were in the Charles."
McDonald slid the kayak through some weedy growth at the water's edge, and hopped in. By my watch, it took about 28 minutes to get from his condo to the river, although we did talk for a few minutes on the Esplanade before he set off at 7:33 AM. As McDonald paddled off toward the Massachusetts Avenue bridge, I got on my bike and rode toward Kendall Square.
At 7:58, I got an e-mail from McDonald: he was pulling into the canal behind his building, and where was I? (Thinking he'd take a little bit longer, I'd ducked into Dunkin' Donuts for an iced coffee.) McDonald pulled the kayak out of the water at Charles River Canoe & Kayak's floating dock, and walked it up toward a rack that sits in the shadow of the Genzyme building. McDonald removed the dry bag, put on a polo shirt, and then he locked the kayak to the rack. He walked around the corner to 101 Main Street. Once inside, he'd use one of the two showers in the office, and be at his desk before 8:30.
The commute is roughly three miles each way: just about a mile on foot, and two on the water. Google Maps estimates that you could do it in about 52 minutes on foot, 42 minutes on public transit, and 18 minutes on a bike.
But Rob McDonald would rather be on the water.
- AisleBuyer. They've raised almost $12 million for a mobile app that could replace the cash register, or those self-checkout kiosks you see at Home Depot and CVS. But the company has yet to announce a major retail or restaurant partner since I test-drove the app at Brookline's Magic Beans baby store last August. What's brewing?
- CyphyWorks. The new start-up from iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner, which just raised another $1.2 million last month. Working on flying robots that can operate indoors and out, for surveillance and inspection tasks. Has yet to show one in public.
- Genzyme. What R&D initiatives will get started under Sanofi-aventis's ownership, and who is actually running things in Cambridge?
- Heartland Robotics. What will Heartland's low-cost manufacturing 'bots look like, how much will they cost, and how easy will they be to integrate into existing processes? Heartland is the other local start-up from an iRobot founder: Rodney Brooks. I talked to several people who've seen demos of its prototypes last November.
- Kayak and TripAdvisor. If the stock market is hospitable, one or both of the travel sites could go public. Kayak would be the third IPO for Cambridge-based General Catalyst Partners, and TripAdvisor would be a spin-out from Expedia, which is already publicly-held. Successful offerings could raise the profile of Boston's travel cluster.
- Lilliputian Systems. Working on miniature fuel cells for consumer electronics. Imagine just inserting a new butane cartridge in your laptop, instead of plugging it into a wall for a couple hours. I first met the founder in 2001, and ever since, I've been eager to see a demo, and learn what sorts of electronics Lilliputian's technology will work with.
- Longwood Founders Fund. The new life sciences-focused venture capital fund from Rich Aldrich, Christoph Westphal, and Michelle Dipp, a trio that was involved with creating Sirtris Pharmaceuticals. I hear they're incubating some interesting projects...
- Retired? I always wonder about next acts. What will Josh Boger, founder of Vertex, Ray Ozzie, ex-chief software architect at Microsoft, and Netezza founder Jit Saxena do next?
- Rue La La. eBay picked up the Boston-based "flash sale" specialist earlier this year, as part of a bigger purchase of GSI Commerce. But Rue La La was spun off as an independent company run by Michael Rubin (with eBay retaining a 30 percent stake). Will Rubin and Rue La La CEO Ben Fischman play well together, and what will their growth plans look like in the fiercely competitive online discounting business?
- SCVNGR. One of Boston's highest-profile mobile start-ups. But what's going to get momentum first: SCVNGR's first product, a game that involves performing "challenges" at different locations to earn points, or its second offering, an app that offers special deals at local establishments, and a way to pay for them using your phone?
- Zynga Boston. The San Francisco "social games" biggie bought two small Boston game companies recently, Conduit Labs and Floodgate Entertainment. What's the first game the Zynga Boston team will release? (Given Conduit's background, I'm guessing it'll be music- or dance-related.)
Here's what we talked about:
- His own use of technology at home, on the road, and in the office (he's a BlackBerry & MacBook guy)
- Whether he uses any sort of "information dashboard" to monitor what's happening within state agencies
- What he hears when he talks to Massachusetts CEOs about how to make the state more globally competitive
- Which innovation clusters he thinks need state support
- Whether there are ways to make state agencies more tolerant of taking risks, when it comes to trying new technologies developed by smaller companies (IE, not Oracle or Microsoft or IBM.)
The audience asked questions about how Massachusetts competes (or collaborates) with other states, and also about employee non-compete agreements, which can limit the options of an employee who wants to leave one company and go work for another in the same space (or start one of her own). "Silicon Valley seems to do fine without the kinds of restrictive non-competes we have here," the governor said. "I don't really see why we would want to compromise the ability of somebody to try a competitor idea in the same neighborhood as the company they used to work for — obviously, again, protecting intellectual property rights." Later, he said, "You don't want to have anything that is perceived as an impediment on [entrepreneurialism]..."
The audio is about 25 minutes long, and begins with an embarrassing intro of yours truly. (The governor had already been introduced, and had given a ten-minute talk.) Press play below, or click the MP3 link to download the file.
This year's recipient is Avrum Spira, co-founder of Allegro Diagnostics and head of the Division of Computational Biomedicine at BU's Medical School. Allegro is commercializing Spira's research into gene-based tests that could spot lung cancer sooner, and better manage its treatment, in current or former smokers.
Spira has authored 37 peer-reviewed papers, and has attracted over $3.5 million in NIH funding for BU research. Allegro Diagnostics has raised $8.9 million in total funding, according to Taffe. (Here's a brief on the company's $5.4 million A round.)
Spira was recently inducted into the American Society for Clinical Investigation, a society of physician-scientists under the age of 45 (Spira is 39.) Spira grew up in Canada, and now lives in Newton.
In the video below, Spira talks about how epithelial cells in a smoker's respiratory tract can serve as a "canary in the coal mine" for the early diagnosis of lung cancer, and help doctors make better decisions about how to treat it.
Sharing here a few resources on the topic, along with a longer version of the noncompete column than appeared in print:
- The Alliance for Open Competition
Group of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and venture capitalists trying to ban (or at least discourage) the use of non-compete agreements in Massachusetts.
- Among the Boston-area employers who don't require employees to sign noncompete agreements: Google Cambridge, Zynga Boston, Kayak, Boundless Learning, Buzzient, LuckyLabs, Greentech Media, Assembla, and GaggleAMP. (Know of others? Add them in the comments.)
- Bills to ban noncompetes have been introduced in the Massachusetts House and Senate this year; there's also a House bill seeking to curtail the way they're used, rather than nixing them entirely.
- State Rep. Will Brownsberger maintains a page on his site about noncompete-related legislation.
- Attorney Russell Beck's blog, Fair Competition Law, tracks the noncompete issue closely, including examples of how noncompetes are used by Massachusetts employers like hair salons (who no doubt have lots of valuable IP to protect).
- MIT professor Matt Marx's research on "noncompetes and brain drain."
- Mark Garmaise of UCLA finds that companies in state's where noncompetes are strictly enforced invest less in R&D and human capital.
- From the Rotman School of Management in Toronto: "Silicon Valley's eclipse of Route 128 helped by lack of non-compete clauses, says new study"
- Entrepreneur and blogger Branko Gerovac's testimony to the Massachusetts legislature's Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development (with scads of data and charts)
- A blog post of mine from 2009: "Dear Captains of Industry: Where Is the Data to Support Your Position on Noncompetes?"
- Tim Rowe of the Cambridge Innovation Center writes, "It's (Really) Time to Ban Noncompete Agreements"
- Looking at the impact of noncompete agreements on inventor mobility in Michigan (work by Marx, Harvard's Lee Fleming, and Deborah Strumsky of UNC.)
- Longer version of my Sunday, July 3rd Globe column, "Some common sense on noncompete clauses."
Logan Benson landed a pretty sweet job in early 2009: testing videogame software at Harmonix Music Systems, the Cambridge company that developed “Rock Band” and “Dance Central.” Thinking there’d be good opportunities for promotion, he took a pay cut to work there.FULL ENTRY
But in December of that year, Benson, then 26, was laid off. Within a few weeks, he was in the running for an associate producer job at Seven45 Studios, a Boston videogame company that was, like Harmonix, working on music-related videogames. “It was the kind of job that felt like it would have advanced my career,” Benson says.
But executives at Harmonix blocked Benson from taking the new job: when he was hired at Harmonix, he’d signed a contract called a non-compete agreement, promising not to work for a rival company for a year. Harmonix wouldn’t nullify it. Benson kept looking, unsuccessfully, for another job with a local videogame company. On the verge of filing for unemployment benefits, he took a job with a former employer, Boston University.
That is no way to build a cluster of videogame companies in Massachusetts, and it is no way to grow an innovation-driven state economy in the insanely-competitive 21st century.
Cool map: Innovation-related place names for different parts of Massachusetts (and the rest of the U.S.)
The Sudbury illustrator Leo Acadia (whose actual name seems to be John S. Dykes) created the nifty map below, which I wanted to share. It lists some place names that have actually stuck (Research Triangle), and many that haven't (I'm not sure anyone knows exactly where the Silicon Prairie is.) I think in Massachusetts, "Route 128: America's Technology Highway" was probably the most successful one we've had, although it's far less relevant today than it was in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Do you have a favorite techno-place name ... whether it flew or flopped?
The Walt Disney Company's research division, led by the former Bostonian Joe Marks, is planning to open a small lab in the American Twine Building next month. That's exactly 11 years after Disney shuttered its last lab in East Cambridge, which had mainly developed new technologies for the Disney theme parks as part of the company's famed Imagineering team.
"While labs tend to grow organically according to who ends up joining, my initial plan is to have the lab focus on social sciences, broadly defined, and also on commercialization of some existing research," says Marks, who ran the Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab (MERL) in Cambridge before being hired by Disney. Another MERL alum, MIT professor Wojciech Matusik, will serve as a consultant to the lab.
The lab is currently hiring researchers in social and behavioral sciences, data analytics and data mining, media, and transportation. There are also openings for software engineers with Web and mobile experience.
The old Disney lab, overseen by Bran Ferren and Danny Hillis, was extremely low-profile. A former employee tells me — anonymously — that it worked on "high performance electric robotics," or a new generation of Audio-Animatronic technology, including robotic characters that could roam free-range around the theme parks and interact with guests. The original Disney lab in Cambridge also worked on a $50 plush toy sold in the company’s theme parks called “Pal Mickey.” Electronics hidden inside the toy would respond to infrared transmitters placed around the parks, and the toy would speak information about parade times or costumed characters that might be mingling with tourists nearby. Disney was also a sponsor of a research initiative at MIT's Media Lab called "Toys of Tomorrow," which sought to develop smarter and more interactive toys.
Marks says that the new lab will be more open about its work. "We're committed to engaging fully with the global research community through collaboration with academe, publication of our results, participation in professional service activities, etc.," he says. "In that regard we're following more in the tradition of Pixar Research." The animation studio, now owned by Disney, has always shared its research with the computer graphics community.
So if you've ever wanted to get paid to research optimal techniques for loading cranky passengers into a monorail at the end of a 90-degree day, this may be the opportunity you've been waiting for...
My New Year's resolution for 2011, which didn't last long, was to spend the year avoiding comparisons between Boston and other centers of innovation, especially Silicon Valley.
But this week, my wonderful editor at the Globe asked me to put together a few pieces on "the road to awesome," focusing on ways that Boston could do a better job of holding onto young, post-collegiate entrepreneurs. And it's hard to do that without comparing the Hub to two places with pretty powerful tractor beams right now: New York and the Bay area.
The Globe also asked a few young entrepreneurs to offer up their takes on what Boston could do better:
- MIT Sloan alum Amanda Peyton: "Offer more 'awesome' cash"
- Shahbano Imran and David Tolioupov, Boston College alums: "Open up and share resources"
- Greenhorn Connect founder Jason Evanish: "Be louder and prouder"
- Olin College student Evan Morikawa: "Run the T past 12:30 a.m."
- Boston College MBA student Courtney Scrib: "Boston needs a startup culture"
- Boston College MBA student Andrew Boni: "City needs a new reputation"
I also e-mailed with three entrepreneurs who've left Boston behind: TaskRabbit founder Leah Busque (San Francisco)... WePay co-founder Rich Aberman (Palo Alto)... and Pixable co-founder Inaki Berenguer (Manhattan).
Finally, BC prof John Gallaugher, one of the true champions of tech entrepreneurship in Boston, posted his perspective on "Making Boston More Awesome," and Jason Evanish posted "a few added thoughts." Rob Go, a venture capitalist I quoted in the piece, put up a post headlined, "Act II: Golazo." PR and social media consultant Chuck Tanowitz asks, "Can we please stop comparing Boston to San Francisco and New York?" Entrepreneur Derek Skaletsky of Traackr (a start-up moving from Cambridge to San Francisco) wrote an excellent post titled, "Boston vs. San Fran: Find the Rock Stars."
Harvard picks marketing exec with experience battling mosquitos and tooth decay to run new Innovation Lab
In a former television studio in Allston where Julia Child once demonstrated proper fish filleting technique for PBS viewers, Harvard University is setting up an Innovation Lab to spur more commercialization activity across its many schools.
And the university has just made an interesting choice for the Innovation Lab's inaugural director: Gordon S. Jones, a former Procter & Gamble marketing executive who is currently an adjunct lecturer at Bentley University in Waltham.
Jones helped P&G and Gillette market products like Crest toothpaste and Oral-B toothbrushes around the world, and he has also been involved with two companies that sell backyard mosquito-control technology, including American Biophysics, maker of the Mosquito Magnet. In 2003, that company was Inc. Magazine's fastest-growing company in America.
The Innovation Lab, currently under construction, is set to open in September. But Jones starts his new job next month.
