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Rehma Fund for Children starts raising money to support OPENPediatrics initiative

Posted by Scott Kirsner January 14, 2014 09:52 AM
There isn't a person in Boston whose heart didn't break reading the news last January about little Rehma Sabir, who died in Cambridge just a few days after her first birthday. The nanny hired to take care of Rehma has been charged with first-degree murder; she has pleaded not guilty, and the trial is expected to begin this year.

Rehma's parents are launching a new fund in their daughter's memory today, which would have been Rehma's second birthday. The money raised will go to support the OPENPediatrics initiative at Boston Children's Hospital, which is building an open source, peer-reviewed online guide to caring for sick children. OPENPediatrics is already being used by doctors and nurses in more than 80 countries, and its materials are already saving lives.

Jeffrey Burns, who runs OPENPediatrics, was involved in Rehma's care at Children's last year; Rehma's father, Sameer Sabir, is a medical device entrepreneur who previously ran MoMelan Technologies.

Here's a video overview of the fund's mission. You may want to have a Kleenex nearby...


Inaugural Boston TechJam block party slated for October 3rd

Posted by Scott Kirsner August 14, 2013 08:00 AM


Mark Lorion started circulating the idea back in March: what if someone threw a block party in Boston's Innovation District to highlight the energy of the city’s tech scene? Initially, he hoped to close off a couple blocks of Summer Street in Fort Point Channel, right near where Lorian’s employer, a mobile startup called Apperian, is based.

That didn’t fly. But city officials countered by suggesting that Lorion hold the event at District Hall, the new Innovation District gathering place on Northern Avenue, and an adjacent parking lot.

The event Lorion conceived, Boston TechJam, has gained major momentum: it involves companies like EnerNOC, LogMeIn, and Zipcar as well as trade groups like the New England Venture Capital Association, MassTLC and MITX. And it’s happening from 4:00 to 9:00 p.m. on October 3rd. That'll be right around the time that District Hall, still under construction, officially opens. And the City of Boston is also planning a week-long event celebrating the "ideas economy" for the same week.

Lorion, chief marketing officer at Apperian, says Boston TechJam was motivated by a desire to showcase the city’s startup scene for students. “It drives me crazy when I hear students saying, ‘Which city should I go to: San Francisco or New York?’ We need to hang onto them. One of the elements that really differentiates Boston is that it’s tight knit. People are collaborative and they want to help each other. I want the city to be known for that, and as a fun place to do business.”

The event will feature bands with members who work in the startup sphere; food trucks; craft beer; artwork from the Fort Point Arts Community; and sponsor tents with games and giveaways. There will also be a “speed pitch” event, with student teams and other entrepreneurs pitching ideas to an investor panel.

Students get in for free; everyone else pays $10, which goes to a computer science education fund.

Lorion tells me that the current space he has lined up can fit about 1,200 people. “I’m hoping we can blow through that number quickly, so we can get access to another parking lot next to District Hall,” he says. There’s also a group planning a potential after-party.

Sounds like a fun event for the fall social schedule...

2013 Nantucket Conference on Entrepreneurship & Innovation: Photos and Audio

Posted by Scott Kirsner June 12, 2013 04:45 PM
Sharing some audio and photos here from last week's Nantucket Conference, which featured speakers like Talko founder Ray Ozzie, Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital, Scott Eckert of Rethink Robotics, Niraj Shah of Wayfair, and Diane Hessan of CommuniSpace. This year, for the first time, in addition to the mainstage sessions, there were also "unconference"-style sessions suggested and run by conference participants, on topics like "personal productivity hacks," building company culture, and "PR 3.0."

The event also included a kind of "exit interview" that I moderated with former Zipcar chief executive Scott Griffith, who departed after selling the company to Avis earlier this year for $500 million.


Cory von Wallenstein, CTO, and Gray Chynoweth, COO, of Manchester, NH-based Dyn.


CommuniSpace CEO Diane Hessan runs an unconference session on "Company Leadership Beyond the Startup Phase."


Former Lotus Development Corp. colleagues Ray Ozzie and John Landry.

More pics and audio below:


TechStars Boston Demo Day, Spring 2013: Your scorecard for the 14 startups presenting

Posted by Scott Kirsner May 23, 2013 12:00 PM


The spring "demo day" for the TechStars Boston accelerator program took place this morning at House of Blues on Landsdowne Street. Founders of 14 startups from the U.S. and Europe delivered short pitches for an invited audience of investors, TechStars mentors, and community members. The founders spoke about the opportunities they're addressing; early customers; and the amount they're hoping to raise (including any funding commitments they've received prior to demo day). There's also an after-party Thursday evening at Storyville, but looks like that is sold out. (Update: Try using the code TS to get a seat.)

One of the startups, Worcester-bred Freight Farms, will be the first local company to try out a new funding platform called WeFunder as part of its fundraising process. WeFunder was started in Cambridge by Nick Tommarello and Mike Norman, but is now based in Silicon Valley. (Tommarello participated in TechStars Boston several years back with an earlier venture, Sparkcloud, and more recently went through the Y Combinator program in Mountain View.) Another, Fancred, got David Ortiz of the Red Sox to show up to help plug its mobile app for sports fans. In the photo above are CEO Hossein Kash Razzaghi, a Brightcove alum, with Big Papi, who asked Razzaghi how he could get the Yankees off his phone.

If you'd like to see tweets about the event, the hash tag was #tsdemoday.

Descriptions in quotes below come from TechStars managing director Katie Rae's original post announcing the current class of companies. My comments follow that. When the companies hail from somewhere other than Massachusetts, I've listed that.


Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison talks corporate innovation in Boston

Posted by Scott Kirsner May 8, 2013 12:26 PM

Screen Shot 2013-05-08 at 11.27.31 AM.png

Campbell Soup Company CEO Denise Morrison was in town yesterday for the annual Front End of Innovation conference at the World Trade Center, offering a glimpse at how one Fortune 500 company does innovation.

If you still think of Campbell's as the tomato soup behemoth that inspired Andy Warhol, maybe you haven't been paying attention. The New Jersey company these days offers customized Goldfish crackers, and recently launched a new line of microwaveable soups exclusively through digital and social media like Spotify, Tumblr, and the Angry Birds game. The company also named a vice president of innovation, Michael Paul, in March.

A few nuggets from Morrison's keynote address, and my quick chat with her afterward.

• Morrison is an advocate of "fail fast, fail often, fail cheap" when it comes to developing new product ideas. Her ambitious goal at the company is to double the rate of innovation, while halving the cost and time spent cultivating new product ideas.

• "Not every great idea needs to be Campbell-generated. It's clear that partners and vendors and other external sources will generate innovative ideas for us."

• In thinking about how consumers will shop, cook, and eat in the future, Morrison says Campbell's is trying to understand emerging trends like "quantified lives," or "managing our bodies and diets through personal data and feedback loops." She cited Blippar as an example of how shoppers might use an "augmented reality overlay" on top of product packages to view multimedia, recipe ideas, or coupon offers. Coca-Cola's Freestyle drink machine, offering more than 100 different flavors of soda, is an example of "more distributed and personalized approaches to creating, sharing, and eating food." And she mentioned Reading-based Kiva Systems, now part of Amazon, as an example of "people and automated systems cooperating to achieve an objective." (Kiva makes robotic warehouse equipment that carries items to humans, rather than requiring humans to walk to the items.)

• "Our core consumers are baby boomers," but Campbell's is also trying to "build engagement with faster-growing consumer groups, like millennials and Hispanics."

• In launching its new Campbell's Go Soups, which she calls "portable nutrition" in a microwaveable pouch, the company relied exclusively on digital and social media, including Twitter, Spotify, Facebook, and The target audience was those 80 million millennials between the ages of 25 and 30.

• "The top principle for disruptive and sustaining innovation is that it has to have a laser focus on customers. Innovation begins with their needs and expectations."


Winners of the 2013 New England Venture Capital Association Awards

Posted by Scott Kirsner May 1, 2013 08:44 PM


The New England Venture Capital Association held its first-ever awards party tonight in Harvard Square. These were the winners.

Angel of the Year: Andy Palmer of Koa Labs

Rising Star VC (Tie): Rob Go of NextView Ventures and Stephen Kraus of Bessemer Venture Partners

Rising Star Entrepreneur: Sravish Sridhar of Kinvey

Deal of the Year (Tech): Actifio

Deal of the Year (Healthcare): Moderna Therapuetics

Entrepreneur of the Year (Tech): Andy Ory of Acme Packet

Entrepreneur of the Year (Healthcare): Katrine Bosley of Avila Therapeutics

VC of the Year (Tech) : Spark Capital

VC of the Year (Healthcare) : Third Rock Ventures

Exit of the Year (Tech) Acme Packet, acquired by Oracle

Exit of the Year (Healthcare): Avila Therapeutics, acquired by Celgene

Best New Startup: Jounce Therapeutics

Hottest Startup: Wayfair

Photos from the event are on NEVCA's Facebook page, and the complete list of nominees is here.


Startups and venture capital firms organize #BackToBackBay drinkup, for cocktail hour Tuesday

Posted by Scott Kirsner April 29, 2013 09:23 PM


Sometime during the course of Lockdown Friday, I suggested that once Boylston Street was open again, we should all head over to hoist a few drinks...

To remember those killed and injured... To express our gratitude to the first responders and the healthcare professionals who helped the city get through a pretty horrific week... To reclaim one of our favorite neighborhoods, Back Bay...And to help the businesses there get back on their feet.

Katie Burke of HubSpot and Kate Castle of Flybridge Capital took that idea and ran with it, and Tuesday night (April 30th), there's a pub crawl they organized that starts at 6 PM. Eleven startups, tech giants, accelerators, and venture capital firms are hosting gatherings at seven Back Bay bars. They'll be buying a few rounds, and inviting attendees to donate generously to the city's OneFund, which helps victims of the bombings.

You don't need to work at the host companies to come, or even know anyone who works there. Everyone's invited, whether you work in the startup world or not. If you're planning to go, send out a tweet or Facebook update with the #BackToBackBay hashtag, to let your friends know what bar you'll be at, at what time, so they can join you.

Here's who is hosting at each venue.

• Globe Bar and Café – PromoBoxx and DataXu
• Lir – Wayfair
• Lolita Cocina – Flybridge and BzzAgent
• McGreevey’s – Digital Lumens, Flybridge and HubSpot
• Solas – Kibits and Plastiq
• Towne – HubSpot
• Whiskey's – Microsoft and MassChallenge

The map for the event is here.

I'm planning to hit Towne at 6:30 and Lolita around 7:30. Hope to see you there...

New reality show 'Big Brain Theory' features Somerville robot builder Gui Cavalcanti

Posted by Scott Kirsner April 26, 2013 09:55 AM


Could reality TV's next big star be an Olin College-educated robotics engineer who lives in Davis Square? Here's hoping...

Snooki's potential successor is Gui Cavalcanti, one of ten contestants on the new show "The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius," which debuts May 1st at 10 p.m. on the Discovery Channel. Cavalcanti, right, is best-known locally as the co-founder of Artisan's Asylum, a "maker space" in Somerville that provides artists and entrepreneurs with access to a wood shop, metal shop, 3-D printers, and other tools, as well as classes in how to use them. Cavalcanti also led a successful effort last year to raise money online to build a giant, rideable six-legged robot named Stompy, pulling in almost $100,000. (I wrote about the Asylum last May, and included Cavalcanti on my 2012 list of "Innovation Amplifiers.")

"Big Brain Theory" challenges its contestants each week to come up with a solution to "a seemingly impossible engineering challenge," according to its website. Contestants on the losing team are subject to elimination. The eventual winner gets $50,000, and a one-year contract to work at WET, a Los Angeles design firm best known for the fountain show outside the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. (I guess every talented engineer dreams of one day designing water features for hotels?)

Cavalcanti says he spent about seven weeks shooting the show, in and around Los Angeles. In the first episode, airing Wednesday, he plays a major role as the teams try to stop an explosives-laden package in the bed of a pickup truck from exploding. "Big Brain Theory" feels like a blend of "Mythbusters" and "Project Runway," and it's a lot of fun to watch if you're at all interested in how design, math, and engineering can be applied in real-world scenarios.

What inspired Cavalcanti to audition for the show? He explains via e-mail, "I was an avid fan of 'Battlebots' and 'Junkyard Wars' growing up, and watching the shows got me even more interested in engineering than I was before. When I heard there was a new kind of design/build show coming up that was looking to feature real design and engineering skills (as opposed to the hacking skills that were prominent in 'Junkyard Wars'), I really wanted to participate, if only to inspire a new generation of kids to get interested in engineering like I had been. On top of that, it was an opportunity to just get away and make stuff for once, which I ironically hadn't been able to do nearly as much as I wanted while running Artisan's Asylum."