One challenge of Jones' job will be promoting the Innovation Lab among Harvard's student body and the faculty — and perhaps his background in sales and marketing will help on that front. (Harvard is perhaps better-known for two drop-outs who've started software and social networking companies than any of its own efforts to foster entrepreneurship.) "I'm going to encourage the students to help sell the iLab to the rest of the university," Jones says. "I don't view myself as the only evangelist."
The iLab will host events like Hack Harvard and the Harvard Business School Business Plan Competition. It'll offer new for-credit courses, as well as seminars on topics like social entrepreneurship or developing consumer products. It'll also provide office space to students' start-up companies; among those Jones has encountered so far are Tivli ("reinventing television"), Aid Aide, and a facial recognition start-up from grad student Zak Stone.
"This is Harvard's much more overt step to saying, 'This is a community we embrace,'" Jones says. "The promise is that, five or ten years down the road, [the iLab] could expand to multiple locations. This is a global century."
Jones holds two patents, and has been involved with launching about a dozen new products. Not on his CV, however: starting a company of his own.
The Innovation Lab's Twitter account is @innovationlab; Jones isn't yet blogging or on Twitter.
MIT announced yesterday that Joichi Ito has been chosen as the new director of the Media Lab, which has been one of the university's highest-profile research groups over the past quarter century, and spawned companies like Harmonix Music Systems and E Ink.
Ito, known as Joi (pronounced like "Joey"), has been an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and non-profit CEO. Among the more notable companies in which he has invested: Twitter, Flickr, Six Apart, and Kickstarter. He briefly studied computer science at Tufts University, but did not graduate.
Ito will be the fourth director the Media Lab has had, succeeding Frank Moss. So I've got four questions about his tenure:
1. How will the Media Lab's often-fractious faculty respond to being led by someone with serious tech cred, but no college degree or hands-on experience with supervising high-level academic work?
2. How well will Ito do at attracting new corporate sponsors to fund the lab's research?
3. Will Ito do any local angel investing? (I'm not aware of any Boston companies he has backed.) Ito says that he is currently managing a fund focused on Singapore and the Middle East. "It is more than half invested," he writes in an e-mail, "but I'll continue to manage that remotely as I have been doing."
4. Ito's predecessor at the lab created a research group to explore innovation in health care, New Media Medicine. What new research initiatives will Ito introduce?
Ito confirmed with me yesterday that while he had been to the MIT campus before, and while he'd "interacted with Media Lab people" frequently, his first visit to the Media Lab was for his job interview.
Ito's official start date hasn't yet been determined. "We're looking at Sept. 1, but it could be sooner," says long-time Media Lab spokesperson Alexandra Kahn.
Update: One Media Lab source says that in a talk with faculty members, Ito said he wasn't planning to launch any of his own research initiatives, but would instead focus on creating more links between the lab and the "outside world."
The tours cost $65 ($60 if you're a Museum of Science member), and they leave from the plaza in front of the museum.
First, I was issued a helmet, a headset, and a two-way radio, which clipped to my waist and allowed me to hear the guide. (You can also push a button to ask questions.) A short video introduction to the Segway explains how you mount the vehicle and steer, but mainly enumerates the myriad ways you might fall off it, complete with animated figures conking their heads. (Important tip for newbies: don't try to turn while you're going backwards.) Then, I got a hands-on orientation to the vehicle. Though I've been on Segways before, it was nice to get a refresher on getting on and off, and to spend a few minutes in "turtle mode" (the Segway's speed is limited to five miles per hour), before shifting into regular mode (up to 12.5 miles per hour.) It doesn't take long to get comfortable on a Segway, but the tour can be a little nerve-wracking, as you navigate through the construction zone in front of the museum and close to fast-moving traffic. Stopping quickly is paramount.
The tour presents a melange of natural history, the Revolution, architecture, and MIT campus highlights. A few things I learned:
- Lechmere was once a marshy area; the name is French for "sea of leeches." (Really?)
- The canal next to the CambridgeSide Galleria mall is a remnant of a short-lived effort by Cambridge to compete with the port of Boston for shipping business.
- EF Education, located right near the museum, owns a four-ton section of the Berlin Wall, said to be the biggest piece in a private collection in the U.S.
- Oysters have been imported to the Charles River to help clean it up.
- Architect I.M. Pei built the tallest building in Cambridge, Building 54 on MIT's campus (which students once turned into a soundmeter for a Fourth of July "hack.")
- The retail price of the Segway I was riding on is $6235 (perhaps one reason Segways haven't been widely adopted).
We also happened to see a solar-powered car — presumably built by students — rolling down Vassar Street, which was neat.
At a few different stops, O'Brien whipped out an iPad to show some historic pictures of Boston and Cambridge. It's a fun, tech-y idea, but the screen glare even on a cloudy day made the images almost impossible to see.
Of course, being a know-it-all, I had to point out a few things to O'Brien, like the Microsoft NERD building on Memorial Drive (I explained to him that Microsoft corporate wasn't initially crazy about having their New England R&D Center known as "NERD")... and the fact that I.M. Pei's other building on the MIT campus, the original Media Lab building, was dubbed the "Pei Toilet" by students, because of the white tiles that cover its exterior. We also debated the location of MIT's on-campus nuclear reactor; O'Brien pointed to a building on Mass. Ave that's actually occupied by Novartis, the Swiss pharma company.
One other thing that would be worth mentioning on the tour: Doug Field, who originally led the design and engineering team at Segway, is an MIT alum.
The tour offers a nice (but condensed) spin through of a slice of Cambridge and the MIT campus that's easily reachable from the museum; a longer ramble might go through Kendall Square (passing Akamai, Google Cambridge, the Broad Institute, the Cambridge Innovation Center, and Genzyme) or even out to Harvard. But I'm all for tourist activities that spotlight innovation and what's happening now, as opposed to marinating visitors in Boston's 18th and 19th century history.
More info about the tours, and when they're offered, is available on the museum's Web site.
I wasn't expecting to be uplifted.
But I've also never heard as data-free a talk delivered inside a business school classroom. (I should have been prepared: Wadhwa is the same guy, after all, who wrote a 2009 TechCrunch article that concluded that Silicon Valley was the networking capital of the world because he'd received three invitations for three social events scheduled on the exact same night.)
Noting that he has been living in Silicon Valley for 18 months, Wadhwa sang the region's praises. People are not embarrassed to discuss their failures. "Silicon Valley is one giant social network." People are open and willing to discuss ideas even with potential competitors, forgoing the silliness of "stealth mode." People believe in the lean start-up methodology, and they don't get stuck trying to make a business plan spreadsheet come to life. He has had the chance to meet both Craig Newmark of Craiglist and Mark Zuckerberg. In person!
I've lived in the Bay Area, too (for longer than 18 months), and I agree that it's a wonderful place to start a company — and undoubtedly the technology center of the universe right now.
But what I found annoying were Wadhwa's pokes at Boston's stodgy, "pessimistic," old school culture, with zero data to back them up.
Representative was his assertion that learning how to write a business plan is irrelevant. (Do Berkeley and Stanford still teach students how to write business plans, I asked. Wadhwa dodged the question, saying some professors at those schools regard them as less important.) If business plans aren't important, then what are the great companies that have been built so far adhering to the lean start-up methodology? No examples. Could you build a biotech or energy company as a lean start-up, he was asked. Yes, he said, and lean start-up champion Eric Ries had even rattled off a list of examples to him, Wadhwa said, though he couldn't remember any of the names.
Wadhwa also took a dig at MIT's $100K business plan competition, contending that it had produced "no successful companies." Dan Vannoni, an MIT Sloan student who'd been an organizer of the competition, was sitting the front row, and he mentioned Akamai, the publicly-traded content delivery company that is today worth about $7 billion. Wadhwa said Akamai hadn't won the competition (it was a runner-up.) Vannoni asked about SmartCells, a company bought by Merck late last year for $500 million (after receiving only about $10 million in angel funding.) Wadhwa said he hadn't heard of the company.
Instead of business plan competitions, Wadhwa said that cities like Boston would be better to organize hack-a-thons. I noted that we'd just had one over the weekend. Did Wadhwa cite any substantial companies that have been spawned by hack-a-thons? No.
Just before he entered the classroom, Wadhwa had apparently spoken to two of the Sloan students who invited him to the school. When he asked them what they were working on outside of classes, they had both paused for a second. Wadwha concluded that it was because they were afraid of divulging sensitive competitive information to one another. In Boston, he said, "you don't share information. You're worried about competing." (He ignored the fact that both students said they were simply being polite and waiting for the other to go first.)
Later in his talk, he observed that "New York seems to be doing better than Boston... they seem to be doing something right." What was going on in New York that was so special? "I don't know the details," Wadhwa said.
His biggest back-handed compliment to Boston during the hour-plus talk was that "some stuff happens in biotech [in Boston], but not anything like the magnitude of what's happening in Silicon Valley."
After the talk, I sparred with Wadhwa on Twitter, sending him a link to a list of MIT $100k alumni companies that have done good. I asked him if he'd written any academic papers that might include data related to his generalizations about the Valley, Boston, and New York ecosystems. Wadhwa wrote, "I made it clear I was expressing opinion and sharing my views! The Valley did win…Sorry."
I obviously don't think it's worth debating the point that the Valley is the bubbling hot magma center of the technology scene right now. (Wadhwa, however, seems to make a living traveling the world making that banal observation to every other region, from Boston to Chile to Russia.) I just think that if you talk to a business school audience and make broad-brush statements about how one place tolerates failure more than any other, supports networking, has moved beyond the creaky, 20th century mentality of teaching business plan writing ... that you might want to bring some supporting data with you.
On Twitter, of course, the debate very quickly turned into "Boston versus Silicon Valley."
It was covered by peHUB, which posted a piece headlined, "Tweetfight: A Battle Over Boston Breaks Out." The New York Observer wrote a piece called "Bombs Over Boston: Vivek Wadhwa Flames Beantown Has-Beens." The Telegraph said, "'Over the hill' Boston tech community lashes out at academic."
My take on the whole dust-up:
- I think most people in Boston know there are things we can do better.
- I think most people realize that in the global economy, creating an ecosystem that supports innovation is not a zero-sum game. You can win without "beating" Silicon Valley.
- I think most people would acknowledge that one thing we do exceptionally well is support entrepreneurship in emerging areas, whether it's robotics or mobile advertising or new kinds of medical diagnostic tests.
- I think most people in town believe that the MIT $100K is a pretty powerful proving ground for new entrepreneurs and companies.
Finally, I think that everyone is sick of the "Boston vs. Silicon Valley" and "Boston vs. New York" conversations... most of all, me.
I'm interested in your comments...
It wasn't a good month for CMGI stock...networking equipment makers Sonus Networks and Sycamore were among the top five...You could buy shares of StorageNetworks for $20 (it'd liquidate in 2003)...companies like Netegrity, Digitas, Keane, Acterna, and RSA Security had yet to be acquired...and telecom gear maker Avici Systems was starting to slide (it finally went out of business in 2009.)
EMC, incidentally, has grown by nearly 20,000 employees since 2001...
It seems a foregone conclusion that French pharmaceutical-maker Sanofi-Aventis will buy Cambridge's Genzyme Corp. sometime soon for about $20 billion. That'll end Genzyme's thirty-year stretch as one of the most innovative (and at times, controversial) pioneers of the biotech industry. With about 12,000 employees and $4 billion in annual revenues, Genzyme is not only the biggest biotech company in Massachusetts, but it's one of the last of the first-generation biotech companies still standing as an independent business. (Two years ago, a Swiss company, Roche Holdings, paid $46 billion for the very first biotech firm, San Francisco-based Genentech, founded in 1976.)
Genzyme was one of those classic Massachusetts success stories — a company obsessed with figuring out how to do the impossible. The company's very first product treated a rare and previously untreatable malady called Gaucher's disease. Genzyme developed its first treatment by extracting and purifying an enzyme out of human placentas (yikes: it required 22,000 placentas to treat a single patient for one year), and later it pioneered a method of making a synthetic form of the enzyme using genetically engineered animal cells. In the years since, Genzyme has developed and acquired other products to treat rare diseases like Gaucher's, as well as kidney disease and arthritis. It has poured tens of millions into cultivating new drugs for cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis, too.
This morning, I was remembering when I first interviewed Genzyme CEO Henri Termeer, back in 2003. Sitting in the company's brand-new Kendall Square high-rise, he recalled how in the late 1970s and early 1980s, biotechnology was seen as a field of enormous promise, but companies were applying it in all sorts of ways that turned out to be economically unsustainable: developing perm treatments, dying fabric, unclogging drains. "People just had no idea how these technologies could be best leveraged," Termeer said. When he joined Genzyme, in 1983, the company had fewer than a dozen employees. A research collaboration with the National Institutes of Health led to the company's first product, even after a first clinical trial showed poor results.
Genzyme and other Boston biotech companies, like Biogen and Genetics Institute, grew here, Termeer told me, because of the presence of top-notch universities and venture capitalists with money to invest. One thing that wasn't here: big pharma companies. Their absence allowed Genzyme and others to hire the best scientists and product development people, and point them at audacious goals. "It was a magnificently pioneering time," Termeer said. The biggest pharmaceutical companies were focused on making "enormous money with small, incremental improvements on their products," and then hawking those improvements with their "enormous marketing power." That created a vacuum in which Genzyme and a handful of other big biotechs grew.
Boston has changed since then. Most major pharma companies have set up research outposts here to tap the talent coming out of local universities. And they regularly acquire both private and public biotech companies here to fill their product pipelines. In the life sciences industry, the odds of spawning independent, enduring, iconoclastic "tentpole" companies like Genzyme weren't high in 1981, but they're far lower now. The biggest players in pharma have fortified themselves with formidable sales forces and distribution channels — and there isn't much logic in challenging them. (Cambridge-based Biogen Idec, which has been narrowing its focus to neurological diseases, could be the next to get gobbled.)
It's interesting to wonder whether Genzyme would still be trucking along as an independent company if Termeer had groomed an obvious successor to lead the company once he retires...or if the company hadn't encountered a lengthy series of manufacturing problems that began in 2009.
Can Genzyme be anywhere near as innovative a company inside the corporate hull of Sanofi as it has been on its own? Will Termeer stick around in any kind of substantive way? Betting on either scenario is like betting that the sequel to a movie you loved will be better than the original.
I'm not excited, you may be able tell, about the prospect of another branch office in Kendall Square.
But I'm also not pessimistic about the likelihood that we will create other Genzymes here... as long as there are small teams of researchers in grubby office space who believe they see some glimmer of promise on the horizon, and leaders like Termeer to point them in the right direction.
Running MIT's Media Lab is one of the more alluring — and challenging — academic gigs in town, and we should know by April the name of the lab's next director.
Nicholas Negroponte created the lab in 1985 with then-MIT president Jerome Wiesner to explore the ways technology, design, and communication were converging. Neither of the two subsequent directors have really made much of an imprint on the place, though outgoing director Frank Moss did successfully introduce the theme of developing new technologies to help the sick and disabled, and dialed up the emphasis on turning lab research into start-up ventures. [Update: Moss phoned me after this post initially appeared, noting that he landed 28 new sponsors for the lab's work within the past two years, and hired five new faculty members during his five-year tenure.]
"I think there is a short list" of candidates, says Idit Harel Caperton, an entrepreneur and Media Lab alum who serves on the lab's visiting committee. "We're looking very long-term. It's an important time for the lab. The new building is fantastic, and there are amazing fundraising opportunities. The lab is inventing the future, but also inventing a better world — using technology and innovation to really make the world a better place for everyone, including those with special needs and poor people."
One former Media Lab researcher told me via e-mail that the new director "needs to be a person who is to some degree amphibious, able to swim with sharks in academia as well as the whales in industry...a person with some personal vision, but also the ability (like a great orchestral director) to let other soloists carry the day."
My hunch: the lab is going to hire a young-ish academic with plentiful energy, rather than selecting someone from industry...someone who will invigorate the Media Lab without trying to alter its trajectory too much. Some people who'd be interesting candidates (these are people who'd be on my list of individuals worth talking to — not necessarily who is on the search committee's short list):
Danny Hillis, the MIT alum who founded supercomputer-maker Thinking Machines, and subsequently worked at Disney....Liz Altman, once a Motorola mobile devices executive who served as a liaison to the Media Lab, and now a doctoral student at Harvard Business School...Larry Smarr of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology...Krisztina Holly, formerly executive director of MIT's Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, and now a vice provost at USC...Joe Marks, who once ran Mitsubishi's R&D Lab in Cambridge, but is now vice president of Disney Research...Rich Miner, an investor at Google Ventures who earlier headed up the Cambridge R&D Lab for Orange, the French telecom company...and John Maeda, a former Media Lab prof who became president of the Rhode Island School of Design back in 2008, but might be lured back (his family still lives in the Boston area.)
"I hope to get a person who cares about diversity," says Caperton, "one who can bring more women, more Hispanics, and more African Americans in, as well as more international faculty and students. MIT at large has been doing a lot better at that than the Media Lab."
Moss tells me he has already stepped down as director — a bit earlier than expected — so that he can spend more time finishing a book that is due out this June, tentatively titled, "The Sorcerers and Their Apprentices: How the Digital Magicians of the MIT Media Lab Are Creating the Innovative Technologies That Will Transform Our Lives." Moss says he hasn't yet determined what his next full-time job will be, but says he'll serve on the board of a Cambridge company he helped start called Bluefin Labs. Moss will continue working at the Media Lab one day a week, heading a research group he created called New Media Medicine.
Until the next director arrives, a committee headed by faculty member Mitchell Resnick is running the lab. I'm told that Negroponte has been spending more time at his office in the Media Lab — an intimidating prospect to whomever steps into the wheelhouse of the boat he built.
At MassChallenge, which touts itself as the world's biggest start-up competition, software entrepreneur Karl Büttner has a new job as of this month: he'll be the Boston non-profit's "chief mentorship officer." In the newly-created role, he'll be responsible for recruiting new mentors to the three-month program, and improving the way that mentors interact with the entrepreneurs who participate. The competition awards $1 million in prize money to the most promising start-ups in a pool of about 100 finalists.
In 2010, the program's first year, "what we learned was that mentorship was the number one way we could benefit the teams," says MassChallenge CEO John Harthorne. Büttner's job will involve not just bringing in new mentors (in particular, the program hopes to augment last year's bullpen with "younger, connector types" who might be able to contribute more time to the program than, say, an attorney working at a major law firm or a partner at a venture capital firm, he explains.) Some mentors this year may even be entrepreneurs, consultants, or angel investors who opt to work out of the MassChallenge's waterfront office space on Fan Pier, says Büttner, making them more accessible to the participating start-ups. And alumni teams from last year's MassChallenge may also stick around in the space, offering the chance for what Harthorne calls "peer-to-peer mentoring."
The challenge that'll confront Büttner will be persuading entrepreneurs and executives who haven't previously done any mentoring to get involved with MassChallenge. The last couple years have seen an explosion of initiatives in Boston, all intended to support newbie entrepreneurs, that ask mentors to donate their time. These include Founder Mentors, TechStars Boston, the Founder Institute, and 12x12. (The grand-daddy of them all is MIT's Venture Mentoring Service.)
Before joining MassChallenge, Büttner had been a co-founder of 170 Systems, which was acquired in 2009. 170 Systems designed software for automating financial functions like accounts payable within a business, and had raised $14 million from Polaris Venture Partners. (The 140-employee Boston company was bought by a California firm for $43 million.) Büttner was a MassChallenge mentor last year, and he has also been on the TechStars and MIT mentor rosters — both of which he'll continue doing. Büttner says the MassChallenge gig will be full-time, and he has committed to stay for at least a year.
Last year's list of MassChallenge mentors included GT Solar CEO Kedar Gupta, EnerNOC CEO Tim Healy, Dayna Grayson of North Bridge Venture Partners, and David Feigenbaum of Fish & Richardson.
The deadline for entering the 2011 competition is April 11th. Harthorne says that MassChallenge is on the way to raising the $2 million it needs to run this year's program: $1 million for operating expenses, and $1 million for prize money. Last year's budget was $1.5 million, some of it contributed by the state and various quasi-governmental agencies as start-up (I.E., non-recurring) funding for the competition.
Former Chief Software Architect, Microsoft
Founder, Groove Networks
Developer, Lotus Notes
Speaking for all of us here in Boston, we're kind of glad that you didn't become a Microsoft lifer. When you announced your plans to leave last October, to be honest, no one was surprised that the cultural Super Glue hadn't set. Bill Gates had once described you as one of the top five programmers in the world... you parachuted into a 90,000 person company, knighted as Gates' successor...and then you talked about how the company needed to act more like a start-up. Ha ha, that was funny.
I'm not sure when you changed the LinkedIn description of what you did at Microsoft, but the current explanation is pretty funny: "Overhead." I'm sure that's how many Microsofties viewed you, despite your tireless efforts to nudge the company's strategy in the right direction, and build prototypes that would get people there thinking about cloud-based services and the future of social interactions online.
I'm told that you've wrapped up your involvement at Microsoft, and that there's not much reason for you to stick around Redmond anymore. I hope that means you'll be spending more time here in Massachusetts, at your humble single-family abode in Manchester-By-the-Sea.
(I'm a bit worried about the fate of the Cambridge office of Microsoft, known as the NERD Center, which you helped build up. What'll happen without your sponsorship? Who knows. The new "executive sponsor" of NERD is Qi Lu, someone without strong ties to the Boston area, and several other key players at NERD have departed recently.)
I've heard that you're informally advising at least one local CEO of a software-as-a-service start-up, but no one I spoke to seems to have any idea what you're thinking about doing next. (Most of the technical all-stars you'd recruit if you were already laying the groundwork for a new company are still working at Microsoft, I'm told.)
My bet is that you'll compile some of your thoughts on the future of technology into a book, maybe make some angel investments or join some boards, and then perhaps start your next company. I'm sure any of our fine engineering schools locally would love to have you as an adjunct faculty member, but I'm not sure that'd be up your alley. And while it's always an alluring economic possibility, I can't really imagine you becoming a venture capitalist.
But here are a few areas where you could help out the community locally, with your experience in software development, start-ups, bigger tech companies, cloud computing, and online collaboration. Call it a to-do list for your re-entry. I know you've never been especially big on public speaking or schmoozing (aside from participating in the annual, invite-only Foo Camp East gathering, I am not sure you spoke at one Boston event during your entire Microsoft tenure), but it'd be nice to see you get plugged back in to Boston. A lot has happened since you joined Microsoft in 2005.
- Since you live up north, I know the North Shore Web Geeks would be thrilled to have you drop by one of their monthly meet-ups in Newburyport. In Cambridge, OpenCoffee brings entrepreneurs to Voltage Coffee in Kendall Square each Wednesday morning. It was started by venture capitalist Bijan Sabet (who serves on the board of Twitter and Boxee) and Nabeel Hyatt, now running the Boston office of Zynga.
- I heard that you were at Microsoft Research's Social Computing Symposium in New York last week (listing your company affiliation as "none.") Though you were one of the first CEOs in the Boston area to blog regularly (while you were running Groove Networks), you've been pretty quiet on the social media front lately. You jump-started your blog only as you were on the way out at Microsoft. Though you have an account on Twitter, your messages are "protected," meaning someone (me, for instance) needs permission to see what you're tweeting. Maybe you could share what you're thinking a little more frequently, and openly?
- Boston is home to lots of unconferences, but two really stand out: BarCamp Boston (happening April 9th and 10th) and the Mass TLC's Innovation Unconference, in October. I know people would be eager to have you lead a session — or just be part of the mix.
- I consider the quarterly Web Innovators Group shindigs "must go" events, at least twice a year. The demos from not-yet-funded (and some angel-funded) start-ups are interesting, and the schmoozing is even better. There's a cash bar, but I'll buy the first one.
Whatever you choose to do, it'll be swell to have you contributing once again to the innovation economy here — as opposed to trying to nudge the rudder at the S.S. Microsoft by a degree or two.
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.
I've been wanting to compile this list for a while, since people often ask me who are the "essential" Boston Twitter users worth following.
Worth following, of course, means something different to everyone, but here's my definition: their tweets are especially relevant if you work in the innovation economy in Greater Boston, and they maintain a fairly high signal-to-noise ratio. I've focused on individuals who don't work as journalists, but are in the front lines of starting, funding, and building companies here.
Basically, these are the ten people who give me a window into what's happening in a wide range of industries where Boston is a world leader.
You can also view this list, or follow everyone on it, on Twitter's site.
- Jeffrey Bussgang (@bussgang), an investor at Flybridge Capital in Boston, also teaches entrepreneurship at Harvard Business School, where he's written case studies of local start-ups like Curt Schilling's 38 Studios.
- Rob Day (@cleantechvc), an investor at the Boston office of Black Coral Capital, offers funding, start-up, and policy news related to the energy sector.
- Pearl Freier, founder of Cambridge BioPartners (@pearlf), shares news, links, and scuttlebut related to the local and national biotech, pharma, and medical device industries.
- Michael Gilman (@michael_gilman) is chief executive of Stromedix, a Cambridge biotech start-up, and was previously a top research executive at Biogen Idec.
- Rob Go (@robgo), one of the founders of NextView Ventures, a new investment firm, works the coffee shop circuit and meets with lots of young entrepreneurs.
- Joe Kinsella (@joekinsella), formerly a top engineer at SilverBack Technologies and Dell, has been examining the local start-up scene as he lays the groundwork for a new venture; he also maintains the blog "High Tech in the Hub."
- Headline-making CEO Paul Levy (@paulflevy), who runs Beth Israel Deaconess, delivers a glimpse of what people are doing and talking about at the Longwood Medical Center.
- Tom Summit (@tsummit) runs the "e-cruiting" site TalentGraphz, and tends to hear about stealth mode start-ups — and tech companies in hiring mode — earlier than just about anyone else.
- Entrepreneur and angel investor Bill Warner (@BillWarner) organizes the annual Mass TLC Innovation Unconference, and plenty of interesting early-stage businesses pop up on his radar.
- One of Microsoft's Cambridge-based community liaisons, Gus Weber (@gweber) is good for tips on job openings, parties, and conferences.
TechStars Boston needs a new leader.
Late Friday, Shawn Broderick, who had been running the finishing school for promising start-ups, announced on his blog that he'd be stepping down to focus more on his fledgling online games company, play140. (Last month, Broderick told me that he planned to continue running TechStars Boston, perhaps with an assistant — but my guess is that he and the TechStars powers-that-be decided that having a less-distracted leader was a better idea.)
Broderick was a little-known entrepreneur when he took the job in 2009, and he was a solid steward for the program's first two years of operation in Boston. Broderick's persona was that of the trying-a-bit-too-hard-to-be-cool camp counselor, who rode a Ducati to work, kept a bottle of Bourbon in the office, and dropped F-bombs with abandon.
But TechStars Boston could use a high-profile leader who'd help it attract the most promising young entrepreneurs from around New England and beyond— someone who already has a following and could help the Boston outpost of TechStars (which also operates in Boulder, Seattle, and New York) really increase the power of its tractor beam. In my view, the next director of TechStars Boston ought to expand the scope of the program to include more "hard" technologies — not just people building Web-based services and mobile apps, but robotics businesses, sensor start-ups, and health and wellness technologies, too.
Who'd be on my short list of people worth considering?
- Ray Ozzie. Bill Gates once called him one of the five best programmers in the world. He created Lotus Notes, founded Groove Networks, and recently served as Microsoft's chief software architect. He's now under-employed, and still owns a waterfront spread in Beverly. Couldn't hurt to ask.