Last spring, he says, the show's producer put out a call for contestants. "After seeing it the second or third time, I decided to apply, and got a call back within a half-hour or so," Cavalcanti says. As a result of being chosen for the show, Cavalcanti handed over the reins at Artisan's Asylum to Molly Rubenstein, who had been the director of operations. He says he is now "doing half-time development work at the Asylum," and Rubenstein is serving as the new executive director.

A teaser video for the show is below:


10 insights into the challenges of corporate innovation, from this week's Innovation Leaders Forum in Boston

Posted by Scott Kirsner April 25, 2013 08:25 AM


Corporate innovation executives from companies like Covidien, Chubb Group, and the Mayo Clinic got together earlier this week at the Harvard Club. The occasion was the 2013 Innovation Leaders Forum, organized by Imaginatik, a British software and consulting firm that has its main U.S. office in Boston.

The overarching theme: promoting new ideas inside a large, established organization can be pretty darn hard. Resources are often scarce. Business unit leaders can be hostile. Top executives may want to talk about innovation during earnings calls, but often don't make enough of a commitment to actually rolling out the best ideas. And innovation leaders constantly worry that if they can't move the needle on revenues or costs, they may find themselves looking for their next job.

Amidst that anxiety, there were some interesting insights about how large companies approach innovation. Here are ten comments that stood out. The last one is my favorite.

• "You need to create a sense of urgency [around innovation] at a gut level, not just a PR level." — Jim Euchner, vice president of global innovation at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. (He's pictured on the left, with Moises Norena of Whirlpool.)

• Phil Swisher, chief innovation officer at the private bank Brown Brothers Harriman, said that often, HIPPOs tend to dominate discussions about innovation (HIPPO being an initialism for the "highest-paid person with an opinion.") Running experiments is much better than simply taking direction from a HIPPO, as politically difficult as that may be. "Hypothesis testing is better than hunches," Swisher said.

• "Visuals are really powerful. We try to make the invisible visible," said Lorna Ross of the Mayo Clinic's Center for Innovation. That could mean studying and mapping communication patterns in the operating room during bypass surgery. "When you can show somebody where the problems are, it can be easier to get people to change," she said.

• Whirlpool Corp. chief innovation officer Moises Norena talked about "growing the core" (the company's major appliance business), "extending the core" (offering new products and services related to that core business), and "expanding beyond the core" (new, high-margin stand-alone businesses).


Straight talk about venture capital and the tech ecosystem in Boston [Audio]

Posted by Scott Kirsner March 4, 2013 08:15 AM


About 70 entrepreneurs packed the hack/reduce space in Kendall Square last week for a half-day event called "Built in Boston," which turned out to be something of an orientation to the Boston startup ecosystem. Many of the entrepreneurs in attendance were just beginning the TechStars Boston accelerator program, and others were participants in Seedcamp, visiting from Europe. Speakers included Zipcar founder Robin Chase and HubSpot chief technology officer Dharmesh Shah.

I recorded two of the kick-off talks: one from Fred Destin of Atlas Venture, who offered a real inside glimpse at how venture capitalists typically work, and how entrepreneurs can best work the system; and one from Rob Go of NextView Ventures, who talked about resources and events in Boston that entrepreneurs should know about, based on his excellent blog post "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Boston Tech Community." (Go is pictured at right.) They run back-to-back in the player below.


Karmaloop CEO Greg Selkoe talks about growing the e-commerce company, and making Boston more hospitable for young entrepreneurs and artists [Audio]

Posted by Scott Kirsner February 6, 2013 08:15 AM


I had the chance last week to do an on-stage interview with Karmaloop founder and CEO Greg Selkoe, at the annual MITX E-Commerce Summit. Karmaloop was Selkoe's first startup, and it was born in his parents' basement in 2000. It's now a collection of apparel sites for the super-stylish, based in the Back Bay, with almost $200 million in annual revenues and 250 employees in Boston. There are also offices in Copenhagen, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles.

We talked about the history of the company...the site's design... raising venture capital... how they obtain merchandise and fulfill orders... the strategy of creating ancillary brands like PLNDR and MissKL... customer service... Boston as a major center of the sneaker business.... his collection of 500 pairs of sneakers... and Future Boston Alliance, the non-profit Selkoe created to help make Boston a more welcoming city for entrepreneurs and creatives of all stripes.

The audio runs 30 minutes. It's one of the funniest and most unpredictable interviews I've ever done with a CEO in public. But beware: Selkoe drops a few f-bombs during the course of the talk.

I last wrote about Karmaloop in 2011: "Up-and-coming sites may make Boston a leader in e-commerce."

(The photo above was taken by Debi Kleiman of MITX.)

New Lunch Beat series will offer a chance to shake it (and scarf down a sammie) on your lunch hour

Posted by Scott Kirsner February 4, 2013 11:32 AM
A new event series is getting underway that will invite the movers-and-shakers of the local business scene to spend their lunch hours, well, moving and shaking. Lunch Beat, founded in Stockholm in 2010, arrives in Cambridge next month.

The concept is pretty simple: instead of sitting with your co-workers and griping about office politics, you spend an hour dancing to a DJ set. Sandwiches are available to eat during a break from the dancefloor, or take back to your desk.

The Lunch Beat Manifesto decrees that everyone must dance. "At Lunch Beat, everyone present is your dance partner." And also, "You don't talk about your job at Lunch Beat."

The first Lunch Beat happens March 6th at the Hack/Reduce shared space in East Cambridge. It sounds like the event will be held every month, and that it'll also take place at a Boston venue on occasion. (Likely at the Boston Innovation Center on Northern Ave., once construction is finished.) The organizers include startup advisor Dmitri Gunn, Rebecca Corliss of HubSpot, and Fred Destin of Atlas Venture, well known for his enthusiastic rug-cutting. No website yet with info about the first event, but you can either watch this page on the Lunch Beat site, or follow @DmitriGunn to stay in the loop. (I should note that I heard about the launch of Lunch Beat from three different women last week, so clearly the organizers are trying to get the male-female ratio right.)

Here's a video that gives you a taste of what Lunch Beat is about:

December 21st: Coffee for No Reason in Kendall Square

Posted by Scott Kirsner December 14, 2012 07:56 AM


My journalist pal Jimmy Guterman and I are holding one of our periodic Coffee for No Reason get-togethers on Friday, December 21st, at Voltage Coffee in Kendall Square. If you're part of the innovation scene in Kendall, or anywhere in New England, for that matter, you're welcome to join us. People introduce themselves... sometimes they bring stuff for "show & tell"... there is occasionally schwag given away... and there is excellent coffee.

Details: Friday, December 21st, 8:30 AM - 10:30 AM. Voltage Coffee, 295 Third Street, Cambridge.

Each time, we invite a few special guests, just to ensure that the schmoozing is top notch.

Joining us this time are:

• Leland Cheung, Cambridge City Council
• Nicole Fichera, Innovation District manager at Boston Redevelopment Authority
• Abby Fichtner, Hacker Chick
• Matt Lauzon, Gemvara
• Tim Loew, Massachusetts Digital Games Institute
• Marissa Lowman, LearnLaunch
• Lucy McQuilken, Intel Capital
• Rich Miner, Google Ventures
• Rudina Seseri, Fairhaven Capital
• Sravish Sridhar, Kinvey
• Reed Sturtevant, Project 11 Ventures & TechStars Boston
• Allan Tear and Melissa Withers, Betaspring
• C.A. Webb, New England Venture Capital Association

If you can make it, there's no RSVPing. Just tweet (or mention in a Facebook or LinkedIn status update) that you'll be there. Use the hash tag #cfnr, and link to this post. Feel free to bring something to demo, or schwag to give away.

Here are some pics from the last Coffee for No Reason, back in August.

Investor panel at FutureM conference puts $442,000 into five startups: Timbre, NBD Nanotechnologies, Jebbit, CoachUp, and Sidewalk

Posted by Scott Kirsner October 25, 2012 05:48 PM


Five Boston startups -- and one from Manhattan -- pitched a panel of Boston investors this afternoon in a session modeled after the ABC reality show "Shark Tank." The investors had promised to invest as much as $100,000 in the startups, which they'd selected from a set of 70 applicants. They blew past that goal.

The investor group included Jean Hammond and Joe Caruso, right, along with Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot, Dave Balter of BzzAgent, Rob Go of NextView Ventures, and Fred Destin of Atlas Venture.

Shah offered to invest $29,000 in digital marketing startup Jebbit, which had pegged its pre-money valuation at $5 million, and $28,000 in CoachUp, a marketplace for private sports coaches that hadn't yet established its valuation. (CommonAngels, NextView, and Jean Hammond also expressed interest in meeting with CoachUp founder Jordan Fliegel.) Gus Weber of Polaris Ventures (who wasn't actually present) offered $10,000 to Sidewalk, which helps startups sell to local businesses, at a $3 million pre-money valuation. Balter, a partner in Boston Seed Capital, said the firm would invest $150,000 in Timbre, a music app developed by Intrepid Pursuits, and Destin offered to put in $200,000. (The company asked for a $1.5 million pre-money valuation.) Balter offered $25,000 to water startup NBD Nanotechnologies on behalf of Boston Seed, at a $4 million pre-money valuation. Arcbazar, focused on connecting consumers with architects, piqued the interest of Destin at Atlas, Google Ventures, and Lucy McQuilken of Intel Capital, but didn't actually get an investment offer.

Each entrepreneur had four minutes to pitch to the investors, followed by a few minutes of Q&A. Here's a run-down of the companies that presented:


Six startups will pitch Boston's 'Shark Tank' investors this Thursday

Posted by Scott Kirsner October 22, 2012 07:46 AM


Borrowing the format from the ABC reality show "Shark Tank," a group of Boston investors plan to cut deals with startups this Thursday to invest as much as $100,000, as part of an on-stage session at this week's FutureM conference.

"We wanted to celebrate Boston's amazing evolution into one of the strongest startup scenes in the world," says organizer Dave Balter, founder of the Boston word-of-mouth marketing firm bzzagent. The "sharks," who'll be committing their own money, are Nicole Stata of Boston Seed Capital; Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot; Katie Rae of TechStars Boston; Joe Caruso of Bantam Group; Fred Destin of Atlas Venture; and Balter. Lucy McQuilken of Intel Capital will be on-stage representing a school of smaller investors that Balter has dubbed "the piranha pool."

balterbzzagent.jpegAs with the TV show, "each company has the right to ask for the terms they want, to properly mimic the standard investment process," says Balter, right. "Part of the process will be for the Sharks to determine if they'll accept the terms offered, or will try to negotiate for their own terms." As for what due diligence may take place after Thursday afternoon's presentations, Balter explains via e-mail, "The goal is to make this as real a process as possible. The agreement to invest at an angel level often doesn't include significant due diligence, so it's not expected [for] that to occur. ...An investor's reputation is based on trust, among other things, and the goal is that once they say they're doing the deal, they're doing it. Of course, there are always things in the final contract process that need to be agreed upon, so both parties will need to align on that."

Seventy startups applied; last Friday afternoon, the investors selected the six that'll have a chance to present later this week. They are:


Bold-faced names and pics from tonight's WebInnoRocket

Posted by Scott Kirsner September 24, 2012 10:09 PM
Instead of giving the stage to raw startups demonstrating their first product, tonight's WebInnoRocket event focused on bigger Boston-area tech companies that are already well into growth mode. The three "main stage" presenters -- Gemvara, DataXu, and HubSpot -- together have more than 500 employees and have raised more than $125 million in funding. Six earlier-stage companies, including Timbre, had demo tables in a separate room.

VCs Rob Go of NextView Ventures and Eric Hjerpe of Kepha Partners were there schmoozing... as were Sarah Hodges of, Blank Label's Ryan Dawidjan and Brent Grinna of EverTrue. I caught up with Ben Saren of Litle & Co., Keith Cline of Dissero and Tom Summit of Catalyst Recruiting. Northeastern student Drew d'Agostino told me about his bedbug-related startup Unbugged, spawned by a close encounter with the critters, and HubSpot's David Gallant shared the latest on his shadow career as a DJ. Matthew Albrecht filled me in on BrightDriver, a startup developing audio-based games for people to play to combat boredom in the car. Grasshopper's Taylor Aldredge was in line to talk with HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah, as was Satish Boppana of TouchVu, one of the participants in this fall's Betaspring accelerator program in Providence.

A few pics:

cheryl.jpgJeremy Levine of Star Street Sports with Cheryl Morris of Nanigans.
stansky.jpgBobbie Carlton and Tim Stansky of Mass Innovation Nights, with Marsh Sutherland of ReferralBonus.

Founders of Twitter, Path, Digg, and TaskRabbit heading to MIT

Posted by Scott Kirsner September 18, 2012 12:22 PM


Two events in September and October will bring a high-profile cast of West Coast entrepreneurs to Cambridge.

The first, this coming Monday, features Jack Dorsey, a co-founder and chairman of Twitter and CEO of Square, a San Francisco mobile payments company that just raised $200 million in funding. (The company has raised $341 million in total, from investors like Starbucks and Citi Ventures.) Dorsey's talk Monday evening at the Stata Center is for MIT students only — basically, a recruiting event — though he'll also be holding court with local media.