- Eran Egozy. The co-founder and chief technical officer of Harmonix Music Systems did his graduate work at MIT's Media Lab, and he has served as a mentor with TechStars Boston. With Viacom (Harmonix's current parent company) looking to unload the Cambridge videogame developer, why wouldn't Egozy want to spend a few years sharing what he learned about raising money and creating hit products like "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band"?
- Andy Palmer. Cloud? Search? E-Commerce? Biotech? Databases? Palmer is one of the rare guys who has experience in all of it. A high-energy serial entrepreneur who is determined to make the Boston scene more competitive.
- Pito Salas worked on spreadsheets at Lotus, on Internet collaboration at eRoom, and on blogs and RSS at his own start-up, BlogBridge. Lately, he's been focused on creating open source software that would run on voting machines, and also helping Brandeis University foster more entrepreneurial activity. He's a respected techie and a thoughtful blogger with a following.
- Reed Sturtevant and/or Katie Rae. Both are former execs at Microsoft's Startup Labs (a new idea generation group in Cambridge) and Eons, the social network for seniors. Sturtevant worked at Idealab and Lotus earlier in his career, and Rae was at Lycos. The pair are currently looking to raise a $5 million fund to make seed stage investments, but I'm not sure where that stands. Having one of them run TechStars while the other continues to beat the bushes wouldn't necessarily be a bad idea — and having both of them run TechStars could be even better.
- Andy Miller. Miller headed up business development at the mobile start-up m-Qube, and then co-founded and led Quattro Wireless, which was acquired by Apple earlier this year. (He was also an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year winner from 2009.) But he had to move to Silicon Valley after the Apple acquisition, and how much fun can it be to report directly to the mercurial and demanding Steve Jobs? Miller could be lured back to Massachusetts to contribute to the next wave of entrepreneurial innovation here, with a special focus on mobile and digital media.
- Micah Rosenbloom. Helped start the 3-D imaging company Brontes Technologies (acquired by 3M), but left earlier this year. Rosenbloom has been doing some angel investing, and he was an advisor with the MassChallenge competition. Young guy with lots of energy, and an interest in start-ups with unusual and industrial niche markets — not your garden-variety Internet-based, social media stuff.
- Yonald Chery. MIT-educated entrepreneur who helped start Virtual Ink, a company that made the first whiteboard that could digitally capture what was written on it. Chery was also involved in enterprise WiFi security in the early days, and served as CEO of Mok3, the 3-D imaging company that morphed into EveryScape.
- Marina Hatsopoulos. Supremely well-connected, MIT-educated mechanical engineer who also served as CEO of the pioneering 3-D printing start-up Z Corp. Currently serving as an advisor to MIT's Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation. Hatsopoulos could attract new kinds of companies to TechStars Boston: people building hardware, medical devices, and consumer products (she's on the board of Tea Forte, the high-end tea company based in Concord.)
- Karl Büttner. Büttner bootstrapped his last company, 170 Systems, to $18 million in revenue before taking VC funding — not a bad approach to share with the next generation of entrepreneurs. Buttner also has experience in sales, services, and artificial intelligence, and did his undergrad work at MIT. This year, he served as one of the more engaged mentors at the MassChallenge competition.
The digital media trade group MITX will announce its choice of a new president on Monday, replacing outgoing head Kiki Mills. Debi Kleiman, vice president of product marketing and sales operations at Communispace in Watertown, accepted the job this week, and MITX's board is being informed this afternoon. She'll be the third chief MITX has had since it was founded in 1996 as MIMC. (The current acronym stands for the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange; the old one stood for the Massachusetts Interactive Media Council.)
"I'm heartbroken that Kiki is leaving," said Michael Barron, the original founder of MITX and a partner at the Boston office of DLA Piper. "But Debi will be a fantastic leader of the organization. She's high-powered and full of ideas. She's knowledgable about the industry, and she seems comfortable dealing with high-level people."
Green told me that Kleiman will start early next month, overlapping with Mills for a few days. She said the board of MITX has worked over the last year to better define the organization's mission. "At various times in our past," she said, "we've had an amorphous grasp of our charter: who we are and how we are different from other trade associations. We've figured out that we're about the transformation happening in marketing and media because of technology. The opportunity with Debi to bring in a practitioner who's also a great leader — that ended up being the winning combination." Green added, "We talked to over 30 people, and we had an incredible short list that gave the search committee fits."
Before starting at Communispace, which develops and manages online communities for its customers, Kleiman worked in marketing at Gillette, Welch's, and Coca-Cola. She earned an MBA at Harvard Business School in1996. You can follow Kleiman on Twitter: @drkleiman.
MITX chair Larry Weber told me today that he hasn't yet had a chance to sit down with Kleiman...but they're having breakfast together on Wednesday at the Four Seasons.
Mills is leaving the president's job to join her fiancé in California; she originally joined the group as its director of business development in 1999. Her farewell fête is November 4th at Quincy Market.
OK, I was totally wrong about the MassChallenge.
When John Harthorne (at right, in the yellow tie), Akhil Nigam and their team were running around town trying to drum up support for a competition that would bring start-up companies to Boston from around the world, my response was: do we really need another entrepreneurship contest? Doesn't every local school with a business class or two, from MIT to Babson to BU to Harvard, already run a contest of their own?
It also seemed unlikely that they'd be able to raise $1 million in prize money in the midst of a recession.
And when they announced the 111 teams that made it into the competition — and would receive free office space on the Boston waterfront and mentoring from local entrepreneurs and investors — they included a handful of start-ups that seemed to me like they were on life support, having failed to raise money or come up with a workable business plan.
But by the time tonight's final awards ceremony was held, I'd been converted. The MassChallenge, mainly funded by businesses and individual philanthropists though also supported by the state with about $500,000 of seed money, fills an important role in the local scene. While university business plan competitions encourage students to consider starting companies (and have spawned local successes like Akamai), there isn't much for post-collegiate entrepreneurs.
Sure, you can apply to get into an accelerator program like Y Combinator or TechStars. But many of those programs have a distinct bias for Web and software ideas — products that can be built and launched quickly with very little capital.
What made MassChallenge work well is that it attracted founders of energy, life sciences, software, hardware, and retail businesses. It attracted founders fresh out of business school, and at least a couple in their 40s and 50s.
Of tonight's winners, some are already up and running and generating revenue, and some are still in the prototype or testing stage. Tonight's event felt, as does TechStars and the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, like a community coming together to support entrepreneurs in pursuing their vision. (Among those who made the competition possible are people like 170 Systems co-founder Karl Büttner, A123 co-founder Desh Deshpande, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals co-founder Josh Boger, pictured at left with Greg Bialecki, the state's secretary of housing and economic development.) And handing out $50,000 or $100,000 apiece in prize money to 16 companies ain't bad either: a little financial boost, without having to part with equity.
The MassChallenge wound up being global, not provincial (they scrapped a requirement early on that would've required all entrants to agree to relocate Massachusetts after the competition ended.) As a result, it attracted support from Russian investors and entrepreneurs from Israel. And it gave many of the community's successful entrepreneurs, investors, lawyers, and PR consultants an opportunity to help guide the up-and-comers.
There was a really nice moment that I caught as the awards were being handed out — the obligatory giant cardboard checks. Shelby Clark of RelayRides was heading back to his table from the stage, having just won $50,000 for his car-sharing start-up, launched earlier this year in Cambridge. I was standing next to Zipcar chief executive Scott Griffith, who is preparing to take his Cambridge company public. Clark looked over to Griffith and caught his eye.
That's the kind of Massachusetts I want to live in: one that is building industry leaders like Zipcar, and also cultivating the next wave of innovators, too, to keep them on their toes.
[...A few more pics follow...]
Eric Paley of Founder Collective and Elon Boms of Launch Capital.
Olivier Boss, chief scientific officer of Energesis Pharmaceuticals, a $50,000 winner.
Derek Ohly of Zyrra, a $50,000 winner, with Howard Davidson and Michel Ohly.
Caught up earlier this week with Travis McCready, who started his job recently as the first executive director at the Kendall Square Association. His earlier stops include Harvard University, the Boston Foundation, and a stint as chief operating officer of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.
Tim Rowe, the president of the Kendall Square Association (and CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center) told me last week that McCready's job description would be broader than simply organizing an annual picnic for all of the businesses in the neighborhood.
McCready says, "The way I like to describe it to people is that Kendall Square is unique among all the other squares in Boston and Cambridge. It is the densest square mile of innovation on the planet. So what we're focused on is, how do we protect and promote that? How do we capitalize on it, to continue to generate the kind of commercial interest in the area from blue chip companies like Google and Amgen and Novartis." (I'd always thought Novartis was only in Central Square, at the old NECCO building... but they have lab space in Kendall, too, and a corporate venture capital office there.)
It sounds like the Kendall Square Association will become more aggressive in courting big companies that are considering a location in the greater Boston area. "If a company is looking to move here, or to set up a presence here if they're based in the Netherlands, say, the association wants to be part of that. We'll make the case for global business development," he says.
"The association is really looking to broaden its mandate, beyond just being about potholes or listing the restaurants in the area," McCready says.
Last Friday, I moderated a panel at the annual CEO Summit organized by the Progressive Business Leaders Network. The focus was on how innovative companies can drive job growth in our region, and the panelists included Greg Bialecki, the Commonwealth's secretary of housing and economic development, venture capitalist Jeffrey Bussgang, BiddingForGood CEO Jon Carson, and Mike Dornbrook, until recently COO at Harmonix Music Systems.
It felt like a constructive hour, focusing on what we should worry about...what we can do to retain young people (we talked about federal visa issues)...how we can support the growth of more big companies...and whether that is even a worthy objective. We ended up talking about whether a two-hour Acela trip between Boston and New York could ever be a reality, knitting the two cities closer together.
Philip T. "Terry" Ragon
CEO and Founder
One Memorial Drive
I wanted to write to you about your anti-signage campaign in Cambridge.
Like you, I live in Cambridge. Unlike you, I’m very much in favor of sensible signage in our city. You’ve been very vocal about why Microsoft shouldn’t be allowed to have a sign atop the Kendall Square building where your company, InterSystems Corp., is also based, and you’ve funded an anti-signage petition drive, to put the issue to a vote this November.
I want to explain why I think we need a clear process in Cambridge that makes it simpler for some of our city’s biggest employers to affix their names atop their buildings — while at the same time forcing them to abide by pretty conservative guidelines about how large and how garish they can be. I definitely don’t want the skyline along the Charles River to look like the Las Vegas Strip — and there’s no chance of that with the way Cambridge’s City Council is approaching the issue.
There’s simply no place on the planet with the innovation density of Cambridge. Within a few square miles, you’ve got schools like MIT and Harvard doing important research; start-ups working to turn that research into useful products, in industries like software, energy, and life sciences; and bigger multi-national companies (yours included) that continually improve great products and sell them all over the world.
I’m proud of that. I want visitors to the city to see how much happens here. More importantly, I want the student population of Greater Boston to see, when they ride the T across the Longfellow Bridge or run along the Esplanade, the companies that they could work for if they choose to stay in Massachusetts.
We’re not talking about signs whose primary purpose is to sell us on a particular brand of Venezuelan gasoline (like Boston’s Citgo sign, which has become a beloved landmark anyway.) As I see it, we’re talking about signs that will serve to send a message to tourists about this area’s central role in the global innovation economy (just as the Old North Church sends a message about our role in the American Revolution), and will serve as part of the “welcome mat” we put out to students, encouraging them to begin their careers here. As it stands today, we don’t make a strong enough case to our area’s smartest graduates to take jobs here and launch companies here.
I got a robo-call over the weekend from Gary LaPierre, no doubt funded by you. “This law allows big, out-of-state national corporations to pollute our skyline,” LaPierre told me. Not true. It just makes the guidelines clearer for both hometown and out-of-state companies that want to let people know they’re here. Already, you can see a Genzyme sign atop their Kendall Square headquarters, and Akamai and Forrester Research signs just a few blocks away. The old signage process in Cambridge simply required companies like those to spend more money and jump through more hoops to put signs atop their buildings, by applying for a variance. They had to prove that it was a hardship for them not to have a sign atop their buildings.
I'm proud of our hometown companies, and I'm also glad that national and international players are investing in Massachusetts, too. I love the way Swiss-based Novartis put a DNA double helix on the old NECCO water tower in Central Square. I'd love to see a sign atop Zipcar's building in East Cambridge, so that everyone shopping at the CambridgeSide Galleria would know about that local success story. I sure wouldn't mind a sign atop the Cambridge Innovation Center, the office tower that's home to dozens of promising start-ups, or one atop the building where Google operates its Cambridge outpost.
Now, I’ve only been part of the tech scene in Boston for the past fifteen years. Somehow, we’ve never met, and I’ve never seen you speaking at any of the dozens of conferences I go to each year. I notice you aren’t involved in any of the big mentoring programs that help young entrepreneurs, whether TechStars Boston or 12 x 12 or MassChallenge. I’ve never spoken to a college student who is aware of InterSystems as a prospective employer — and I run into a lot of them on my frequent visits to campuses. I’ve never been invited to an event that you’ve hosted in your offices, to the best of my recollection. I can’t even remember ever receiving a press release about InterSystems.
Contrast that with your out-of-state building mate at One Memorial Drive, Microsoft. They throw an annual “welcome back” party for college students every fall. They dedicate an entire floor of their offices to community events, offering meeting space to various tech and entrepreneurship groups for free. (You and your company have been suing Microsoft since 2008.) Hardly a week goes by that I'm not in Microsoft's space for an event hosted there, and I've run into everyone from first-time entrepreneurs to people who've taken companies public to the governor. Whether you love or hate Microsoft's products, you have to acknowledge that they've created a clubhouse for entrepreneurship and innovation here — something that didn't exist before they arrived in Cambridge.
Other local companies — those with and without signs atop their buildings — run programs to get kids interested in technology and engineering, like iRobot; they offer guidance to younger entrepreneurs, like Diane Hessan of CommuniSpace; they put on mixers, as did Digital Lumens recently, to educate students about jobs in their industry. (Disclosure: I was involved in that last event as a speaker. I should also disclose that I've spoken at, moderated at, or covered many local events sponsored by or hosted by Microsoft.)
It’s OK if you want InterSystems to be incognito and unplugged from our city’s innovation economy. That’s your choice – you obviously run a very successful private company, and you employ about 300 people in Cambridge. (You've also been a generous philanthropist, funding work on an AIDS vaccine.)
But it doesn't benefit our city's economy to have everyone else here — local companies and out-of-state giants — be as low-key as InterSystems.
We live in one of the world's great innovation centers. In an incredibly competitive global economy, some of us would prefer not to keep that information classified.
Innovation Economy columnist,
The Boston Globe / Boston.com
Listening to Governor Deval Patrick address a room full of venture capitalists last week, one string of comments bugged the heck out of me. The governor said that CEOs of big tech companies like EMC and Cisco, in comparing Massachusetts entrepreneurs and investors to their California counterparts, have told him that we:
- Are too insular
- Don't give entrepreneurs a second shot after a failure
- Don't network enough.
The "spirit of collaboration is not as robust" here in Massachusetts, the governor said.
I wanted to jump out of my seat. What crusty old doughnut still thinks any of that is true?
(Instead, I turned to Jamie Goldstein of North Bridge Venture Partners and said, "Someone needs to remind the governor how many times Ric Fulop failed as an entrepreneur before he started A123 Systems," the battery company that North Bridge backed, and which was the most successful IPO of last year.)
Here is how someone living in the year 2010 and participating in this region's innovation economy sees things: we collaborate, converse, connect, and mix it up with a vengeance seven days a week.
Last Saturday, you could've been part of the packed crowd at MIT for Startup Bootcamp, soaking up lessons from successful entrepreneurs — including A123 co-founder Fulop. This past Monday was the 27th meeting of the Web Innovators Group in Cambridge, which brings together about 500 people to see demos from start-ups. Last night, you had Mass. Innovation Nights, an entirely different collection of demos. As part of programs like MassChallenge and TechStars Boston, start-ups get a chance to be mentored by an impressive bullpen of successful executives and entrepreneurs. At the annual Innovation Unconference organized by the Mass Tech Leadership Council, there's a lengthy roster of experts who'll offer advice to the entrepreneurs in attendance. (Funny, but no one from EMC or Cisco participates in any of those events.)
Next month, we've got FutureM Boston and Boston Region Entrepreneurship Week back to back. One emphasizes all of the activity around new approaches to marketing, and the other will feature a couple dozen events for start-uppers — and both are packed with so many events that it'll be tough to choose what to attend.
And earlier in September, Boston was named the top city for innovation anywhere in the world by an Australian research firm.
All this leads me to conclude that there are two kinds of people in Boston right now.
There are the crusty old doughnuts who like to keep repeating the same old garbage about how Boston is too insular... doesn't network enough... doesn't tolerate failure. All that may have been true the last time they were actually connected to reality — two or so decades ago. Unfortunately, a lot of these people (likely senior execs at some of the state's bigger tech companies) seem to be filling the governor's ear with this obsolete data.
The second group of people actually go to an event or two every month to make new connections and share what they know. The more experienced folks among them think nothing of sitting down with an entrepreneur for an hour (maybe at OpenCoffee or the Venture Café) to offer some feedback and advice about a nascent business plan.
That first group is mired in the past. They're crusty, and getting staler by the minute. While they may have the dough to donate to Governor Patrick's re-election campaign, their outmoded take on the innovation economy here is not worth listening to.
That second group is shaping the future here. (Maybe we should call them the fresh, warm croissants. Isn't that so much better than a crusty old doughnut?) The new culture of entrepreneurship and creativity they're establishing — no, have already established — is about openness, sharing, and swinging for the fences. It's a culture of continual improvement, too, focusing on the things we can do better to retain the smartest students who come here to get degrees, and grow small start-ups into industry leaders.
You are welcome to be part of this new culture if you want. We'd love to have you.
But if you opt out, as lots of people with well-paying, secure gigs at technology companies will likely do, here's my one request: kindly stop jabbering on about the past.
Entrepreneurs pitched subscription underwear delivery services, medical devices to alleviate the pain of being poked with a needle, and an iPhone app that could bring back the days of Fonzie and the jukebox this afternoon at the annual Betaspring Demo Day in Providence. Betaspring offers fledgling companies twelve weeks of free office space and mentorship, along with a small cash stipend/investment that ranges from $15,000 to $20,000. (Betaspring co-founder Allan Tear described it as “rent and Ramen money” for the summer.) At the end of the program, investors gather to see ten-minute demos from each company.
This summer’s crop of nine companies were looking to raise anywhere from $250,000 to $750,000 to continue building their products and bring on software developers, marketing staff, and business development executives.
A few quick impressions:
There was a big Boston contingent in the crowd, including Reed Sturtevant and Katie Rae of Project 11 Ventures; Lee Hower from NextView Ventures; Eric Hjerpe from Kepha Partners; and Tom Burgess, founder of Third Screen Media, now working on a new digital marketing start-up called Clovr Media. Also present was Ji Kim, founder of Dijipop, a 2009 Betaspring company that has subsequently attracted about $1 million in funding.
Richard Horan of the Slater Technology Fund with David Hibbitt, founder of ABAQUS.
The team from Tu.nr: Jamie Brim and Jack Gill.
Brian Krejcarek talks about SensibleSelf after the demos.
Betaspring co-founder Allan Tear.
BatchBlue CEO Pamela O'Hara with Annette Tonti, CEO of Mofuse.
Joe Caruso of Bantam Group with Tom Burgess of Clovr Media.
Forbes journo Maureen Farrell toted along her copy editor, Cecilia.
On my way out, Betaspring co-founder Owen Johnson told me that his team hopes to make the once-a-year program a biannual or triannual event, perhaps with a thematic focus for the added editions, such as medical devices. That’d be great news for the New England entrepreneurial scene. That's Johnson pictured above with Jon Pierce, a founder of Betahouse, the Cambridge co-working space.
U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire teamed up with inventor Dean Kamen this morning to unveil a new bill she hopes will funnel new federal funding to extra-curricular educational programs focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Kamen, best known as the inventor of the Segway and various medical devices, started such a program in 1989, Manchester-based FIRST, that operates robotics competitions for more than 250,000 kids each year.
Shaheen’s bill would create a competitive grant program, called the Innovation Inspiration School Grant Program, that would help fund programs like FIRST. “The vision is to look at some of the things that are working to get kids excited about STEM subjects,” Shaheen told me in a phone interview just after this morning's announcement. (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.) “That leads to more people going into those fields and it will help keep the country competitive.” The grant program will give top priority to schools in low income urban and rural areas, she said, and will require members of the community to be involved in the programs as mentors (as they are with the FIRST robotics program). Grant applicants will also need to find their own funding to match the federal contribution, 50-50.
When I asked what dollar amount would be necessary to really move the needle — $50 million in grants annually, $100 million? — Shaheen didn’t want to get specific. “If we did that, some people would see it as too little, and some as too much,” she said. The grant program could get included as the Senate deals with re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act next year, commonly known as “No Child Left Behind.”
Kamen maintains tight relationships with just about every elected official in New Hampshire (former U.S. Senator John E. Sununu was once an employee of his), and many of the Presidential candidates who traipse through the state every four years. “I got to know Dean when I was governor,” Shaheen said. “He’s working on so many things that are important to New Hampshire, like FIRST and DEKA and Segway. And he's creating great jobs in the state.”
Among the new bill’s co-sponsors are Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, and Harry Reid of Nevada. Shaheen says that she and Kamen are still reaching out to others.
According to the press release announcing the bill this morning, “STEM-related fields are expected to be the fastest growing occupations of the next decade, however not enough students in the United States are pursuing an education in STEM fields to keep up with the increase in demand in the workforce.”
A Globe story earlier this month mentioned in passing that Frank Moss, director of MIT's Media Lab, had sent out an e-mail to staff announcing that he planned to leave the post in February 2011. That would mark the end of Moss' first five-year term as director. He succeeded Walter Bender, who ran the lab from 2000 to 2006, and Nicholas Negroponte, who created the lab in 1985 to explore the intersection between computers, connectivity, and content.
I caught up with Moss on Wednesday to talk about his tenure.
"I want to move on to new adventures and new vistas," said Moss, previously an entrepreneur who'd started software and life sciences companies, "though I'll probably remain here part-time working with my New Media Medicine group," which explores how new technology can help patients and healthcare providers communicate more effectively.
Moss doesn't sound like he's planning to retire. "I'm not going to go back to a university setting — this was my academic stint — but I'd like to take some of the ideas we explored here for people who are disadvantaged or disabled, and apply them in an entrepreneurial or social entrepreneurship context, combining my entrepreneurial background with the experiences I've had at the lab."
Moss is also working on a book, as yet untitled, about what he calls the "innovation crisis in the U.S." He says it'll be out next year, and geared to general readers. "It talks about how creativity and research and innovation is done here at the lab. It's a book of stories about the professors and students here at the lab."
When I asked whether Moss saw his signal achievement as the opening of the Media Lab's new building by the architect Fumihiko Maki (a project launched under Negroponte), he suggested that his most important contribution was instead "revitalizing and redefining our relationship" with the lab's corporate sponsors, who fund the vast majority of the lab's research, in exchange for getting a first look, and the chance to apply the ideas in their businesses.
Moss said the lab had brought in "about 18 new sponsors over the past year," including companies like EMC Corp. and Humana, but he conceded that overall sponsor revenue at the lab was about the same as when he joined in 2006. (One corporate sponsor, Plymouth Rock Studios, seems unlikely to follow through on its promise to give the lab $25 million to fund a "Center for Future Storytelling.")
Moss' big contribution, in my view, was expanding the Media Lab's focus to consider ways that technology could be applied to help us manage our health and cope with illness, disability, and the aging process. The lab has been exploring new technologies to help those suffering from autism and their caretakers. And in 2007, the lab held the h2o symposium, exploring the "new science of human adaptability," like connecting computer interfaces to the brain, and communicating over long distances through robotic avatars.
Maintaining the lab's free-wheeling culture, which encourages researchers to pursue far-out ideas and continually refine prototypes, without imposing too much bureaucracy, was a key part of the job description for Moss — as was finding productive ways to work with wildly independent (and sometimes fractious) faculty.
"If people said that I solidified sponsor relationships during a period of economic uncertainty, but that the craziness and wackiness that defines the Media Lab was gone, that would've been bad," Moss says. "I think the place is every bit as unorthodox and out-of-the-box as it was twenty years ago. Students seem to feel that, and they're really the measure of success here."
Moss said that he initially intended to spend just five years as the lab's leader. But asked if he'd considered sticking around longer, he admitted that he had. "But this seemed like a good time to go. I think the lab has gotten a lot of its mojo back."
"When I came, the place needed to get its mojo back and connect with MIT better, and say, this place is relevant. My job was to try and restore that relevance and importance."
Moss says he may stay a bit beyond February if the search for a new director hasn't yet concluded.
Blending old-fashioned boosterism with newfangled social networking, the non-profit Boston World Partnerships is announcing a new infusion of funding this morning — and touting the success of its seventeen month-old “Connector” program. The organization, headed by Dave McLaughlin, has been busy building a network of businesspeople who can help one another’s companies and try to spread the Boston gospel to the rest of the world. It’s a digital twist on economic development, and McLaughlin is a former marketing director at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the city’s planning and economic development agency.
Boston World Partnerships claims to have generated 362 new jobs in the city — most of them as a result, McLaughlin says, of encouraging one company, Retail Convergence Inc. (which operates the shopping site RueLaLa.com), to stay in Boston rather than relocate. That company has since added about 200 jobs and continues to hire, he says. According to McLaughlin, the tip that Retail Convergence was outgrowing its space in Downtown Crossing and was considering leaving the city came from one of the members of its Connector network.
The group’s start-up phase was funded by a $1 million grant from the Boston Redevelopment Authority and $400,000 from Procter & Gamble. At an event being held this morning at the offices of Mullen Advertising, McLaughlin will announce that he has secured about $170,000 in new funding — the bulk of it from a foundation run by State Street Corp. The sum isn’t enough to cover the organization’s budget for a full year, McLaughlin says, but it is “a meaningful extension of our runway.” Mayor Thomas Menino, State Street CEO Ronald Logue, and Gregory Bialecki, the state’s secretary of housing and economic development, are expected to attend. Menino serves as chairman of the board of Boston World Partnerships, and the group will also announce today that Robert Reynolds, CEO of Putnam Investments, is joining its board.
That tweet took off like wildfire — who doesn't like to be ranked #1, after all? It has continued to be re-tweeted over the course of a few weeks, with some people questioning the study's methodology, and others noting that it was almost a year old (I hadn't seen the report before, but on further inspection, the results were issued in July 2009).
So I connected last week with Christopher Hire, the executive director of innovation at Melbourne-based 2thinknow, to talk about the firm's rankings.
"Our index tends to reward well-rounded cities," Hire said, mentioning things like transportation infrastructure, cultural assets, and educational institutions. The index also considers how easy it is to bike or walk around the city, because, Hire explains, "that's part of the network economics idea, that connections are made every day. Boston is a place where you can have serendipitous connections, unlike U.S. cities where you can't get out of your car."
The firm tries to look at independent design shops, art galleries, film and video production, and locally-owned fashion boutiques as a measure of creativity. Interestingly, Hire says they don't look at the number of patents granted in each city: "Patents are kind of over-rated as a measure of innovation," he says.
One of the most surprising data points they consider? The number of Starbucks and independent coffee shops in a city, which serve as important meeting places for entrepreneurs and artistic types. "We give higher preference to cities with a wide range of coffee shops, not just the chains," Hire says.
The 2010 Innovation Cities report comes out in early August. While Hire says that "my view on Boston is that it's fundamentally anchored near the top [of the list], because of the prevalence of MIT and Harvard and the whole infrastructure," he wouldn't tip his hand as to how the city will rank this year.