The second event, Startup Bootcamp, is free and open to anyone, on October 8th at Kresge Auditorium. In addition to local lights like Crashlytics co-founder Jeff Seibert and Paula Long of DataGravity, the speaker roster includes Dave Morin, founder of the mobile social network Path; Digg and Milk founder Kevin Rose; and Leah Busque, above, the founder of TaskRabbit, a micro-labor startup that was born in Cambridge, but is now headquartered in San Francisco.

Boston getting another TEDx event this November: TEDxBeacon Street

Posted by Scott Kirsner August 7, 2012 10:25 AM


Boston is spawning yet another TEDx event this fall: TEDxBeaconStreet, organized by a one-time member of the team that puts on the TEDxBoston conference, which was the city's original TEDx event.

TEDx conferences are independently-organized gatherings loosely based on the model of the TED "mothership" event in California, which has a $7500 price tag, attendees like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, speakers like Malcolm Gladwell — and a waiting list to get in. The Boston area has already hosted several TEDx events, including TEDxBoston, TEDxNewEngland, TEDxCambridge, TEDxBU, and TEDxMassCollegeOfArtAndDesign. Most are free, but getting a seat can be challenging.

John Werner, a managing director of the Boston non-profit Citizen Schools, is assembling the team that will put on TEDxBeaconStreet on November 17th and 18th. The event will take place at the Lincoln School in Brookline, and be simulcast at Google's Cambridge office. (Werner, pictured at right, points out that while Beacon Street is one of Boston's major thoroughfares, running from Beacon Hill down into the Back Bay, Brookline, and Newton, not everything associated with the new TEDx event will happen on Beacon Street.)

Unlike other TEDx events in Boston so far, TEDxBeaconStreet will include a significant number of elementary, middle, and high school kids in the audience, Werner says. And in addition to featuring speakers like Boston Scientific co-founder John Abele and David Page of the Whitehead Institute, TEDxBeaconStreet will serve up "adventures" before and after the conference itself. Adventures offer a chance to visit interesting places around town and meet the people who run them. Werner had introduced the idea of adventures as a feature of TEDxBoston, but that event no longer puts them on.

Werner says that TEDxBeaconStreet's adventures this year will include a visit to the medical simulation lab at UMass Medical School; a walking tour of Boston's Innovation District with city planner Kairos Shen; and a conversation with screenwriter Aaron Stockard, who wrote "The Town" and "Gone Baby Gone." MassChallenge and the MIT Museum will also be hosting TEDxBeaconStreet-related parties. Sounds like fun..

(Three other TEDx events to put on your calendar: TEDxNewBedford on September 5th, TEDxNewEngland on October 24th and TEDxFenway on April 13, 2013.)

This Thursday: Coffee for No Reason at Voltage, including some special guests

Posted by Scott Kirsner July 31, 2012 08:47 AM


My journalist pal Jimmy Guterman and I are holding one of our periodic Coffee for No Reason schmooze-fests this Thursday, August 2nd, at Voltage Coffee in Kendall Square. If you're part of the innovation scene in Kendall, or anywhere in New England, for that matter, you're welcome to join us. People introduce themselves... sometimes they do demos... there is occasionally free stuff... and there is excellent coffee.

Details: Thursday, August 2nd, 8:30 AM - 10:30 AM. Voltage Coffee, 295 Third Street, Cambridge.

Update: A few pics from the event are below.

Each time, we invite a few special guests. Here's who'll be there on Thursday (though not everyone sticks around for the full two hours...)

- Joe Chung, Redstar (@joechung)
- Mike Dornbrook, angel investor and former COO, Harmonix Music Systems
- Laura Fitton, HubSpot (@pistachio)
- Marina Hatsopoulos, Director, Tea Forte & Cynosure; founding CEO, Z Corp.
- Jennifer Lum, Adelphic Mobile (@jenniferlum)
- Rich Miner, Google Ventures (@richminer)
- Fareed Mosavat, Zynga Boston (@far33d)
- Sara Spalding, Microsoft (@saraspalding)
- Reed Sturtevant, Project 11 Ventures & TechStars Boston (@reedsturtevant)

If you can make it, there's no RSVPing. Just tweet (or mention in a Facebook or LinkedIn status update) that you'll be there. Use the hash tag #cfnr, and link to this post.

Pics below...


Nantucket Conference 2012: Audio, pics and tweets

Posted by Scott Kirsner June 13, 2012 04:02 PM
Just sharing some audio, tweets, and photos from last week's Nantucket Conference on Entrepreneurship & Innovation. About 150 entrepreneurs, investors, and tech industry execs descended on the island to scarf down lobsters and hear from speakers like Ben Fischman of Rue La La, Noam Wasserman of Harvard Business School, and Maria Cirino of .406 Ventures. This was the 13th year for the event, which started back at the peak of the first Internet bubble. (Disclosure: I'm on the advisory board for the event.)

You can see the Twitter traffic from the conference here. And there's a "tag cloud" of the topics discussed on Twitter here, courtesy of Infomous.

Audio is below. Click play, or "mp3" to download for later listening.


Ruby Riot 2012: Bold-faced names and pics

Posted by Scott Kirsner February 21, 2012 10:44 PM
There was a good half-hour at the start of tonight's Ruby Riot mixer at The Estate when you could circulate and schmooze easily. But once 500 or more people were crammed inside, and DJ David Gallant cranked up the music, conversation and circulation became a bit challenging. Still, you can't complain too much about a great party that brings together people from across the start-up ecosystem. Well, I can. With a roster of more than a dozen sponsors, the event had no free drinks and not a celery stick in sight. Really? The Boston tech community rocks, sure, but it rocks much harder with a couple of cocktail weenies in its stomach.

Here's who I saw:

Ben Einstein, founder of the new accelerator program Bolt... Fareed Mosavat, the new head of Zynga Boston... Jennifer Lum of Apricot Capital... Brian Shin of Visible Measures... Michael Pao of Uber Boston... Alex Pearlman of The Next Great Generation... and Mario Ricciardelli of HipHost.


Outside the club, party hosts Patrick Campbell and Matt Lauzon of Gemvara and Cort Johnson of Terrible Labs.


Waiting in line: Tom Summit of Wayfair, Paul Blumenfeld of Genero Search Group, John Landry of Lead Dog Ventures, and HR consultant Jennifer Neves.


Boston's 20 big innovation economy events for 2012

Posted by Scott Kirsner January 9, 2012 11:17 AM
Here's my list of big events happening in Boston this year. Some are home-grown, and others are major national conventions — like the annual conclaves of the biotech and cable TV industries — that are coming to town.

If I've missed an event you consider unmissable, feel free to post a comment.

- January 27: MITX's E-Commerce Summit

Boston's e-commerce community must finally be hitting an inflection point, since it now has its own one-day gathering. Agenda features speakers from Staples, Wayfair, Gemvara, and

- February 18: Venture Capital & Private Equity Conference at Harvard Business School

What better spot than Mitt Romney's alma mater to chew over the latest trends in the VC and PE industries?

- February 21: Ruby Riot

Just a big party, aimed at making new connections between entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, and techies.

- February 22-24: Offshore Wind Power USA

Regulators and developers get together at the Hynes to talk about the wind turbines they're trying to plant in the ocean floor.

- March 2-3: MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

Economists, team owners, managers, journos, and agents — plus the Godfather of analytics, Bill James — get together to talk about the role data plays in sports.

- April 6-8: Penny Arcade East / PAX East

Gamers (and game makers) from up and down the east coast converge on Boston for panels, demos, and concerts.

- May 3: TechStars Boston Demo Day

A new crop of 13 start-ups present their business ideas to investors and the media; there's also usually a section of seats for "community members," as well as an after-party open to all.

- May 21-23: The Cable Show

The cable television industry tries to figure out its place in a multi-screen, on-demand world. Last year's event attracted more than 12,000 attendees.

- June 3-8: Display Week 2012

The Society for Information Display brings more than 6,000 people to town for some show-and-tell about those things we spend all day staring at: digital displays.

- June 18-21: BIO International Convention

Biotech and pharma executives fill the Boston Convention Center to talk about products in development, hunt for financing, and hope to find distribution partners.

- June 26-29: Red Hat Summit and JBoss World

If open source, middleware, and virtualization get your blood pumping, you'll want to cancel your summer vacation plans and get to the Back Bay this week.

- June 22: TEDxBoston

A cavalcade of short talks by big thinkers trying to change the world, in science, technology, the arts, and the public realm.

- August 13-16: eTail East

Internet retailers talk about how they're using search engine optimization, mobile commerce, and flash sales to sell us more stuff.

- October 24-25: Inbound Marketing Summit

Conference focuses on acquiring and keeping customers using social media.

- October 24: IDEAS Boston

UMass Boston again hosts a day of presentations by provocative personalities, ranging from chefs to surgeons to museum curators.

- October 23-26: Future M Week

A week of events and parties, focusing on what's new and what's next in the field of marketing.

- October (Dates TBA): BREW Boston

Several weeks of panels, workshops, and parties for Boston entrepreneurs.

- October 25-26: Emtech at MIT

Annual conference on emerging technologies, organized by MIT's Technology Review magazine.

- November 16: Mass TLC's Innovation Unconference

The biggest tech gathering of the year, where the agenda is created by the participants on the morning of the event. Also features one-on-one advice sessions for entrepreneurs.

- November (Date TBA): Eighth Conference on Clean Energy

A two-day event that features panels on funding dynamics, start-up pitches, and discussions of new technologies.

(Note: I've left off several events that I'm involved with organizing, like the Nantucket Conference and Convergence Forum, since obviously I'm biased.)

Don't miss the only 'Coffee for No Reason' gathering of 2011

Posted by Scott Kirsner December 13, 2011 08:33 AM
Every so often, fellow journo Jimmy Guterman and I go out to grab coffee, and we invite along some interesting people. We call it Coffee for No Reason, and we're doing the only CFNR of 2011 on Tuesday, December 20th. It runs from 8:30 AM to 10:30 AM at Voltage Coffee in Kendall Square. The event attracts all kinds of people who work in Kendall Square, and elsewhere in the local innovation economy.

There's really no reason to go, hence the name. But you'll probably expand your network And sometimes there's some surplus swag being given away. (Often, it's new business books that Jimmy and I have received as "review copies.") There are no sponsors or speeches. The only cost is whatever beverages or baked goods you'd like to buy.

Our special guests at this edition of CFNR will include:

- Steven Kane, LuckyLabs
- Adam Medros, TripAdvisor
- Niraj Shah, Wayfair
- Victoria Song, Flybridge Capital Partners
- Nicole Stata, Boston Seed Capital
- Bill Warner, Co-Flow Investing

If you can make it, there's no RSVPing. Just tweet (or mention in a Facebook or LinkedIn status update) that you'll be there. Use the hash tag #cfnr, and link to this post.

See you there!

Should entrepreneurship be taught in more public schools? NFTE New England says 'absolutely'

Posted by Scott Kirsner December 6, 2011 08:16 AM


Anthony DeFelipo is a living, breathing, 16-year old argument for why entrepreneurship should be an elective at every public school. DeFelipo and a friend placed third at a recent Boston Startup Weekend event with a mobile app called BiteRight, and he's planning to launch a jewelry business soon, Earth Custom Designs, that will use non-precious stones imported from developing countries.

And DeFelipo tells me he probably wouldn't have discovered entrepreneurship if not for a course offered at his high school, Providence's MET Center. "I wasn't doing good. I got Ds and Fs. I had problems with showing up late," DeFelipo says. But ever since taking a course designed by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, DeFelipo says, "I found a passion in entrepreneurship. I carry a notebook with me, and whenever I see a problem, I try to think of a solution." (DeFelipo is pictured at right, holding a prototype piece of jewelry from Earth Custom Designs.)

DeFelipo is one of the speakers at Wednesday's nights "Friends of NFTE Showcase" in Cambridge. The event, intended to help NFTE expand to more schools, is expected to bring out techies, investors, and company founders such as David Fialkow of General Catalyst Partners, Len Schlesinger of Babson College, Mary Mazzio of 50 Eggs Films, and Doug Hunt of IBM.

Two decades after its launch, NFTE New England reaches 1000 students in 16 high schools with an elective course that is taught as part of the normal school day. (Thirteen of those schools are in eastern Massachusetts, including places like Chelsea, Lynn, Malden, and New Bedford.) That sounds like a tiny number to me — so why not get involved in helping NFTE grow? Executive director Jennifer Green says there are four ways that entrepreneurs can get involved: "We can always use guest speakers to inspire the students; professionals who can coach and mentor the students as they develop their business plans; judges for the business plan competitions we have; and people who can bring students out to visit local companies." Today, there are about 100 volunteer entrepreneurs working with the students. Again, that number should be a lot higher.

DeFelipo, now a junior at the MET Center, is a great voice for the organization. "Everybody has a spark inside of them that's just waiting to be lit," he says. "They just have to find something they're good at, and that they love. Entrepreneurship was my spark."