There is, of course, the natural inclination to shake up the top few spots on any list so it doesn't seem stale. Hire says they may also include some new indicators, like the availability of electric car charging stations. And, he adds, "We're moving a little bit away from arts and culture, and increasing the sports indicators, looking at things like sports stadiums and sports fanaticism," Hire says.
Boston should score well on that count...but stay tuned...
Lots of companies have mission statements. So why not the New England region as a whole?
Here's my proposed mission statement for New England, which I tried to keep simple and streamlined. I wanted to capture what we already do here — but what we can always do better.
1. Attract, educate, and retain the smartest people in the world.
2. Support them in solving important problems, developing innovative products, and building successful businesses.
3. Share what we're doing with the rest of the world.
4. Keep getting better at Items #1-#3.
Did I leave anything out? Are you signed on, or not? Post a comment...
This morning, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino is expected to announce his intention to establish a cleantech incubator in Boston's "Innovation District," a/k/a the Seaport District. The Mayor planned to make the announcement at the Ad Club's Edge Conference.
As for the incubator, he said:
...I am giving my team a new task: to work hard and work fast to create a “clean tech incubator” in the Innovation District. This facility would help clean tech companies start up in Boston, create jobs in Boston, and thrive in Boston. We will take the lead because we know how important these businesses are to our city’s future. With this new incubator we are saying to clean tech companies, “We want you in Boston, and we are ready to help you succeed.” Time is of the essence. I believe we really need to move quickly; to push the envelope here; to explore; to be bold. It’s not enough to be a part of the green revolution. In Boston, we must lead it. What else do we want our city’s brand to be – if not revolutionary thinking?
The Mayor's speech was short on specifics, but Peter Rothstein of the New England Clean Energy Council told me this morning that his group has been working with the Menino administration, MIT, and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to secure federal funding that could help renovate a Boston building that would serve as a cleantech incubator.
That consortium is chasing a whopping $129 million in funding (spread over five years) to establish an Energy Regional Innovation Cluster in New England. The money would mainly support academic research on making buildings more energy efficient, but some of the funds would go to renovating a building (likely in this new Innovation District in Boston) to serve as an incubator space, Rothstein told me. "The grant is really about cluster development and projects to deploy these new energy efficiency technologies," he said from Washington, D.C. ("I've been spending a lot of time here," he added.)
The proposal was submitted in early May, Rothstein said, with a decision expected in August or September. "It'll be quite competitive, since there's only one grant that will be awarded to one city," he said.
Other cities, including Worcester and Springfield, are working on cleantech incubators of their own. In Waltham, the Clean Energy Fusion Center is already home to a dozen entrepreneurs working on new ventures, and the Cleantech InnoVenture Center opened last fall in Lynn.
Key to the success of a new incubator in Boston will be free or discounted rent, and more importantly, a critical mass of viable companies choosing to locate there and some sort of mentorship by experienced investors, technologists, and executives.
Amazingly, there are so many cleantech incubators cropping up in New England that there's an effort to create an association for them, says Paul Sereiko, one of the executives who runs the Clean Energy Fusion Center in Waltham (which I wrote about back in January.) He writes via e-mail:
...There's a group working together now to form what we're calling the ACTION Network (Associated Clean Tech Incubators of New England) which will serve as a consortium to help foster a healthy, geographically dispersed, and somewhat functionally specific set of incubators for the region. The logic is that if the region is competing as a whole for Obama $, it's better for us to band together and submit grant and funding applications that serve all of our collective interests, than to submit separate proposals and run the risk of the $'s flowing to some other part of the country.
When I wrote last November about Local Motors, a Wareham start-up that was crowdsourcing the designs for a new line of cars, founder and CEO Jay Rogers mentioned that the company would likely set up its first production facility in Arizona, lured by government incentives.
The move happened this spring, I'm told, but it also included the company's headquarters staff and most of the company's handful of employees. (Two people focused on Web site maintenance and finance remain in Massachusetts, but without an office.)
The company had been located next door to Wareham's Factory Five Racing, one of the country's biggest manufacturers of kit cars, and the co-founder of that company has been a big supporter of Local Motors, financially and otherwise.
I talked to Rogers this morning, who told me that the relocation had nothing to do with labor costs in Massachusetts, and said that the company eventually hopes to open one of its regional "micro-factories" here.
In Massachusetts, Rogers said he founder the Governor's office unhelpful. In Arizona, by contrast, "the Governor and the local municipality reached out to us, offered help with permitting, and with the application process for the federal Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program." In Arizona, the company was offered sales tax rebates and several hundred grand in cash, Rogers says, to make improvements to Local Motors' 20,000 square foot facility in Chandler, Arizona, just southeast of Phoenix.
"We had a number of meetings with economic development officials in Massachusetts," Rogers says. "We met with people and met with people, and there was basically no action. It's like there wasn't any seriousness about keeping our business in Massachusetts."
Update: Kofi Jones, director of communications at the state's Office of Housing and Economic development, writes in an e-mail that "business retention and expansion is a top priority of the Patrick-Murray Administration, and we have had great success with companies like Cisco, IBM, and Liberty Mutual. After meeting with Local Motors and their consultant, the Administration’s economic development team presented the company with an incentive proposal. Although we did not receive any feedback on the proposal, we remain prepared to work with Local Motors on any and all future opportunities."
Rogers says the company currently employs a dozen people, and plans to eventually employ 50 to 60 in Chandler. Local Motors will begin delivering its first vehicle, the $50,000 Rally Fighter (pictured above, with Rogers), to customers this August, he says.
Another factor in the company's westward migration is that the Rally Fighter is intended for off-roading. Ariel Ferreira, a Local Motors spokesperson, writes via e-mail that "...we're 100 percent certain we're doing the right thing by building the Micro-Factory and Rally Fighter in the place where it is meant to be driven; the place where majority of customers for this vehicle reside."
They'll be holding an open house at the new digs in Arizona July 31st. Stop by if you're in the neighborhood...
Xconomy founder Bob Buderi confirms this morning that the Cambridge-based start-up is planning to launch its fifth local business news site in Silicon Valley. Buderi, formerly the editor of MIT's Technology Review magazine, also says that chief correspondent Wade Roush will return to the Bay Area, where he'd long worked as a reporter and editor for Tech Review, to open the Xconomy bureau there.
As to rumors I'd heard that Gregory Huang, Xconomy's Seattle editor (and a one-time Bostonian), was moving east to take over Roush's old post, Buderi said, "There's going to be a series of promotions and additions, but we're not ready to announce them yet."
Xconomy launched a news site in Detroit earlier this spring, and Buderi says there are other cities (in the U.S. and outside it) on his radar screen. "Our goal has been to build not just a national network, but an international network," he says. The company has raised two rounds of funding from investors including CommonAngels and Launch Capital, the most recent round last spring. Xconomy has also been cutting deals with Web sites like the Motley Fool and newspapers like the Globe to syndicate its stories. The company has ten full-time employees, Buderi says.
Buderi agrees that San Francisco may be the most competitive media market Xconomy has yet entered, with sites like GigaOm, Venture Beat, and TechCrunch assiduously covering company launches, fundings, and acquisitions. "I have tremendous respect for those guys, who have been real pioneers in business-to-business blogs. It's crowded, sure, but we think we'll be clearly differentiated." One way is by covering the life sciences industry more than the entrenched players; another, Buderi says, is by writing longer narrative profiles of companies.
I ran into Roush last night when he was covering the TechStars Boston demo night, and asked him about the upcoming move. He said he couldn't talk about it on the record yet... and so we had a nice off-the-record chat about the City by the Bay (where I, too, lived for a couple years in the middle of the decade.)
The answer is 'yes': Creating better connectivity between college campuses and the innovation economy in New England
Can you come speak to my class?
Can you present at a meeting of our entrepreneurship club?
Should I start a company?
Do you know any interesting companies where I might intern?
My start-up is already up-and-running. Do you know any investors I could talk to?
Here is your cheat sheet, if you are asked any of the above questions by a college student or recent grad: the answer is "yes."
This week is the start of Innovation Month in New England. The thing I think we ought to work on, to make the region even more entrepreneurially fertile, is the bridge between college campuses and the innovation economy here. Before students depart after spending four, six, or more years getting educated in New England, let's make it clear that there are exciting high-growth companies to work for in this part of the world, as well as a support system to help spawn new start-ups.
The way to do that is by committing to make the business world in New England much more permeable to students than it has been in the past, and help them cultivate their own ideas for new ventures. That means getting more executives and entrepreneurs onto campuses. Getting more students into your offices. Ensuring that every would-be entrepreneur has a chance to pitch their idea to several local investors. Plugging in to the various competitions, conferences, and club meetings that happen at schools from MIT to Babson to Dartmouth to Yale.
Projects like MITX's Career Combine, the Greenhorn Connect site, the DartBoston series of events, and Flybridge Capital's Stay in MA program are starting to make a dent. But we can do a lot more — especially to reach out to students who may not be born networkers (I sure wasn't as an undergrad.)
And at the federal level, we need to be agitating for visa policy that lets the best and brightest stick around and join our workforce, or start companies, after graduation.
I've written before that smart young people are the major renewable resource here in New England. And we're squandering it.
With the wave of 2010 graduations just behind us, it's a good time to talk about what more we can do, before the 2010-2011 school year starts, to change the status quo.
(The logo above was contributed to the Innovation Month initiative by Provado Marketing Solutions.)
The last time I saw Cory Kidd, he was at the MIT Museum in Central Square talking about the "social robot" he'd developed as a project at the school's Media Lab; it was designed to help dieters meet their weight loss goals. A robot with expressive eyes and a face, Kidd had found, was pretty effective as a coach, nudging a dieter to eat better or exercise more, and affirming his accomplishments. (That's Kidd at right, speaking earlier today at the TieCon East conference in Waltham.)
Just over two years later, his nine-person company, Intuitive Automata, is headquartered in Hong Kong, and plans to start rolling out its first product in partnership with Hartford-based Aetna in late 2010 or early 2011, a pilot program that will be supported by Johnson & Johnson, he said.
"What healthcare insurers will tell you is that there's a difference in the amount they spend on people of normal weight each year, which is about $2400, and obese people, which is about $3600," Kidd says. "But they can't charge different premiums." It's in an insurer's interest, he suggests, to pay for or subsidize a device like the one he has built, to encourage customers to lose weight. (Kidd hasn't yet set a retail price for the bot.) He refers to the company's technology as "socially interactive robots" that support behavioral change, and also believes they could be use to help diabetes better manage their blood sugar levels.
How did Kidd's company, with its research roots at MIT and the Boston University Medical Center, wind up in Hong Kong? The short answer is: government incentives. Kidd says he looked at plunking the company in various US cities, as well as Singapore and Shanghai. But Hong Kong offered a roughly $250,000 interest-free, unsecured loan that could be paid back as a percentage of the company's revenues, as well as free rent for 18 months, and under-market rent for another 18 months after that. Intuitive Automata has also had several student employees whose salaries are predominantly paid by the government.
"Most of the angels and venture capitalists you talk to about social robots look at you like you're totally crazy," Kidd says. Since he'd only raised a small amount of angel money (mainly from MIT alums around the world, like the co-founder of Harmonix Music Systems), "I needed to go where I could run the company very cost-effectively." And being in Hong Kong also puts him closer to the contract manufacturing companies that will actually build the bots.
Kidd expects to start taking pre-orders for the product later this year; he also says he's in the midst of raising a first round of venture capital.
Here's a video demo of Intuitive's bot, called Autom:
What, exactly, is Innovation Month?
I'm hoping you'll tell me.
Last year, I helped convene a group of people who proclaimed, with absolutely no authority, that the month of June would be Innovation Month in New England. It was a grassroots, totally uncoordinated effort, spread via blogs and Twitter – and we're trying to dial it up this year.
The primary objective in 2009 was to spotlight all of the incredible educational and networking events that take place over a typical month in New England (June is especially busy). We wanted to encourage more people to get out and participate, whether that meant sharing some advice with a first-time entrepreneur, learning about a field adjacent to theirs, or expanding their personal networks.
We're doing that again this June, and you can find a list of all the major Innovation Month events here. (Disclosure: I'm involved in a few as a moderator or organizer.) This year, we're especially cajoling folks who work at the region's bigger companies to join the start-up crowd that typically turns out for these gatherings.
But we're also asking people who power the innovation economy here (and this means you) to help define what Innovation Month 2010 is going to be about.
- If you're a blogger, I'd love it if you'd write a post about some initiative, dynamic or group that you feel is vital to innovation in the region — or something that should be happening here. So either celebrate something that exists, or tell us what more we should be doing to make New England a haven for entrepreneurs and innovators. (And if you don't have a blog, feel free to post a comment here.)
- If you're a designer, perhaps you'd like to design a logo for Innovation Month 2010. (The one on this page was created by Metropolis Creative.) The design is entirely up to you, but the text ought to include some version of the message "June is Innovation Month in New England." People will be free to use these logos (ideally with credit to you) on their blogs, company sites, Facebook pages, etc.
Whether you write a post or design a logo, I'll link to it or include it here. (Logos will ideally be done by June 4th, so that others can use them but blog posts can happen throughout the month. E-mail me by clicking me name in the right-hand column to let me know what you've done, or post a link to it below, as a comment.)
- GreenHorn Connect counts down the top ten events during Innovation Month.
- Five Ideas for New England's Innovation Economy, from Boston Search Group.
- Jules Pieri of Daily Grommet on Three Must-Haves for Innovation
- Eric Paley of Founder Collective writes, "Thank You MA"
- Point Judith Capital's Sean Marsh on mobile innovation in New England
- Greenhorn Connect's Jason Evanish: "Hire More Students"
- "Boston, the month of June and our tech scene," from Bijan Sabet at Spark Capital
- Alfred Thompson on New England Innovation Month
- Lee Hower on "Innovation Catalysts in New England in the Last Five Years"
- Flybridge Capital's Jeff Bussgang: "Angels Soaring During Innovation Month"
- "You Need to Get Out More," from Mass Innovation Nights
When a tiny start-up departs Boston for the Bay Area, it's not usually a news-making event. Except when that tiny start-up becomes very successful.