Tomorrow night's event, at Microsoft NERD in Kendall Square, is free to attend.

Secrets of Scaling: Boston CEOs talk about how start-ups get big (Audio)

Posted by Scott Kirsner October 31, 2011 12:47 PM


Sharing some audio from a session I led at last Friday's Innovation Unconference...featuring a line-up of seven local CEOs talking about how their companies made it big, and sharing their advice with the start-ups in the audience.

The speakers were (from left):

- Michael Simon, CEO and co-founder, LogMeIn
- Scott Griffith, CEO, Zipcar
- Gail Goodman, CEO, Constant Contact
- Niraj Shah, CEO and co-founder, WayFair (formerly CSN Stores)
- Colin Angle, CEO and co-founder, iRobot
- Paul English, CTO and co-founder,
- Matt Lauzon, CEO and co-founder, Gemvara

My opening request to the speakers: tell us about one decision you made that you think was crucial in helping your company evolve from a small start-up into a major player. The audio was recorded on my iPhone, so you may need to adjust the volume here and there. Photo at right is from Jeff Bussgang of Flybridge Capital, who was in the front row.

Bussgang posted about the top five "scaling lessons" that the speakers shared, and Xconomy covered the session here.

Secrets of Scaling session, from the 2011 Innovation Unconference

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At Friday's Innovation UnConference: The secrets of scaling, from Boston entrepreneurs

Posted by Scott Kirsner October 24, 2011 08:37 AM
My favorite entrepreneurial event of the year is the MassTLC Innovation Unconference. Mostly because I have no part in organizing it... the energy is amazing... and it attracts basically everyone in Boston who is working on an interesting new venture. So I get enough story ideas to last me a couple months.

The unconference format means the agenda for the day is set in the morning, when participants have a chance to stand up and announce sessions they'd like to run. Last year, with some other journalists, PR professionals, and entrepreneurs, I ran a session called "Generating Buzz for Your Venture," during which we compiled a list of 43 pieces of advice.

This year, jumping off a column I wrote earlier this month, I'm planning to propose a session on how start-ups get big — the secrets to scaling a business. Joining me will be founders and CEOs like Scott Griffith of Zipcar, Paul English of Kayak, Colin Angle of iRobot, Gail Goodman of Constant Contact, Matt Lauzon of Gemvara, Michael Simon of LogMeIn, and Niraj Shah of WayFair. Update: This will happen in Room 312 at the Hynes, from 2:30 - 3:30 PM.

My plan is to ask them for one example of a key decision they made that helped the company scale — whether related to marketing, hiring, product development, sales, fundraising, or something else.

And then I'm hoping that we can work with the audience a bit, picking 3 or 4 entrepreneurs and talking about some of the challenges they're dealing with. What better sounding board could you ask for than four public company CEOs... one CTO whose company has filed to go public (Kayak)... one founder of an 800-person private company that just raised $165 million (WayFair)... and one twenty-something CEO of a venture-backed start-up (Gemvara) on its way to 100 employees?

Hope to see you there...

InnoEco is giving away three tickets to October's IDEAS Boston conference

Posted by Scott Kirsner September 28, 2011 08:16 AM

Screen shot 2011-09-27 at 9.24.09 PM.pngIf your life could benefit from a day of mingling with some Big Thinkers, you're in luck: the organizers of the annual IDEAS Boston conference have given me three passes to the upcoming event to give away to Innovation Economy readers.

IDEAS Boston started in 2004, with a goal of highlighting leading-edge thinkers across all disciplines, and this year it is being held at UMass-Boston for the first time. Speakers include documentary filmmaker Chico Colvard, entrepreneur Nathan Ball of Atlas Devices, Museum of Fine Arts curator Elliot Davis, Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig, and education economist Bridget Terry Long. It takes place on October 20th, and individual tickets cost $250. (Student tickets, and tickets for people who work for non-profits, can be had for $100.)

If you'd like to win one of three passes, just e-mail me or tweet me with the speaker you're most eager to hear from, and why. To e-mail me, just click my name in the column at right ("About the blogger"), or send a Twitter message to @ScottKirsner. I'll choose the three most thoughtful, funny, or passionate messages I receive by Monday, October 3rd at noon.

Good luck, and I hope to see you there...

(In the interest of full disclosure, the Boston Globe is a media partner for the event, and I serve on the IDEAS Boston advisory board. The Globe created the event in 2004, but no longer manages it.)

Audio, tweets, and coverage of last week's Nantucket Conference

Posted by Scott Kirsner June 13, 2011 01:59 PM
We held the 12th edition of the annual Nantucket Conference on Entrepreneurship & Innovation last week — an event that brings together about 125 founders, investors, and tech industry executives. (I serve on the advisory board that helps put together the event, and moderated two sessions at it.)

This year's conference featured public company CEOs talking about the process of going public...entrepreneurs talking about what happens after you get acquired... sessions on information security, social gaming, and seed investing... and a wrap-up session from "Crossing the Chasm" author Geoffrey Moore, one of Silicon Valley's top thinkers on how new technologies permeate society (or don't).

I'm posting some of the conference audio below (you can either play it here, or download the MP3 files for later listening). You can also see what people were saying about the event on Twitter. Here's coverage of the event from Mass High Tech, Jason Evanish of Greenhorn Connect, and speaker Mike Troiano of Holland-Mark. And if you've ever wanted to see your favorite tech CEO wearing a lobster bib, the conference photo montage will more than satisfy you.

Audio from the 2011 Nantucket Conference

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Audio: Convergence Forum 2011, with speakers from Biogen Idec, Ironwood, athenahealth and AVEO

Posted by Scott Kirsner May 27, 2011 08:00 AM
scangos.jpgSharing some audio from last week's Convergence Forum on Cape Cod, which focuses on innovation in the life sciences industry...

The event opened with a "fireside chat" with Biogen Idec chief executive George Scangos (interviewed by Fran Heller, a former colleague of his at Exelixis), and wrapped up with sessions on digitizing medical records and cultivating social networks of patients online, featuring athenahealth CEO Jonathan Bush and PatientsLikeMe co-founder James Heywood.

Disclosure: I serve on the conference's advisory board, and also moderated one of the sessions.

Here are the Twitter posts related to the conference, and here's a photo montage. Mass High Tech's coverage of the event focused on big pharma's growing hunger for new products.

Audio from the 2011 Convergence Forum

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Blimps, 'bots and brain science: MIT throws an open house tomorrow to mark its 150th birthday

Posted by Scott Kirsner April 29, 2011 12:56 PM

I should know better, by now, than to ever suggest that there's anything students can't learn at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, now marking its 150th birthday.

But when I wrote about an MIT spin-out, Altaeros Energies, earlier this month, I did just that, beginning the story thusly:

Graduates of MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics learn lots about lift, aerodynamics, and rocket engines. But they don’t learn how to launch and fly a blimp.

A few days later, we received an e-mail from William Litant at MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, explaining that that wasn't the case:

Freshman who take Introduction to Aerospace Engineering and Design use the knowledge they gain in the class to design, build, and race small blimps in our annual Lighter Than Air Design Competition. In fact, visitors, to MIT’s April 30 campus-wide open house will have a chance to see these blimps compete between 11 a.m. and noon in the Johnson Athletic Center.

I stand corrected (though the course Litant mentions is optional, and Altaeros' founders didn't take it.) And I suggest that you not miss MIT's open house this weekend, which includes dozens of different demonstrations and events. (The last campus-wide open house was held in 1980, so this isn't an annual kind of thing.)

Coinciding with MIT's open house is the Cambridge Science Festival, which runs from April 30th through May 8th.

Maybe we need to promote May as Nerd Mardi Gras here in Massachusetts, and start attracting brainy tourists from around the world?

MIT Sloan picks 10 enterprise tech companies to demo at the 2011 CIO Symposium

Posted by Scott Kirsner April 14, 2011 08:30 AM

Each year, the organizers of MIT's CIO Symposium select a set of fledgling companies to demo their wares for the IT execs in attendance. The companies must be start-ups with less than $10 million in 2010 revenues, focused on selling to corporate customers.

The ten companies selected this year include a bunch from New England. (The company descriptions below were provided by the event organizers.)

- Apperian / Boston, MA
Apperian, the leading Mobile Application Management (MAM) company, takes enterprise apps to a new level of productivity

- CloudBees / Lewes, DE
CloudBees is the first Platform as a Service that lets companies build, test and deploy Java web applications in the cloud. (Waltham-based Matrix Partners led a funding round last November for CloudBees.)

- Hadapt / New Haven, CT
Hadapt offers an adaptive analytical platform for performing complex analytics on structured and unstructured data, all in one cloud-optimized system

- Modo Labs / Cambridge, MA
Modo Labs makes class leading mobile software and empowers others to do the same

- Opscode / Cambridge, MA
Opscode, the leader in cloud infrastructure automation through the Opscode Platform, is a widely used hosted service for configuration management and infrastructure automation

- Performable / Cambridge, MA
Performable, a marketing software provider, is ideal for professional marketers who need to measure activity across all channels, take action based on real behavior, and optimize for the entire customer lifecycle

- Rypple / Toronto, ON
Rypple, a web-based software company, provides a social interface for employees to ask for feedback, set goals, meet one-on-one and share thanks

- Unidesk / Marlborough, MA
Unidesk is a new software that creates user-customizable, easy-to-update, and storage- efficient virtual desktops

- Virtual Bridges / Austin, TX
Virtual Bridges combines online, offline and remote branch VDI solutions to offer anytime, anywhere access to virtual desktops

- xPeerient / Natick, MA
xPeerient is changing the way enterprise technology is bought and sold to make it more efficient, more trust-based, and more effective for all the parties involved

The event takes place May 18th.

Momentum Summit 2011: Pics, blog posts, audio from event held at MIT Sloan

Posted by Scott Kirsner March 29, 2011 02:24 PM
I'm one of the organizers of the Momentum Summit, a gathering that puts the spotlight on local entrepreneurs who've built significant companies, and invites them to share some of the secrets of their growth. This year, speakers included the CEO of Carbonite (the fastest-growing business in Boston, according to Inc. Magazine), the CTO and co-founder of Kayak (planning an initial public offering), and a co-founder of A123 Systems (which went public in 2009, in that year's largest IPO). MIT's Sloan School of Management hosts the event.

You can find audio from each session, below.

Here's some other coverage of the event:

Here are a few pics I shot:

And here's the audio from the event (you can download each file for later listening by clicking the "mp3" link.) As always, some questioners started talking before the microphone could get to them; in most cases, the questions were repeated.

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Next week: A trifecta of events targeted at women

Posted by Scott Kirsner March 15, 2011 02:50 PM

Talk about the need for calendar coordination...

Three events in Boston next week all focus on women in business and technology.

Monday, there's the Women in Leadership Forum, organized by the Ad Club. Your host is WBUR's Tom Ashbrook (not a woman), and I'm moderating a panel (also not a woman), but I think we're the only two gents on the agenda. Female speakers include Emily Green, CEO of the Yankee Group; Pam Hamlin, president of Arnold Worldwide; and Maya Luz, a contestant from "Project Runway."

Wednesday, there's Mass High Tech's Women to Watch breakfast event, which hands out awards to people like Oneforty CEO Laura Fitton; Seeding Labs founder Nina Dudnik; and Sharon Donald, a division leader at Draper Laboratory.

Thursday morning there is the Advancing Women breakfast, organized by the Boston Business Journal (oddly, they are Mass High Tech's parent). Susan Windham-Bannister, CEO of the Mass Life Sciences Center, keynotes.

Friday, I am hoping someone will organize a symposium on whether attending too many events is productive or deleterious to womens' career trajectories.

Update: A couple more events are happening this week, including DigiGirlzDay (for high school students) on Thursday... Coffee hour with MITX president Debi Kleiman on Friday...and Geek Girl Boot Camp on Cape Cod, for women of all ages, on Saturday.

Audio: Founders of Carbonite, iRobot, CSN Stores and TripAdvisor talk about how they grew their companies

Posted by Scott Kirsner March 8, 2011 09:04 PM


I had the chance to moderate a panel this morning featuring the founders of some of Boston's most successful tech companies: iRobot (publicly-traded), TripAdvisor (most heavily-trafficked network of travel sites on the Internet), CSN Stores ($380 million in revenue last year), and Carbonite (fastest-growing IT services company of 2010, according to Inc. Magazine, and a possible IPO candidate in 2011 or 2012.) The panel was part of the Mass Technology Leadership Council's annual meeting, out in Waltham.

Among the topics we discussed:

- The moment when you thought your company might go under.

- The dumbest thing a prospective investor ever said about your business

- Biggest challenge to your company's growth right now

- How much hiring are you doing in 2011, and in what roles?