So I'm always curious to find out the circumstances.
This Friday, TaskRabbit founder Leah Busque is trading Cambridge for San Francisco, and taking the company with her. TaskRabbit, founded in 2008 after Busque left her job at IBM Cambridge, has created a network of "runners" in Boston who can take care of small jobs for a fee, like picking up dry cleaning, making a trip to IKEA, or installing a window air conditioner. (I wrote about the company last summer, when it was known as RunMyErrand.)
Busque did a great job finding some early supporters and angel investors in Boston. Zipcar chief executive Scott Griffith became an informal advisor and offered Busque some free office space in Cambridge, for instance.
Last summer, TaskRabbit was chosen as one of 20 companies to participate in the inaugural fbFund Rev, a 10-week development program in Palo Alto for start-ups building products that plug into Facebook. The fbFund program is overseen by Facebook, Founders Fund, and Accel Capital, which made a $25,000 investment in the selected companies.
Busque commuted between Boston and Palo Alto during the fbFund program. Afterward, in the fall of 2009, TaskRabbit raised $1 million from two Bay Area venture firms, Baseline Ventures and Maples Investments.
Busque is diplomatic about the decision to head west along with her husband Kevin, who until recently was an employee of Humedica, a healthcare IT company. She says the main reason for the move is that San Francisco will be the second market in which TaskRabbit launches, and she wants "to get out there and make sure that everything happens perfectly." (Two full-time employees will remain in Boston to run the continuing operation here.)
But asked whether she'll also move to the third city TaskRabbit launches in, and the fourth, Busque says that isn't the plan. She describes the move to San Francisco as permanent, "at least for the foreseeable future."
When she participated in the fbFund program, productivity guru Tim Ferriss became an advisor to the company, and "he was the one who introduced us to some key investors," Busque says.
She did pitch investors in Boston as well as the Bay area, Busque says. But no one here stepped up to invest. "In Boston, maybe we were too early for folks," she says.
So the fbFund program, as well as the funding it led to, were major factors in pulling Busque west. (The situation was similar with WePay, a group payment site founded by two Boston College alums in 2008.)
TaskRabbit will probably raise another round of funding this year to fuel its expansion, and Busque says "we would love to have east and west coast investors participate in that."
As of next week, though, the company will be based at the San Francisco outpost of Dogpatch Labs (a group workspace with free rent, operated by Waltham-based Polaris Venture Partners). Busque says she plans to launch a private beta of the errand-running service in San Francisco sometime in June.
If you think we could use a few more jobs in the U.S. right about now, you should know about the Startup Visa, an idea that has been gaining momentum in the blogosphere since last spring. Last month, Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar introduced a bill that would create a new class of visa for foreign-born entrepreneurs who start companies (and attract funding for them) here.
Ex- Cantabrigian Paul Graham, an entrepreneur who sold an e-commerce company to Yahoo in the late 1990s and is now well known as the founder of Y Combinator, got things rolling last April with a post titled "The Founder Visa." Graham wrote:
The biggest constraint on the number of new startups that get created in the US is not tax policy or employment law or even Sarbanes-Oxley. It's that we won't let the people who want to start them into the country.
Letting just 10,000 startup founders into the country each year could have a visible effect on the economy. If we assume four people per startup, which is probably an overestimate, that's 2500 new companies. Each year. They wouldn't all grow as big as Google, but out of 2500 some would come close.
By definition these 10,000 founders wouldn't be taking jobs from Americans: it could be part of the terms of the visa that they couldn't work for existing companies, only new ones they'd founded. In fact they'd cause there to be more jobs for Americans, because the companies they started would hire more employees as they grew.
Brad Feld, a venture capitalist at Foundry Group, circulated Graham's idea to several U.S. representatives. Feld is also an MIT alum and founder of TechStars, a program in Boulder, Boston, and Seattle which invests small amounts in a few dozen start-ups each year, connects them with mentors, and gives them free office space for several months.
Last September, Feld wrote on his blog:
Two of the ten TechStars Boulder teams were comprised of non-U.S. founders — two from Canada and two from the UK. Both lived in Boulder for the summer and want to relocate here and build their businesses in the U.S. (and — specifically — in Boulder). Over the summer we struggled to figure out ways to get them visas — all of the proposed approaches were expensive, risky, and tiresome. Both companies are still trying, but each [is] now seriously considering returning to their home countries to build their businesses.
I cannot come up with a single reason why this makes any sense from a U.S. perspective. These are young, talented entrepreneurs that have come out of a three month program with amazingly interesting startups. They are in the final process of raising their first rounds of financing. Post financing they will be creating U.S.-based high-tech jobs. If they are successful, they will create a lot of jobs. Plus, they are young so they will do this multiple times in their lifetime.
A number of local venture capitalists signed on to support the idea, representing firms like Spark Capital, .406 Ventures, and Flybridge Capital Partners. And earlier this month, the board of the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council voted to support the legislation introduced by Senators Kerry and Lugar, which would issue at most 10,000 visas a year (and probably many fewer than that.) Entrepreneurs who hope to obtain one of the new visas must raise $250,000 in funding from an investor in the U.S., and they become a permanent legal resident after two years if their company has either raised an additional $1 million, hit $1 million in revenue, or created at least five full-time jobs in the U.S.
MassTLC president Tom Hopcroft explained the trade organization's support for the idea on his blog:
First, throughout our history we've relied on foreign-born entrepreneurs to help spur economic growth. Nationwide, about a quarter of our technology companies have been founded by immigrants. Here in Massachusetts, some of our most notable tech giants were created by brilliant, visionary immigrants like An Wang of Wang Laboratories, Desh Deshpande of Sycamore Networks, and Ash Dahod, who recently sold Starent Networks to Cisco for nearly three billion dollars.
Second, now more than ever, our foreign-born students can return to their home countries to find opportunity. A recent study found that 52 percent of the Chinese students attending U.S. colleges and universities believed they would find greater opportunities if they returned home after graduation.
With some 445K students currently enrolled at Massachusetts colleges and universities, we naturally have one of the nation's largest pools of foreign-born students, a disproportionate talent asset that, in turn, can create tremendous innovation and wealth in our Commonwealth. We need to retain every one of those students who is willing to strike out on his or her own to start a company and create new jobs and wealth in our Commonwealth.
...To maintain our leadership position, we need the best entrepreneurs — domestic and foreign-born — to stay here and build tomorrow's leading technology companies in the Commonwealth.
I'm on board. Are you? Do post a comment.
...Office space - not server space - is chief among the concerns of Boston's Internet CEOs, whose companies are growing at rates that often surpass 100 percent a month.
An address in Kendall Square in Cambridge carries plenty of prestige, but the commercial vacancy rate in the People's Republic is 0.8 percent, says Realtor Joe Flaherty of Meredith & Grew.
"There's essentially absolutely no space available in Kendall Square," he says.
Angel investing groups from around the region will gather in Cambridge next Wednesday for their 14th annual meeting. It's organized by CommonAngels and Hub Angels, two Boston-based groups of wealthy individuals who can provide anywhere from a few hundred thousand to a few million dollars to start-ups they deem worthy.
I spoke with James Geshwiler, managing director of CommonAngels, yesterday morning to get a sense of what they'll be discussing.
"The #1 issue is sufficiency and availability of capital," Geshwiler said, adding that groups want to be sure they can keep funding start-ups as they grow, not just hand them initial seed money. "We're looking at a venture capital industry and a population of high-net-worth individuals that is contracting. So we're increasingly putting emphasis on collaboration between different angel groups."
I asked how angel groups in New England have weathered the recession. "Clearly, everyone has lost members, and we had higher attrition in 2009," he said. But CommonAngels has also added a few new members, and Geshwiler says that if you look at a longer time frame than just the past year, "we're probably ahead by a little bit."
Also encouraging was a training seminar held earlier this month in Waltham under the auspices of the Angel Capital Association, intended to familiarize new investors with the world of angel investing. "Forty or fifty people showed up," Geshwiler said. "Some were new to angel investing and haven't joined one of the groups, and others were relatively new members of a group."
When the New England angel groups began gathering, one goal was to "improve the syndication process," making it easier for them to collaborate on initial investments and follow-on rounds. "Among angel groups, I'd have given our syndication work a C- then," Geshwiler said. "We've moved up to a B or maybe B-plus, but you can always do better."
I suspect that when you meet with business groups around the Commonwealth, they all spend their time trying to persuade you why their industry is the most important, whether they are cranberry growers, fishermen, builders, educators, or Fluff producers.
That's why Monday's IT industry pep rally in Watertown felt pointless to me. UMass produced a report detailing how vital IT is to the state's gross domestic product, and how many jobs it supplies (fewer today than in 2000, it turns out.) The morning's conversations were focused on the bone-headed question "How can Massachusetts seize the opportunity to become the premier technology hub?"
Here's a better question for you two, and everyone on the IT industry committee you created: can we all stop doing this silly dance to the tune of "our industry is so important, please pay more attention to us, Beacon Hill?"
What is important to all of us, policy-makers and private sector-ites alike, is creating more jobs, solving big problems, and growing important companies here -- keeping Massachusetts a hub of innovation. (Secretary Bialecki, as you candidly said on Monday, "The governor has told me that my top three priorities are jobs, jobs, and jobs.")
Rather than doing more studies, forming more blue-ribbon task forces, or putting on more panel discussions and meet-and-greets -- none of which actually create jobs -- I'd suggest that the IT industry, and every other innovation-oriented industry in Massachusetts, start developing initiatives (and expanding existing initiatives) to address seven questions.
I keep getting sent links to this TechCrunch article, via e-mail and Twitter: 'Why Silicon Valley Left Route 128 in the Dust.'
It's a pretty worthless piece of typistry. Entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa concludes that Silicon Valley is a more dynamic, vibrant, and supportive ecosystem for start-ups because, this past Columbus Day, he was invited to three different tech-related events. Yes, that's the only piece of data in an 1,100 word essay. About this deep primary research, Wadhwa writes:
It was a really hard decision which one to pick. And I found myself wondering, where else in the world would I have to face such a decision? The answer is nowhere. Silicon Valley, which has expanded to embrace the entire Bay Area as an engine of entrepreneurship and innovation, is a unique place of powerful and concurrent overlapping networks.
Wadhwa also trots out some of the arguments from AnnaLee Saxenian's book "Regional Advantage," which accurately portrayed the cultural differences between Route 128 and Silicon Valley in... 1994.
I'm very interested in understanding the differences between these two regions, and in making New England a better place to do innovation.
But I prefer informed arguments to people just writing about what they feel when spending time in a certain area. (Some interesting data comparing the two regions has been presented by Tim Rowe of Cambridge Innovation Center and Paul Maeder of Highland Capital.)
If I were to use data the same way Wadhwa does, I would observe that on Tuesday, November 17th, I was invited to three different events: the MITX Awards, the Boston History & Innovation Collaborative Awards, and a cocktail reception focused on personalized medicine. By Wadhwa's sophisticated reasoning, this must mean that Boston is on par with Silicon Valley in terms of innovation.
...Or maybe you feel there's more substance to the TechCrunch article than I do?
I am not challenging the conclusion that Silicon Valley has more tech companies, big and small, than Boston, or that it serves as a beacon to smart techies and driven entrepreneurs from all over the world. That's obvious, and you probably knew that before reading Wadhwa's TechCrunch ramblings.
I think that we in New England are playing a different set of games than the Valley, and are (hopefully) getting better at each of them. We're playing these games as a region of the world that needs to be competitive in the global economy -- not against Silicon Valley.
The five games we're playing are:FULL ENTRY
There's always a lack of suspense at awards ceremonies where the winners have been announced ahead of time, but ideally that lets the attendees focus more on drinking and schmoozing -- the real reason anyone goes.
Next Tuesday, the annual History & Innovation Awards are doled out by the Boston History & Innovation Collaborative and the Boston Museum.
George Hatsopoulos, founder of Thermo Electron, will be honored for "environmental and technology innovation" (he's pictured at right), with MIT prez Susan Hockfield presenting the award; Russ Wilcox and Joe Jacobson of E Ink score one for their development of digital paper-like displays (Globe publisher Steve Ainsley will hand it over); and Senate candidate Alan Khazei and Michael Brown will win in the "social innovation" category, for starting City Year. (Khazei isn't expected to be there.)
Governor Patrick, an award presenter last year, will be back again this year. Hopefully, the speeches will be short.
Expected to be in the house are other innovators, like Joseph Murray, the 90-year old doc who performed the first-ever organ transplant (at the Brigham), and Leo Beranek, one of the founders of Bolt Beranek & Newman. Tickets are still available, at $250 a head.
Also on Tuesday night are the annual MITX Interactive Awards, which celebrate great Web site design, useful mobile apps, and Internet-based software. Winners of those aren't announced beforehand, but the finalists are listed here. Tickets for that party are $180 a pop.
Last November, it seemed a bit strange that a group of executives trying to raise money to build a movie studio in Plymouth would hand over $25 million to MIT's Media Lab, to endow the Center for Future Storytelling. Why make such a big commitment to research before you've even gotten your own business off the ground?
This November, the Media Lab is reaching out to other sponsors who might be willing to help foot bill for the new center, after the latest deal to finance the $550 million, 240-acre studio complex in Plymouth fell apart.
I asked Media Lab director Frank Moss today whether he'd seen any cash from David Kirkpatrick, the head of the Plymouth Rock Studios project, and a former exec at Paramount Pictures. "They did give us a material amount to get us off to a start," Moss said, "but obviously, I can't give you details of their financial arrangement." The commitment made last November was $25 million over seven years, but, Moss said, "the world has changed since that happened, and they've encountered tremendous challenges" with funding.