- Tough interview questions you ask, or challenges you present to candidates

- How you encourage innovation in small companies you acquire, or in far flung offices that you operate

We wrapped up by talking about marketing... including why Carbonite CEO David Friend grudgingly wrote a $1 million check to radio host Rush Limbaugh, and how comedian Dave Chapelle contributed to the success of iRobot's Roomba vaccuum cleaner — for free.

Secrets to Success: Inside Stories on Growth

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In the photo above are Stephen Kaufer, CEO and co-founder, TripAdvisor; iRobot CEO and co-founder Colin Angle; Carbonite CEO and co-founder David Friend; and Niraj Shah, CSN Stores CEO and co-founder. The audio was recorded on my iPhone, so it's listenable, but not the best panel recording you'll ever hear.

Winners of the first-ever Boston Hack Day Challenge

Posted by Scott Kirsner February 28, 2011 09:46 AM

It was great fun to show up at the Empty Tallboy (a/k/a Fan Pier) yesterday for the team presentations that wrapped up the Boston Hack Day Challenge. Twenty-six teams had been working since Friday night on Web sites and mobile apps geared to making life better in Boston. The judges (including this blogger) got to show up at the very end, eat mini-Snickers and swill bottled water, and act all judgmental. The event was sponsored by the Boston Globe and

hackday.jpgThe projects were each impressive in their own way, but we were asked to evaluate how much the teams had actually gotten done over the weekend; how much of a Boston focus there was to the app; and whether the app would somehow improve life for city-dwellers. We didn't have a chance to get hands-on time with the apps, but instead had to judge them based on five-minute presentations, which I'm sure short-changed some teams. The grand prize was an invitation to use Paul Pierce's private box for an upcoming Celtics game, but the judges decided to award a second grand prize, and Globe publisher Chris Mayer was kind enough to spontaneously offer a handful of Sox tickets to that team. (That's Mike Schneider of Allen & Gerritsen, at right, working the whiteboard in the judges' conference room.)

* Note: some of the sites below work...and some don't, since these are all relatively-fragile demos.

We awarded one grand prize to Boston Green (@BosGreenSpace on Twitter), which had built a simple, elegant iPhone app to help urbanites find green spaces in the city, regardless of whether a park is run by the Department of Conservation & Recreation or the City of Cambridge, for instance. The app supplies info about which parks are dog-friendly, which host concerts and events, and which ones sport great playgrounds for the kids. The other grand prize went to KnowEssentials (@KnowEssentials on Twitter), a text-message-based service aimed at providing information about food pantries, shelters, and social services to those who need them. The team also talked about making it easy for non-profits and government agencies to publish information about new services or offerings through their platform.

Best news-oriented project went to BigNewsBoston, which displays the hottest stories right now on, across a number of categories like sports, business, and opinion.

Best mobile app went to Drunken Stumble, created to help you plan a pub crawl, invite friends, track how many places you've been, and call a taxi at the end of the night to get home safely. (Not surprisingly, Drunken Stumble also won the "audience favorite" award.)

CanHazParking nabbed the "best Boston-centric" prize for an app that informs you, based on your location, whether it's OK to park on the street. Is there a snow emergency? Street cleaning? The app lets you know whether you "CanHaz" a spot without fear of getting a ticket, or "NoCanHaz."

Best use of geo-location went to Accessible Places, a mobile-friendly Web site that aims to collect information from its users about handicapped accessibility around the city, and then make it available to people planning trips.

Finally, the "most socially connected" award went to a team calling itself the Zombie Programmers, who had built a mobile app to estimate when a Green Line trolley will arrive, which would collect information about the trolley's whereabouts from other riders. We liked the reliance on crowd-sourcing to deliver information the MBTA can't yet supply.

We also gave a special commendation to Open Civic Data group, which promotes making information about cities — like the location of T stops or fire hydrants — more standardized and accessible.

We wished that there had been more prizes to dole out, since there were lots more deserving projects.

Here are some videos of the teams talking about their projects, shot on Saturday:

And here's a video wrap-up shot by the Globe's Suzanne Kreiter:

Changing the culture in Boston

Posted by Scott Kirsner February 25, 2011 09:27 AM

I was speaking earlier this week to a group of people who largely run established institutions in Boston, whether trade associations, think tanks, or non-profits.

My message, as it often is, is that we're in the midst of a cultural revolution: remaking the region's innovation economy, supporting first-time entrepreneurs in new ways, and breaking down barriers between college campuses and the business world.

Here's a list I shared of initiatives that I think are at the heart of this shift, making Boston a more permeable town — a place where connections happen much more spontaneously than they used to.

How many of these have you participated in or contributed to?

- DartBoston
- Stay in MA
- Greenhorn Connect
- OpenCoffee Cambridge
- Venture Cafe
- Startup Weekend
- TechStars Boston
- Mass Innovation Nights
- MassChallenge
- Innovation Open Houses (a series of events for students I was involved with starting)
- Web Innovators Group

(This isn't intended to be a comprehensive list.... but feel free to add others in the comments.)

Name checks and pics: Tonight's Performable office-warming party

Posted by Scott Kirsner February 15, 2011 09:07 PM
pf1.jpgNot every entrepreneur can publish a simple online party invitation and get a sizable slice of the Cambridge start-up community to show up for an office-warming shindig.

But Peformable co-founders David Cancel, Joshua Porter and Elias Torres — all of whom are well-known on the start-up scene thanks to copious blogging, tweeting, and prior entrepreneurial activity — packed their new high-ceilinged Central Square space with people on a frigid February evening.

Performable, founded in 2009 and previously based in Newburyport, aims to help companies turn more of the visitors to their Web sites into paying customers.

pf6.jpgThe party featured three elements essential to a great gathering: live music, free-flowing dark beer from a keg, and insufficient food. Here's who I ran into...

MITX board member and poet Don Bulens (who worked with Cancel at Compete) and Shareaholic founder Jay Meattle... Oneforty CEO Laura Fitton... TechStars Boston director Katie Rae... Blueleaf CEO John Prendergast (whose online financial management start-up shares space with Performable)... Tourfilter founder Chris Marstall and Brian Del Vecchio of Digital Lumens (pictured at left)...Svpply founder Ben Pieratt...Greg Raiz of Raizlabs...Chase Garbarino of BostInnovation...Reed Sturtevant of Project 11 Ventures...MassChallenge Chief Mentoring Officer Karl Büttner...Wendy Troupe of Terametric...Tom Summit of TalentGraphz and CSN Stores...Jules and Desmond Performable employee Alex Patriquin...and FitnessKeeper founder Jason Jacobs.

Greg Bialecki, Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economy Development, with David Cancel.


Compete president Scott Ernst, Bill Schnoor of Goodwin Procter, and Ted Dintersmith, once a Waltham venture capitalist, now a gentleman farmer residing in the Commonwealth of Virginia.


Serial entrepreneur Wayne Chang with Cort Johnson of DartBoston; Johnson recently left SCVGNR and is cooking up something new at the Dogpatch Labs space in Cambridge.


Onetime Harvard roomies Hugo Van Vuuren and Andrew Bialecki of Performable.


pf4.jpgCloudSwitch co-founder Ellen Rubin and Izhar Armony of Charles River Ventures...

First look: Inside the Museum of Science's newly-renovated Hayden planetarium

Posted by Scott Kirsner February 9, 2011 04:58 PM
zeiss.jpgIf you want to make the day's intra-office squabbles and your endless to-do list seem insignificant, nothing beats a trip out past the perimeter of the Milky Way galaxy. The journey, inside the Museum of Science's just-renovated Charles Hayden planetarium, dramatically improved my afternoon today. Sitting behind his control panel, planetarium systems coordinator Darryl Davis (pictured below) steered me around the universe, showing me the Beehive nebula, the orbits of Jupiter's many moons, and what the night sky will look like on our own planet about two hours after sunset tonight.

The museum spent $9 million on the planetarium's overhaul, including $2 million for a new Zeiss Starmaster Projector that's parked on a platform at the auditorium's core. It uses light and fiber optics to splash an array of stars on the planetarium's 57-foot dome, made of perforated aluminum panels. (There's only one other projector like it in the U.S.) Augmenting the Zeiss are two Sony high-resolution digital projectors, tucked away on opposite sides of the dome.

davis.jpgMuseum types don't like to brag, but it may be the best-equipped planetarium in the U.S. today. (The seats are comfy, too.) The resolution is so good that you can take a pair of binoculars with you — planetarium director David Rabkin lent me a pair — to bring the finest astronomical details into focus. The museum has also created a brand-new, half hour show, "Undiscovered Worlds," which explores newly-discovered planets that orbit stars similar to our sun.

Tonight, there's a press preview, and tomorrow night, VIPs will fill the planetarium's 209 seats. Among those expected Thursday are Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, New York City Mayor (and Medford native) Michael Bloomberg, and U.S. Senator Scott Brown. Friday, there's a "Tweetup Under the Stars," accessible only to a lucky few folks who are fans of the museum on Facebook or who follow its Twitter account. Saturday, there are shows for museum members, and on Sunday, the planetarium opens to the public (though there have been sporadic test shows inside it since mid-December.)

My take: there's no better mid-winter destination in Boston. (Especially if you play hooky from work...)

A dozen reasons to come to Coffee for No Reason, December 17th

Posted by Scott Kirsner December 8, 2010 10:00 AM

Coffee for No Reason is a gathering that fellow journo Jimmy Guterman and I hold very sporadically, and it lives up to its name. It's a deconstructed event: no sponsors, no speakers, no welcome speeches, and (thank heavens) no trade show booths. It's simply an opportunity to descend on a coffee shop, meet some new people who toil in the salt mines of our local innovation economy, and perhaps, if you bring along a laptop, an iPad, or an actual product, to do some show-and-tell and get some feedback. Beware, though: people who are too intensely pitch-y sometimes accidentally get lukewarm latte spilled on them. (Often, there are giveaways, too: new books, stickers, t-shirts, CDs, etc. So feel free to bring schwag with you.)

The next one happens on Friday, December 17th at Voltage Coffee & Art, a new hangout in Kendall Square, founded by noted barista Lucy Valena. It'll run from about 8:30 AM to about 10:30 AM.

We'll be joined by a dozen special guest stars from the innovation economy, including:

- Elon Boms, Launch Capital (one of the investors in Voltage)
- Fred Destin, Atlas Venture
- Laura Fitton, Oneforty
- Ric Fulop, North Bridge Venture Partners
- Jason Jacobs, RunKeeper
- John Landry, Lead Dog Ventures
- Matt Lauzon, Gemvara
- Bob Metcalfe, Polaris Venture Partners
- Eric Paley, Founder Collective
- Steve Papa, Endeca
- Katie Rae, TechStars & Project 11 Ventures
- Tim Rowe, Cambridge Innovation Center

Hope you can join us at Voltage on Friday morning, December 17th from 8:30-ish to 10:30-ish. The hash tag, if you'd like to tweet about the event, is #cfnr.

My picks for Boston Region Entrepreneurship Week events

Posted by Scott Kirsner October 8, 2010 08:07 AM

Next week is the meatiest part of Boston Region Entrepreneurship Week, being held for the first time.

Joe Caruso, an angel investor and start-up advisor, had the idea to create an umbrella atop a few big events happening just after Columbus Day, to highlight entrepreneurial activity around Boston, across all industries. The concept took off quickly over the summer, and what Caruso had dubbed BREW grew into what should more accurately be called BREESAMO: Boston Region Entrepreneurship Events Spread Across the Month of October.

Caruso has been an investor in companies as diverse as Coffee Connection (acquired by Starbucks), Softricity (acquired by Microsoft), and Constant Contact (publicly-traded.) His Web site also candidly lists, with a skull-and-crossbones, those portfolio companies that bit the dust.

Right now there are north of 100 events on the BREW calendar. Here are my picks of the ten that look most promising to me, in chronological order.

1. Entrepreneurship in the Life Sciences, October 12th

UMass Boston's Venture Development Center hosts a schmooze-fest and panel discussion.

2. Take Flight!, October 12th

Fundraiser supports The Engineering School, a Boston public high school. Donate $5, design your own paper airplane, and fly it against others for a chance to win prizes. (I'll be there, flying an airplane along with folks like Avidyne CEO Dan Schwinn, Mass High Tech editor Doug Banks, and Mary Lockshin of Zink Imaging.)

3. Using PR and Social Media to Generate Buzz for Your Startup, October 13th

Free panel discussion at a law firm's downtown offices, featuring local journos and social media guru Paul Gillin, author of "Secrets of Social Media Marketing."

4. MassTLC Innovation UnConference, October 14th

What's an unconference? It's a gathering where the participants create the agenda at the beginning of the day, and where attendees are encouraged to be actively engaged in each session — not just listeners. This one features a roster of industry experts who will sit down throughout the day for one-on-one meetings with the entrepreneurs in attendance, offering advice and guidance.

5. Harvard Business School Entrepreneurship Forum, October 14th

Staples founder Tom Stemberg discusses his career as an entrepreneur, board member, and investor, and a panel of four women founders share their learnings. Free.