Even before yesterday's news about Plymouth Rock broke, Moss said, the Media Lab has been reaching out to current and new sponsors to find other backers to underwrite the Center for Future Storytelling. "They've been a great partner, but we're making this a multi-sponsor effort, in the style of the Media Lab," Moss told me.
In late October, there was a "Transmedia Summit" at the lab that brought some sponsors in (and also provided some content for Plymouth Rock's on-going Internet video series.)
Interestingly, the Center for Future Storytelling has not yet hired any faculty members of its own; it is currently run by Cynthia Breazeal, a robotics researcher who also leads the Personal Robots group at the Media Lab.
Asked whether Kirkpatrick has suggested that Plymouth Rock might not be good for its entire $25 million pledge to the lab, Moss wouldn't answer, but said, "He has kept me in the loop on the challenges he's had, and we've both adjusted to the realities of how to make this center great. The center is alive and well."
And for a minimum commitment of $600,000 over three years, you can be one of its new sponsors.
Update: I caught up with Kirkpatrick by phone this afternoon, and he told me that Plymouth Rock is still standing behind its obligation to the Media Lab. I asked him if the funding pledge is about $3.5 million a year, and he said that it starts smaller than that, and "ramps up over time."
Is Plymouth Rock back to Square One, now that its financing has evaporated? "Clearly, this is a big bump in the road, but we do have some alternatives we've been talking with for several months, and we're exploring those more deeply," Kirkpatrick said. "We remain optimistic, and we're going to persist and get this done."
(Before this latest set-back, the state of Massachusetts denied $50 million in infrastructure funding to the studio project.)
Innovation Economy covers the people, companies, and investors who make new things happen throughout New England. I try to write about all sorts of entrepreneurs, in industries like cleantech, life sciences, aviation, the Internet, software, retail, e-commerce, and even industries that don't yet have labels. This blog, updated about once a day, is the companion to my Sunday column in the Boston Globe, also called Innovation Economy.
There are two ways to subscribe, so you'll get every new post that appears (both ways are free):
1. The first is to subscribe via e-mail. You'll get an e-mail once a day with the latest post (or posts). Just fill out the form below, and run through the quick process of setting up an account with FeedBlitz, the service that sends out the e-mails:
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.FULL ENTRY
If you were developing a TV show about technology and innovation, you might want it to have a prominent online presence.
And that’s exactly what Luke Ryan at WHDH-Channel 7 had started to build for a show he was developing for the NBC station, “Into the Tech.” The show had a Web site, IntoTheTech.com, and some short videos posted on video-sharing sites like Vimeo. Ryan, an advertising sales rep for WHDH who also holds the title new media manager, gave presentations about the show earlier this month at the Mass TLC’s Innovation Unconference and the Apple Store in Boston. Ryan had shot and assembled a pilot episode, hosted by anchor Matt Lorch. The pilot featured an interview with futurist Ray Kurzweil and visits to companies like iRobot Corp., synthetic diamond pioneer Apollo Diamond, and a 3-D printing firm.
Ryan told me recently that he was talking to a number of big companies locally about becoming sponsors of “Into the Tech,” and that he hoped it’d air on Sunday mornings, right after “Meet the Press.” His goal was to have it on the air by February, and to weave together the broadcast TV show with discussion groups and other interactive features on the Web site.
But suddenly last week, the Web site for “Into the Tech” vanished. And when I asked Ryan about it, he said he wasn’t authorized to talk about the show any longer.FULL ENTRY
A new non-profit initiative from Joyce Plotkin, the long-time leader of the Mass. Technology Leadership Council, will dispatch professionals from the worlds of science, engineering, and technology to sixth grade classrooms around the state. The volunteer visitors' goal: to persuade students to consider careers in the fields.
The initiative, DIGITS, will be announced today at the sixth annual STEM Summit in Sturbridge, which explores ways to improve science, technology, engineering, and math education. Plotkin, now president emerita of MassTLC, will speak about the new initiative, and debut a theme song written by Tezz Yancey, an alumnus of the Boston Conservatory. (There's also a DIGITS music video on YouTube.)
While Massachusetts students perform well on standardized tests related to math and science, they don't seem drawn to careers that rely on those skills: this year, 22 percent of students who took the SAT test in Massachusetts said them planned to pursue a STEM career, compared to 28 percent nationally.
Plotkin says she has raised $260,000 in grant funding for the new program from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. But future funding from the state is uncertain, she acknowledges.
(In the pic up top, courtesy of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, Plotkin is talking with State Rep. Dan Bosley.)FULL ENTRY
Earlier this month at the Mass Tech Leadership Council's Innovation Unconference, I helped lead a session called "How Do We Turbo-Charge the Culture of Entrepreneurship in Massachusetts?" It attracted a room full of about 35 people.
I believe, as you may know, that there is a cultural revolution happening here, and that there are two kinds of people in our region's innovation economy:
1. People who do their jobs in isolation and continue to repeat the same old tropes about how "we don't network enough" and "things are so different in Silicon Valley."
2. People who are inventing new networking events, mentoring young entrepreneurs, opening doors for students, running programs to help start-ups get off to a faster start, investing in new sectors, and generally bouncing off one another in ways that create really great sparks.
I generally try not to hang around with the first group of people, and am counting the days until they all retire or expire.
At our session, we tried to list all of the events, associations, and programs that already exist to support this new culture, as well as some things that are in process. (I'm sure we missed quite a few.) We also created a "to do" list, like ways to improve coordination among our great universities, or to make angel investors more visible.
Here are some links, as well as some rough notes from the session:FULL ENTRY
When Danielle Duplin used to work in electronics warfare at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, she lived in the North End.
"I'd walk out my door right next to the Old North Church and drive to work thinking, 'I'm basically driving the same route where Paul Revere rode his horse.'"
Now, Duplin works at Fidelity Investments, in a building next door to South Station. "Our office looks out over the place where the Boston Tea Party took place," she says.
With her colleague Sean Belka, Duplin came up with what I think is an excellent phrase to capture the true spirit of Boston: "Revolutionary ideas start here." (It was first used back in July at the inaugural TEDx Boston event as part of a short introductory video.)
"We're blessed to be in this city with deep roots for American democracy -- and the spirit of entrepreneurship," she says.
Boston was the petri dish of the revolution, and in the following century the first use of surgical anesthesia at Mass General, and the century after that the first use of chemotherapy to conquer leukemia. Boston was the business center that spawned the first commercial bank in the country, the modern mutual fund, and the first venture capital firm. The first American newspaper was published here, and now Boston start-ups like GlobalPost are trying to re-imagine journalism for the digital age. The first videogame was developed at MIT in the 1960s, and "Rock Band," the top-selling game of 2008, was developed by two MIT alums. Alexander Graham-Bell placed the first telephone call in Boston in 1876, and in 1971 Cambridge researcher Ray Tomlinson wrote the software that allowed e-mail messages to be sent from one computer to another over the Arpanet, the Internet's predecessor. (It was Tomlinson who selected the @ sign for e-mail addresses.)
Revolutionary ideas seem to be what we've been good at generating, from the 18th century to the 21st. Which is why the phrase "revolutionary ideas" really resonates with me. "Revolution is sometimes bloody, and sometimes, you're staring into the abyss," says Belka, who runs the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology, the group at Fidelity that evaluates new technologies for potential use by the company and its customers.FULL ENTRY
The Massachusetts legislature's Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development will hold a hearing next week on the bill, submitted by Representatives Will Brownsberger and Lori Ehrlich, that could change our state's law surrounding noncompete agreements.
This bill wouldn't make noncompete agreements unenforceable, but rather would try to limit the employees to which they apply as well as their duration. (Here's a post from Brownsberger linking to some of the recent discussion about this bill in the blogospher, and here's my most recent post on the topic.)
The hearing will take place October 7th at 10:30 AM, in Room A-2 at the State House. (I'm told that testimony on another issue will be heard first, so the noncompete testimony isn't likely to start until at least 11:30 AM. But it may be challenging to get a seat after about 10:15 AM.)
Here's how you can make your voice heard:FULL ENTRY
Just a posting about one of those things that drives me absolutely batty...
I love Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee -- it's one of my favorite treats any time the temperature surpasses about 65 degrees.
But I am mystified by the people who feel compelled to order it ensconced in an extra styrofoam cup. They explain that it prevents their hands from getting wet from the plastic cup's condensation ... or that it keeps the iced coffee cold longer.
Is there any other example in fast food-dom of ordering something with such extraneous packaging? Have you ever seen someone eating fries out of two paper fry pouches, asking for their KFC in an extra bucket, or requesting that their Papa Ginos pizza be double-boxed, for double grease-stain protection?
I've also never seen a recycling bin in a Dunkin' Donuts. So I called the PR folks at the Canton-based franchising company Dunkin' Brands last month to investigate.FULL ENTRY
Was talking this morning with a marketing executive at Burlington-based Nuance, the speech recognition company. They're currently running a radio ad on sports talk stations that features former Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who has lately been mulling a run for Ted Kennedy's former Senate seat.
In the ad, Schilling plugs Nuance's Dragon NaturallySpeaking dictation product for PCs, talking about how the software makes him more efficient.
Would the ads have to be yanked from the air if Schilling the entrepreneur and retired jock turned into Schilling the Republican Senate candidate? Probably so...
Each fall, the MIT-based mag Technology Review assembles a list of "35 Innovators Under 35," chock full of young scientists and entrepreneurs worth watching.
A handful of Bostonians usually show up on the list. This year, the magazine's "Innovator of the Year" is 33-year old Kevin Fu from the computer science department at UMass Amherst, who focuses on security issues surrounding RFID (radiofrequency identification) tags. He's pictured at right.
Also on the list are Erez Lieberman-Aiden of MIT and Harvard; Andrew Perlman of Cambridge-based GreatPoint Energy; Jorge Conde of Cambridge genomics start-up Knome; José Gómez-Márquez of MIT's Innovations in International Health; Kurt Zenz House of the super-stealthy Cambridge start-up C12 Energy; James Carey of SiOnyx, a Beverly-based start-up working on "black silicon," a new material for semiconductors; Pranav Mistry of MIT's Media Lab; and Jaime Teevan, a recent MIT grad now working for Microsoft Research in Washington.
Here's some video from Technology Review featuring Kevin Fu explaining his research.
We could use a population explosion around these parts -- of angel investors.
While Boston is home to some great angel groups like CommonAngels and Launch Pad Venture Group, we're definitely at a deep angel deficit compared to our country's other innovation region. But I'm encouraged by some new data points I've been hearing about...
Angels typically invest in a fledgling company well before the product or technology has been "fully baked" or the first customer order signed -- there may just be one or two employees. And "angel money is often the least restrictive, least dilutive kind of financing available to an entrepreneur," says Lawrence Gennari, a partner at Choate Hall & Stewart in Boston. One of Gennari's goals is to "create and discover more angels."
To that end, Gennari has been running a super-secret dinner series this summer, bringing together angels with company founders. "There's no agenda," he says. "We just talk about what we're seeing." The investors who attend, Gennari says, "don't want to join a group [of angel investors], and they don't want to be listed on a Web site. Their view is, just show me something that's interesting."
I asked whether the monthly dinners, usually held out in the western 'burbs, have produced any investment success stories yet. "It's too early to say there are deals done, but some are in process," Gennari says. "But we're not sitting at the table cutting term sheets at the dinners themselves."
Gennari also runs an annual angel investing conference at UMass Boston (here's a PDF of last year's agenda); the 2009 date isn't yet set.
One other encouraging data point is Golden Seeds, an angel group that funds start-ups founded by women. It first put down roots in Boston three years ago, and the inaugural pair of angel investors were Jill Preotle (an investor in ZipCar and Dancing Deer Bakery) and Jean Hammond (JAM Technologies and iTeam, among others). They've now grown to 19 members in Boston, and the group actively encourages others to explore the world of angel investing. Their September meeting takes place on the 17th; it's by invite only.
Is there any other new angel activity you've been hearing about, in Boston or elsewhere in New England? Post a comment if you would...
There's a cultural revolution afoot in the Boston innovation economy.
One culture is dying out, and another kind of culture is emerging.
The old culture was clubby and insular. To get funding, you had to know someone who knew someone at one of the venture capital firms perched high atop Mount Money in Waltham. To get anywhere, it helped if you'd already had one or two successes on your résumé. The typical employee or executive went to work in Hopkinton or Burlington, put in a solid eight or nine hours of work, and went home. They weren't well-connected outside their own company, didn't go to industry networking events, and didn't make time to mentor up-and-coming entrepreneurs. In technology, the focus was almost always on developing products for the world's biggest customers, whether they were banks, telecommunications firms, or health care providers. The old culture felt it needed non-compete agreements to create artificial employee "loyalty." The old culture was reluctant to boast about what it was achieving, or Boston's prominent place in the global economy. And Boston's metabolism was slow: only a year or so after a trend emerged in Silicon Valley, a handful of companies had been formed here to pursue it.
Lots of people still live and work in that culture. They're sort of like people who still break out the seersucker suit on the first hot day of July...people who still wait in line at toll booths to hand over their crumpled dollar bill... or those Japanese soldiers who didn't realize World War II had ended.
Are you part of that world -- or are you part of the new culture? Here's what defines it:FULL ENTRY
The debate continues about whether we ought to change the way that noncompete agreements are used by Massachusetts employers, but one possibility seems to have been taken off the table by our elected representatives: that we’ll ban them entirely.
And that’s depressing –- especially given the mounting evidence about the deleterious impact that noncompetes have on innovation and entrepreneurship. (For the uninitiated, employment contracts often contain a noncompete agreement which bans the employee from going to work for a competitor, or starting a competitive business, for a specified period of time after leaving the current employer -- even if he is laid off.)FULL ENTRY
About Scott Kirsner
Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com 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.
Subscribe via e-mail
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.