6. Powered Up Boston, October 14th and 15th

Boston's videogame community gets together for a conference and expo, featuring speakers from Quick Hit, Linden Lab, Turbine, Harmonix, and Rockstar New England.

7. "How I Got Funded," October 19th

Free eventing panel discussion with the founders of SocialSci, Localytics, Assured Labor, and Retroficiency.

8. Brewing Your Business Dream, October 20th

Excellent: a BREW event at an actual brewery. The Samuel Adams Brewery in Jamaica Plain is the site of a free seminar on marketing, PR, managing cash flow, and more, designed specifically for entrepreneurs in the food, beverage, and hospitality industries.

9. MassChallenge Final Awards Ceremony, October 21st

Which of 111 start-ups will take home the big money in this first-ever entrepreneurship competition? The prize pool is $1 million in cash, divided up however the judges seem fit. Entrants are working on everything from airborne wind turbines to online music education sites to customized women's shoes.

10. MIT Elevator Pitch Contest, October 27th

What better way to hone your own elevator pitch — the way you'd describe your business in 60 seconds or less, with no visual aids — than by watching a dozen entrepreneurs do it on stage? A handful will win cash prizes. Free.

What'd I miss that looks good to you? Comments welcome...

The other big wedding of the summer

Posted by Scott Kirsner August 4, 2010 08:30 AM

AngleEbbel.pngNow that the Clinton nuptials are behind us, we can turn our attention to the wedding that really matters to the Innovation Economy crowd in Boston: that of iRobot CEO Colin Angle to Erika Ebbel. It takes place August 20th at the Kona Village resort on Hawaii's Big Island. I'll be hovering overhead in one the Globe's many helicopters, trying to see if any Roombas roll down the aisle ahead of the bride and groom, or if they've engaged a Packbot to shoot the wedding video.

Angle co-founded iRobot in 1990, not long after earning his master's degree at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, and he had a bit part playing an MIT professor in the 2008 movie "21," about the MIT blackjack team.

Ebbel is also an MIT alum, currently pursuing her PhD in analytical biochemistry at Boston University. Just after graduating from MIT, she was crowned Miss Massachusetts (the first MIT grad to win that crown), and later competed in the Miss America pageant. She is also the founder of the WhizKids Foundation, which dispatches actual scientists to elementary, middle and high schools to get kids interested science by working on fun projects.

Here's Ebbel in a video produced for the PBS Web series "The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers." She talks about mass spectrometers, learning how to wave in a beauty pageant, and her desire to contribute to a cure of Lou Gehrig's disease.

Diagnostics innovation in Boston: Audio from Convergence Forum panel

Posted by Scott Kirsner July 22, 2010 08:38 AM

dfa-test.jpgOne of the fastest-growing clusters of companies in Boston right now are diagnostics start-ups: companies like SynapDx, which is working to develop tests for the early detection of autism; T2 Biosystems, trying to pack sophisticated lab tests into portable devices; and Diagnostics for All, a Harvard spin-out that is creating cheap, paper-based tests for use in the developing world.

In the photo, Diagnostics for All chief executive Una Ryan is holding a postage-stamp sized test that changes color, after a drop of blood has been applied to it, to indicate how well a patient's liver is functioning. That's essential information if the patient is taking drugs to treat HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis.

At the Convergence Forum last month, Ryan moderated a panel that included On-Q-ity CEO Mara Aspinall, Seventh Sense Biosystems CEO Doug Levinson, Bill Pignato of Novartis Molecular Diagnostics, Don Pogorzelski of Genzyme Diagnostic Products, and Daktari Diagnostics CEO William Rodriguez. (Disclosure: I serve on the conference's advisory board.)

Here's the audio:

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A week of winnowing for MassChallenge

Posted by Scott Kirsner July 13, 2010 04:10 PM

John Harthorne, CEO of the MassChallenge start-up competition, tells me that this week a group of judges are working to winnow 300 teams of entrepreneurs to 100 finalists; they're hearing some company pitches in person; some via Skype from as far off as California, Spain and Argentina; and Harthorne says a Brazilian team even flew to Boston for some face time. Judges include folks like 170 Systems founder Karl Buttner, Raj Melville of nTag Interactive and BeFree, and Micah Rosenbloom from Brontes/3M.

The goal of the competition is to encourage start-ups to come to Boston — or stay here and grow. The hundred finalist companies (finalists will be announced later this month) will be offered several months of free office space at the One Marina Park high-rise on Fan Pier; Harthorne is expecting about 200 people to use the space, noting that each team has 2.7 members on average. (Some entrants already have office space elsewhere.) A few lucky winners will receive either $100,000 or $50,000 at the competition's conclusion this fall. The cash prizes will total $1 million, and all of the prize money, Harthorne explains, comes from private sponsors like Microsoft, Xerox, and the law firm Foley Hoag.

Bill Starr of MyLifeList, who'd been living in Venice, Calif. earlier this year, says the MassChallenge competition — along with a more active early-stage investment community here — persuaded him to move to Swampscott in March. The site, which encourages visitors to list their life goals and then supplies encouragement, was founded in 2008.

You can view other team pitches on the MassChallenge Web site.

The summer schmoozing slow-down

Posted by Scott Kirsner July 1, 2010 07:45 AM

July 1st marks the official start of the summer schmoozing slow-down: as everyone heads off on vacation, there are far fewer workshops, conferences, and networking events on the calendar until September arrives.

But a few events worth knowing about in July:

- The monthly Mass Innovation Night gathering on July 14th brings together a hand-chosen group of companies — this time focused on energy and sustainability — to show their stuff at the IBM Innovation Center in Waltham. The presenters will be talking about energy-efficient timber frame homes, "green" house cleaning, hybrid electric bikes, and more.

- On July 20th, Kayak founder and chief technology officer Paul English runs a seminar about recruiting, motivating, and retaining talented employees. It's free, and organized by the MassChallenge start-up competition.

- On July 27th, Boston University hosts a free event called "Tech, Drugs & Rock n' Roll," featuring live music, a keynote from BU president Robert Brown, and a peek at some of the promising scientific and engineering work being done at the school.

- On July 29th, the fourth annual TECH Cocktail mixer takes place at Microsoft NERD in Kendall Square. These attract start-uppers, marketing and PR types, and a few younger investors; it's usually a crowd large enough to arouse the interest of the fire marshal.

And MITX, MassTLC, MassBio, and MassMedic also have good stuff going on in July.

MassChallenge welcome party: Pics and name-checks

Posted by Scott Kirsner June 30, 2010 09:09 PM

party.jpgThe MassChallenge start-up competition threw a party this evening for all of the entrants — and the wider entrepreneurial community — on the unfinished 13th floor of One Marina Park Drive on Fan Pier. The beer was by Sam Adams, the food by Strega in the North End, the views by developer Joe Fallon, who was mingling in the VIP room.

Among the folks I chatted with: Dave McLaughlin of Boston World Partnerships... Christopher Mirabile of Race Point Capital...Olivier Boss of the Cambridge biotech start-up Energesis Pharmaceuticals, developing drugs for obesity and diabetes...patent attorneys David Feigenbaum of Fish & Richardson and Melissa Hunter-Ensor of Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge...Kabir Hemrajani of RiotVine...and Michael Raybman of WaySavvy Travel, a fascinating travel-planning site getting ready to launch its beta this summer.

A few pics...

foodie.jpgAndrea Dacayanan of 1Fastbite, an online ordering and reservations management system for restaurants, wanted me to use the more serious photo I took of her. That one was mysteriously erased.

MassChallenge CEO John Harthorne (left) and Fallon Company CEO Joe Fallon (blue shirt with tie.)


Kayvan Zainabadi, founder of Instant Nightlife (left), with Tom Hopcroft of the Mass Tech Leadership Council and Anna Uritsky of Vestify. Instant Nightlife is a Web site and iPhone app that helps clubgoers share information about what's happening at Boston clubs, like how long the line is outside the door, how many people are on the dance floor, and what the male/female ratio is like. It currently covers clubs in the Theater District, but Zainabadi says it'll soon expand to the Faneuil Hall area and Allston-Brighton. Uritsky says that Vestify will help entrepreneurs raise money online from individuals who may not have the net worth to be accredited investors; they're still waiting on SEC approval to launch it.


Angel investor John Landry of Lead Dog Ventures has a look at the Instant Nightlife app.


Joe Caruso of Bantam Group with Amit Kanodia of Lincoln Ventures. Caruso, an angel investor and start-up advisor, is working on a project to designate a week in October as Bostion Region Entrepreneurship Week, or BREW. (Yes, beer will be involved somehow.) You can join a LinkedIn group to keep up with the initiative.


Michael Gaiss of Highland Capital Partners with Landry.


Photos and audio from last week's Momentum Summit at MIT Sloan

Posted by Scott Kirsner June 28, 2010 01:39 PM

Just sharing some photos and audio from the first-ever Momentum Summit, held last Wednesday at MIT's Sloan School of Management.

The objective was to gather some of the founders, CEOs, and senior execs from the most successful Massachusetts companies of the past decade, and have them talk about how they grew from start-up to major player. (Disclosure: I was involved as an organizer.) Speakers included TripAdvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer; Constant Contact CEO Gail Goodman; Rue La La/Retail Convergence CEO Ben Fischman; and, surprisingly, Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith, whose company filed for an initial public offering a few weeks before the event — which often means an executive opts not to speak in public until the IPO happens.

Below are slide shows of photos I shot, and photos taken by Kyle Psaty of BostInnovation. BostInnovation also had some coverage of the event. There's audio from three of the sessions, and also this live blog from Greenhorn Connect, which captures much of what went on. (The Twitter stream is here.)

One of my favorite anecdotes of the day, which I'd not heard before, involves Steve Jobs calling Akamai (on April 1st, as it happened), and expressing interest in buying the company. Akamai co-founder Tom Leighton tells that story in his session.

The audio:

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(Apologies, but the other two sessions didn't get recorded due to an AV snafu.)

1. Form company, 2. Land project, 3. Get Emmy nomination

Posted by Scott Kirsner June 25, 2010 01:45 PM

fizzys.pngDave Schlafman and Evan Sussman of the Watertown-based digital animation studio CloudKid are in Los Angeles today to attend an Emmy Awards ceremony. It isn't the big prime-time Emmy Awards, but rather the "37th Annual Daytime Creative Arts and Entertainment Emmy Awards," which honor "the craft behind the many shows that grace the Daytime genre," according to the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which puts on the ceremony.

CloudKid won a nomination for Fizzy's Lunch Lab, a nifty PBS-funded Web site that uses videos, games, and simple recipes to encourage kids to eat better.

Schlafman says CloudKid was only formed in May of 2009. Shortly thereafter, the small studio won a $400,000 PBS grant to develop the Lunch Lab site, which went live in November 2009. Schlafman says its attracting 675,000 unique users a month, with new content added each week. PBS just gave CloudKid another grant to produce even more Lunch Lab material. "It could eventually turn into a series on the air," he says.

But right now, Schlafman says, PBS seems especially interested in developing Web content. "The number of kids watching TV is continuing to drop, compared to those consuming online video content," he says. "So many media companies still look at TV as the golden standard, but we're trying to find the sweet spot between TV and social gaming and interactive games."

Schlafman's former employer, Watertown-based Soup2Nuts, is also at the Emmy ceremony tonight, hoping for a win in a different category.

Data, deep analytics, and curry at next week's Enzee Universe

Posted by Scott Kirsner June 18, 2010 01:33 PM

About 700 folks will descend on the Westin Waterfront next week for the fourth annual Enzee Universe conference, put on by Netezza. The publicly-traded Marlborough company sells hardware and software to help big companies run their data warehouses. Netezza's customers buy the technology (average order size is $1.2 million) to crunch large volumes of data in real-time, like figuring out what coupons to give you at CVS based on your purchase, or to calculating the best routes for 18-wheelers delivering goods around the country.

"The over-riding theme of the conference," says Netezza chief executive Jim Baum, "is that you have all these intelligent devices collecting data, and you have social networking and e-commerce, and our customers are looking to get a competitive advantage from analyzing all of that." Netezza's newest product, TwinFin, is five times faster than its older systems, Baum says, and relies on IBM's blade servers, instead of the proprietary blades Netezza sold previously. (Blade servers supply processing power and storage, and like razor blades, they can easily be installed and removed in a large rack containing other blades.) Netezza still makes a special database accelerator card that enables the blade servers to work speedily with large volumes of data.

Speakers at Enzee Universe include Stephen Baker, author of "The Numerati," which looks at how data is changing the way we live and work; analysts from Forrester Research and Gartner; execs from Major League Baseball and Conway Freight; and Gareth Sundem, author of "The Geeks' Guide to World Domination."

The big party Monday night is a "curry banquet" prepared by chef Kuldeep Makhni, who has cooked for Queen Elizabeth, the late Princess Diana, Mother Teresa, Sylvester Stallone, and David Copperfield. That alone should be worth the conference's $475 ticket price.

You can follow tweets related to the conference by watching the hash tag #enzee.

IBM officially opens "Mass Lab" tomorrow, company's biggest software campus in North America

Posted by Scott Kirsner June 15, 2010 03:11 PM

masslab.jpgWednesday is the ribbon-cutting ceremony at IBM's "Mass Lab" campus spanning Littleton and Westford. It's Big Blue's biggest campus in North America devoted to software development, with about 3,400 employees. The company broke ground on the new campus in 2008, and folks started moving in late last year. Parts of the campus were once used by Digital Equipment Corp. and HP.

Among the pooh-bahs who'll be present tomorrow morning are Governor Deval Patrick; Greg Bialecki, the Commonwealth's secretary of housing and economic development; Mass Tech Leadership Council head Tom Hopcroft; MITX director Kiki Mills; and from IBM, Steve Mills, the senior vice president of IBM Software and Alistair Rennie, the general manager of Lotus (who is IBM's top exec in Massachusetts). Apparently, IBM chief executive Sam Palmisano must've had an important tee time tomorrow; he has yet to visit the new facility, I'm told.

IBM spokesperson Karen Lilla says that IBM first came to Massachusetts almost a century ago, opening a sales office here. More recently, the company has acquired more than a dozen Massachusetts companies since 2003, including Ascential Software, Cognos, WebDialogs, BowStreet, and Ounce Labs.

The event tomorrow will also include an announcement about IBM's enterprise mobile strategy, and some demos. Mills is expecting it to bring about 150 non-IBMers, including journos and analysts, to the new campus. IBM's other big facilities in Massachusetts are in Cambridge and Waltham.

Name checks and pics: Tonight's Web Innovators Group gathering

Posted by Scott Kirsner June 14, 2010 10:30 PM

webinno.jpgBig crowd, as usual, for tonight's Web Innovators Group shindig at the Royal Sonesta... so big that apparently the hotel's parking garage was turning away cars.

The audience favorite among the three presenting companies, both based on applause during the demo and a quick text-message vote that takes place at every WebInno, was DoInk, a Waltham-based start-up that makes it easy to create and share online animations.

In the "side dish" room were six start-ups including RelayRides, a company I've written about here before, and BirchBox, an interesting NYC start-up that sends women samples of beauty products in a small box each month, in the hopes of turning them on to new brands. The service will cost about $10 per month.

Here's who I ran into at the event: 

Husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Jon Radoff and Angela Bull from Disruptor Beam... Nabeel Hyatt from Conduit Labs... Joselin Mane... Gemvara CEO Matt Lauzon... Mass Innovation Nights organizer Bobbie Carlton... Rebecca Xiong from Yana... Tom Summit of Genotrope... Nick MacShane from Progress Partners... Gopal Shenoy from Gazelle... Steve McAveeney from Autotegrity... Catherine Arnston of The Naughty Nutritionist... and Dharmesh Shah from HubSpot.

It felt like there were fewer VCs than usual (has the summer vacation season started already?), but new guy Andrew Parker from Spark Capital was there; it was his first day on the job after moving back to his home state of Massachusetts from New York. He compared WebInno to the NY Tech Meetup event in Manhattan, which apparently attracts a similar crowd. Rich Levandov from Avalon Ventures was there, too; his firm is in the midst of raising a new fund. Levandov is an investor in Zynga, the Silicon Valley "social gaming" start-up that is among the fastest-growing companies ever, and also Cloudant, subscription-based database service headquartered in Somerville that came through the Y Combinator program.


PR/social media gurus Chuck Tanowitz and Doug Haslam were there, checking in on Foursquare. Haslam quipped that he recently realized it was time to get another haircut when he was ousted as the "mayor" of his local barbershop.


Karen Miller, co-founder and president of DoInk, at the start-ups demo table.


Coach Wei, founder and CEO of Yottaa, a Cambridge start-up funded this spring by General Catalyst and Stata Venture Partners.


Allan Tear, one of the managing partners of the Providence-based start-up cultivation program Betaspring, which rented a small bus so that the folks participating in the program could come to WebInno tonight. Only a few extremely busy (and anti-social?) developers remained in Providence, he said.

Stephen Sopp and Trapper Markelz of the Boston-based site MeYou Health, launching its beta later this summer. The site aims to help users make better decisions about their health by blending game dynamics, competition, and social networking.

At WebInno, entrepreneurs who are looking to hire people usually write the positions they're looking to fill on their name tags. Textaurant founder Josh Bob had written "Lion Tamer." OK, so what exactly does that mean? A head sales guy, Bob explained.

Hayley Barna of BirchBox.

Eric Andersen of IBM showed off the fancy black card he'd received from Boloco for becoming the Foursquare mayor of the sandwich joint's Natick outlet; it gives him a 10 percent outlet at any of the chain's locations.

On the way out, I bumped into Rajat Suri, founder of the restaurant tech start-up E la Carte.

Netflix for undies, and more, at Monday's Web Innovators Group

Posted by Scott Kirsner June 10, 2010 03:20 PM

asst-boxers.jpgI'm an unabashed promoter of the Web Innovators Group gatherings — especially to folks who are new to Boston, and even more especially to folks who've been here for eons but believe that we as a community don't know how to network. Just go to WebInno.

The free event brings nearly one thousand people to the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, to see three start-ups show off their products on-stage (the "main dishes"), and another six demo what they've built in a smaller room (the "side dishes.") Monday's event will feature DoInk, a site that aims to make animation as easy as creating a YouTube video; Milabra, an MIT spin-out that can analyze images on Web pages, in part to place relevant ads on those pages; and my favorite, Manpacks, a start-up based in Everglades City, Florida. Manpacks, "an automatic service for busy men," is like Netflix for underwear. You select a subscription level, and they send you a set of underwear, socks, and undershirts every three months. (Unlike Netflix, though, they don't want the goods back once you've used them.) Pay $24, and you get two sets of each, for instance. And it's up to you whether you get boxers or briefs, athletic socks or dress socks.

David Beisel, the Web Innovators Group founder who is planning to leave Venrock soon to form a new early-stage investment group, says that WebInno will go on. Beisel owns the event himself, separate from the venture firms he has worked for (Venrock, and prior to that, Masthead Venture Partners.) The events have had pretty steady sponsorship from law firms, banks, and tech biggies like Microsoft, Beisel says, adding in an e-mail, "WebInno is more than sufficiently well-funded to continue holding the events into the future," presumably with sponsorship from his new, as-yet-unnamed firm. (Beisel isn't officially confirming his plans to depart from Venrock now, or the timing.)

Miss this Monday's WebInno, and the next one doesn't roll around until September 13th.

Tech Stars Boston Investor Night: Pics, Boldface Names, Awards

Posted by Scott Kirsner June 2, 2010 09:57 PM

techstars-stairs.jpgThe annual TechStars Boston investor presentations tonight were a hot ticket: I'm told some people were turned away at the door for fear of violating the fire code, and Boston's digerati filled the 10th and 11th floors of Microsoft's New England Research and Development Center.

TechStars aims to help teams of entrepreneurs build a working product in three months, with as much as $18,000 in seed funding and mentorship from local investors and entrepreneurs.

All ten companies tonight were building Web-based businesses, ranging from online survey tools to social networking apps to customizable Internet radio stations. Two of the start-ups, Sparkcloud and Marginize, had received some sort of funding even before presenting to the audience tonight (Sparkcloud from Avid Technology founder Bill Warner, who helped bring the TechStars program to Boston in 2009, and Marginize from angel investors Joe Caruso, Jean Hammond, and others.)

techstars2010-2.jpgDuring the course of the evening, HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah tweeted me to let me know that he'd also decided to invest in Marginize — and the way he chose to let the company's founder know that was by using Marginize, a browser add-on that lets you annotate Web pages and see what comments others have added. "How very meta," wrote Shah. (That's founder Ziad Sultan, a former analyst at Longworth Venture Partners, at right.)

In the audience were folks like Rob Go and Lee Hower, who are working together on a new early-stage investing firm...NeoCarta Ventures managing director Jarrett Collins...Jim Savage of Longworth Venture Partners... Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital...Betahouse co-founder Jon Pierce, who also organized this week's first-ever Angel Boot Camp...Oneforty founder Laura Fitton, part of the 2009 TechStars Boston class...Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki...Google Ventures managing partner Rich Miner...Viximo CTO Sean Lindsay...ex-Microsoftie Reed Sturtevant...FastIgnite's Sim Simeonov...North Bridge's Dayna Grayson...Elliot Katzman from Commonwealth Capital Ventures...Steve Kane, Gamesville founder, angel investor, and master of the Twitter koan...Harmonix co-founder Eran Egozy...and Rich Levandov of Avalon Capital Ventures.


Katie Rae, formerly of Microsoft, mentioned that she'll be teaching a course with Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee at MIT this fall, along with the aforementioned Sturtevant. And Janet Kraus, founder of Spire and Circles, is joining the faculty of Harvard Business School this fall to teach entrepreneurship. (Rae is at left, Kraus at right.)


Richard Dale of Sigma Partners, who writes the blog Venture Cyclist, with Izhar Armony of Charles River Ventures.


Google developer relations exec Don Dodge, who maintains the blog "The Next Big Thing," with Gus Weber of Microsoft NERD and John Landry of Lead Dog Ventures.

techstars-gesh.jpgCommonAngels managing director James Geshwiler, who observed that I am one of his Foursquare friends, before correcting himself: "Or maybe you are just one of my square friends."


I was somewhat alarmed to learn that Ron Schmelzer, an MIT alum and one of the early Internet entrepreneurs in Boston, has (A) moved to Baltimore, where his wife is teaching at Johns Hopkins, and (B) started a baseball cap company called Zoptopz.


Shawn Broderick oversees the TechStars Boston program. He had a great sticker on his Macbook Air: "Those who say it can't be done shouldn't interrupt the people doing it."

OK, on to a few random awards for the entrepreneurs who presented, each of whom was impressive in his or her own way... (As with TechStars 2009, there was just one female CEO in the bunch, Francesca Moyse of Monkey Analytics.)

Most persuasive: Leon Noel of Social Sci, a site that intends to help scientific researchers conduct online surveys efficiently, dangling incentives (a free iPod Touch!) to entice participants. Noel presented first, and by the time he was done, it was easy to imagine every university in America buying a subscription to the service.

The Jerry Lewis Telethon Award: Marginize founder Ziad Sultan, for casually mentioning that he'd already raised $250,000 for the start-up, and just needed $100,000 more to complete his planned $350,000 seed round. (It worked, at least partially.)

Best Acronym Deployed: Appswell founder Daniel Sullivan, building a service that will help companies crowdsource ideas from their customers, talked about "HIPPOS." At big companies, HIPPOS make most of the decisions. Appswell wants to put that power in the hands of the customer. What's a HIPPO? The highest-paid person with an opinion. Love it.


Best Logo: Usermojo, trying to capture the emotions that users feel when they visit Web sites (like confusion) to help site designers improve the status quo. The colorful logo elegantly captures the concept that this is a product about both design and emotion.

Best Multimedia Demo: Brandon Casci of Loudcaster, an Internet broadcasting start-up that lets (paying) users launch their own radio stations. Casci showed some fun examples of how beta testers have been using it to create stations like "Infinite Accordion," a station that plays all accordion music, all the time.


Can't Wait to Use It Award: Jeremy Levine of StarStreet Sports, creating a stock market for trading shares of athletes and sports teams. Levine says it'll be legal for players to trade with real money, though for the World Cup soccer tourney, they're still using play dough. Every sports fan I know will invest at least $100, with StarStreet planning to take 2 percent from the sell side of every transaction. (That's Levine at right, pitching his "Big Vision.")

Appswell founder Sullivan mentioned to me that all of the TechStars Boston start-ups have found office space for the summer in Boston, to "keep the band together," as he put it. Most will wind up at the Cambridge Innovation Center's co-working space (thanks to a sponsorship from Microsoft that will pay the rent); a couple will shack up at Dog Patch Labs Cambridge; and one will share space in Somerville with Viximo. That's good news...and I'll be curious to hear whether some more fundings happen after tonight.

Innovation Month: What's it to you?

Posted by Scott Kirsner May 27, 2010 08:10 AM

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.)

And thanks!


- 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

- Rob Go: "We are in the early days of an entrepreneurial renaissance in Boston"

- 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

Jason Calacanis' Open Angel Forum coming to Cambridge in June

Posted by Scott Kirsner May 18, 2010 03:20 PM

Peeved about events that charge entrepreneurs an entry fee to present their businesses to angel investors, Jason Calacanis decided to create Open Angel Forum earlier this year. The series of events, held so far in places like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, is "dedicated to providing entrepreneurs with free and open access to the angel investors that they need," according to the Web site. (Calacanis is the founder of the curated "question-and-answer" site Mahalo and an angel investor himself, in companies like Gowalla and Blippy.)

At each event, Calacanis and his colleagues round up a roomful of angel investors, and select five local start-ups to present their plans. The first local Open Angel Forum will take place June 18th, at the Polaris-run Dogpatch Labs start-up space in East Cambridge, Calacanis tells me. Info about the Cambridge event isn't yet up on the Open Angel Forum site, but will be soon. For now, entrepreneurs can sign up using this form.

Update: Angel investor George McQuilken correctly points out that most (all?) organized angel groups in New England invite entrepreneurs to present to them sans cover charge. But that doesn't prevent other groups from organizing events here, as youngStartup Ventures tried to do this past spring, where entrepreneurs pay a fee for access to investors.

Pics from CEO field trip to Washington

Posted by Scott Kirsner May 18, 2010 10:50 AM

Boston's Progressive Business Leaders Network, a group of CEOs "committed to socially and environmentally responsible economic growth," was down in D.C. for a one-day conference last week, talking with U.S. Senators, Representatives, and White House advisors about topics like school reform, financial markets regulation, and how healthcare reform will actually play out in the market. There's a full set of photos here that includes folks like Jim Matheson from Flagship Ventures; Jeff Bussgang from Flybridge Capital Partners; Akamai CEO Paul Sagan; ex-Vertex Pharmaceuticals CEO Josh Boger; Mitch Tyson of Advanced Electron Beams; and Diane Hessan of Communispace.

I asked Tim Rowe, CEO of Cambridge Innovation Center, what he said to Rep. Barney Frank when he had his ear for a few minutes. (See below.) Rowe said via e-mail that he urged Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, not to let new legislation "screw up angel and venture capital investing. They are tinkering with the most healthy economic engine we have, and I do not think they had much appreciation for the distinctions between what [the Boston private equity firm] TH Lee does and what [Cambridge-based angel investor] Bill Warner does."


Here's CommuniSpace chief executive Diane Hessan introducing a panel with Rep. Frank and Rep. Michael Capuano that talked about "financial market regulation after the financial crisis."


Catching up with Foursquare co-founder (and Medway native) Dennis Crowley

Posted by Scott Kirsner May 14, 2010 10:00 AM

Sidling up to a bar or sitting down at a sidewalk table, your first thought may not be to whip out your mobile phone to let the world know you've arrived at River Gods or Stephanie's on Newbury. If not, you're not yet an obsessive user of Foursquare, the social network/game created by Naveen Selvadurai and Dennis Crowley. Hop around to enough places and you can earn a Foursquare badge like "Bender" (going out four nights in a row) or "Pizzaiolo" (grabbing a slice at twenty different pizza joints.) Check in to the same establishment frequently enough, and you may earn the title of "Mayor."

All spring, rumors have been circulating that Foursquare, which just surpassed one million users, is in talks to potentially be acquired by Yahoo, Facebook, or Microsoft for $100 million or more.

I caught up with co-founder Dennis Crowley yesterday for a quick chat. (He's a native of Medway and a graduate of the Xavieran Brothers High School in Westwood.) Crowley is on the speaker list for an event coming up later this month in Cambridge: Eat, Drink & Be Social, organized by Tyson Goodridge of Dialogue, a social media consulting firm. The conference looks at how the new media technologies are changing the restaurant business. 

Q. How do you see foodies and restaurants using Foursquare?

A. For foodies, it's very much about sharing experiences about the places you've been, the dishes you've had, and what you'd recommend to friends. When you go to a new restaurant, tips from your friends pop up, like "ask the waiter if they have this special thing." It's like having insider information with you. The other side is that restaurant owners or other local merchants can have a dashboard with analytics that they see: here's who is checking in most frequently to your business with Foursquare, here's how often Foursquare users come in. That's something we're just in the process of rolling out. We have about 2,000 people on it, and about 15,000 venues in the queue. The challenge is authenticating that someone is the manager or owner of a venue.

Q. Are you seeing more places offer incentives to customers using Foursquare, like discounts or freebies? That isn't something I've seen in Boston much.

A. We see them all over the place. The new version of the mobile app has a tab next to the venue name, so you can see who offers specials. Typical things are a free coffee or a free slice of pizza, or you can cut the line if you're the mayor, or you can always get a reservation after you've been there five times. Some places will write the name of the current mayor up on a blackboard.

Q. What's your favorite little-known badge on Foursquare?

A. I went to school at Syracuse, and we have a badge named after a food truck there, called Ziggy's Wagon. When you've eaten at three food trucks, you get that badge.

Q. I heard you made the rounds, talking with some Boston venture capital firms, but ultimately you took $1.3 million last year from Union Square Ventures in New York and O'Reilly Alphatech Ventures in California. 

A. There was a lot of interest in our Series A. We talked to everyone, but we really connected with Union Square and OATV early on. We know the Spark guys from Boston, and we like them a lot. [Partners at New Atlantic Ventures in Cambridge tell me they also considered investing in Foursquare.]

Q. How would you compare the VCs in Boston and New York? 

A. It's less of a Boston/New York thing, but there's a difference in the east coast and west coast vibes. I feel like the firms investing in consumer Internet start-ups in New York and Boston — they seem smaller and scrappier, which I like. Union Square basically has three partners.

Q. There has been a lot of attention paid to tech in New York lately, like the New York Magazine cover story that you guys were in last month.

A. There really is a big resurgence in the start-up scene here. The stuff getting started here had traditionally been advertising technologies. But now there's a wave of consumer start-ups. There's definitely a scene going on.

Q. Let me ask about the acquisition rumors. This week, the buzz is that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg came out to talk to you.

A. We're trying not to comment on all that, any of the meetings or fundraising. People read too much into it.

Q. But I guess I'm curious whether you intend to stay independent, or whether you are thinking you might sell. [Crowley sold his last start-up, Dodgeball, to Google in 2005.]

A. Long-term, we're looking at what's best for the product. Through grad school, and with Dodgeball, we've had visions for these things we want to build. We ask ourselves, "What are the best ways to get those things done?" We're always talking to a lot of companies and VC firms to get their thoughts on what the best strategies are.

Q. But your experience selling Dodgeball to Google, and not really having them continue to develop that service — that can't have been fun.

A. Just because we had a lousy experience with Dodgeball doesn't mean that interesting start-ups can't thrive at larger companies. We learned a lot from that experience, which could be useful if we wind up with a bigger company. Or we could stay independent and just continue killing it.

Q. I have to ask, what did you eat for lunch?

A. What time is it?

Q. 12:30.

A. 12:30? I haven't had lunch. But I did eat two breakfasts today.

Name-checks and winners: MIT $100K Business Plan Competition

Posted by Scott Kirsner May 12, 2010 10:40 PM

"Part of the reason MIT is so awesome," Jonathan Seelig just wrote in a tweet, is that "we just voted for a team with a founder with a PhD in concrete as the winner" of the MIT $100K business plan competition.

That winning idea would be Rouzbeh Shahsavari's C-Crete, which is working on a new kind of nano-engineered concrete that's stronger, more durable, and easier on the environment than traditional concrete.

(Seelig, now a venture capitalist, was part of a team in the very same competition a dozen years ago that didn't win, but was a runner up: Akamai Technologies, now part of the NASDAQ 100 Index.)

The audience prize went to Aukera Therapeutics, a company developing a new drug to slow down the progression of Lou Gehrig's disease. Aukera will take home $10,000 in cash; C-Crete $100,000.

Here's who I saw at the event (and the chilly pre-event VIP party, held in a tent outside of Kresge Auditorium):

In the photo above are $100K team members (and Sloan students) Brian Cantwell and Carrie Stalder. Cantwell told me that for the first time this year, the organizing team got some fancy silver $100K lapel pins (below left)...and competition alums got gold ones.

Also there: Ambient Devices chief operating officer Pritesh Gandhi and Gregg Favalora of Optics For Hire (Favalora's prior start-up, the now-defunct display maker Actuality Systems, won the competition a year before Akamai, in 1997)...Greg Bialecki, the Commonwealth's secretary of housing and economic development...Eric Paley of Founder Collective, who with Brontes Technologies was a competition finalist in 2003...Mass. Medical Angels co-founder Richard Anders, who told me the group has now invested in four start-ups...Luis Barros of the Mass. Life Sciences Center...Alex Goldberg of Canary Ventures and his mother Judith (their family endows the competition's top prize)...Sachin Agarwal, the early Oneforty team member who is now an interim marketing executive at Blueleaf, before he heads off to business school in the fall...Joost Bonsen, an MIT Media Lab prof who has been on a competition team eight different times, and who starred in one of several satirical videos shown this evening... and competition judge Bob Metcalfe of Polaris Venture Partners.

At right is MIT Sloan student and competition organizer Carter Dunn with Rich Kivel of Rhapsody Biologics, who is also chairman of the board of directors of the MIT Enterprise Forum.

Diagnostics for All CEO Una Ryan was another of the competition judges.

Rick Grinnell of Fairhaven Capital with David Barrett of Polaris Venture Partners.

Here's the team from SolSource, showing off a device that can be used to heat a home, cook food, or generate power in developing countries. (I am sure E.T. could also use it to phone home, if necessary.)

The evening's keynote speaker was former Reebok CEO Paul Fireman, who had also served as a competition judge this year. He showed many fuzzy Reebok television ads from the 1980s and 1990s to emphasize his point that the ability to communicate, not just develop a great product, is important for small companies that hope to get big.  But the actual message it sent to the tech-savvy, Twittering crowd? Spending millions of dollars to hire athletes to star in Super Bowl commercials is a pretty old-school way to get consumers' attention.

EMC customers convene at Boston Convention Center this week

Posted by Scott Kirsner May 10, 2010 08:12 AM

EMC kicked off its annual customer conference last night with a private concert by 1990s hit-meisters Counting Crows; the show was "sponsored by EMC Recovery and Backup Solutions," which I guess subtly underscores the notion that if you're not using EMC's data backup technology, you might be forced to go back to floppy-disk copies of your information made in 1994, when "Round Here" was climbing the charts.

EMC World brings about 8000 EMC customers and business partners to town (including representatives from Cisco, Dell, Intel, Oracle, and Microsoft), but all the keynote speakers are EMC bigwigs, including Joe Tucci, Pat Gelsinger (hired last fall from Intel) and Howard Elias. This year's big theme? Cloud-based services, of course.

The conference agenda is here, and the event's Twitter stream is here.

Pics, quotes, and audio from the 11th annual Nantucket Conference

Posted by Scott Kirsner May 3, 2010 10:20 AM

Wanted to share a few photos, comments, and a bit of audio from last week's Nantucket Conference on Entrepreneurship & Innovation. It brought about 150 founders, CEOs, and investors to the island for the 11th time, to talk about building great companies in New England. (In the interest of disclosure, I should mention that I serve on the advisory board that helps plan and run the event.)

You can read the Twitter stream from the event here...a blog post from Mass TLC president Tom Hopcroft here, about a session on building big companies in New England... entrepreneur and angel investor Chris Maeda wonders on his blog whether we're entering a golden age of angel investing...  and there's some Mass High Tech coverage here and here.

Here's the complete audio from two sessions (apologies, but audience questions were unmiked): 

1. The opening panel of CEOs, moderated by Bouzha Cookman, talking about how CEOs grow companies — and how they grow with their companies. The CEOs included Bob Brennan of Iron Mountain, Diane Hessan of CommuniSpace, Rob Seaver of Vivox, and Scott Savitz of Shoebuy.

2. A session with A123 Systems chairman Desh Deshpande and CEO David Vieau, talking about the battery company's evolution from start-up to the most successful IPO of 2009 (and beyond.) Moderated by Nick d'Arbeloff, the founding president of the New England Clean Energy Council.

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A few paraphrased comments that struck me as interesting... and which got "re-tweeted" a bunch on Twitter.

Paul English of Kayak: when someone recommends a talented person to me that belongs at Kayak, the clock starts ticking. I give myself seven days to find them and hire them. They're in color, and my whole world turns to black-and-white.

Kwin Kramer of Oblong Industries noted that selling technology to deep-pocketed big companies is a challenge: in a 30,000-person company, 24,500 people are the wrong person to talk to, 499 are sort of the right person, and one person can actually write the check to buy what you're selling.

Brad Feld of Foundry Group and TechStars: Most successful entrepreneurs are obsessed with product.

iRobot CEO Colin Angle said that when the company tried to come up with names on their own for their robotic vaccuum cleaner, the top vote-getter was the CyberSuck. #2? Dust Puppy. A naming firm came up with Roomba.

Wrestling with battery technology that wasn't developing fast enough, A123 Systems CEO David Vieau said that sometimes it's hard to know whether more engineering will get you past what seems like a tough barrier, or whether there is a Grand Canyon between you and your goal. (A123 eventually changed courses and pursued a different battery chemistry, called nanophosphate.)

Desh Desphande said that every start-up company makes four big decisions a week. They get two right, and two wrong. The difference between success and failure is identifying the wrong ones quickly enough to rectify them.

Opening up his interview (via Skype) of entrepreneur and angel investor Jason Calacanis, who was in southern California, Bob Metcalfe says he has always been a big believer in transporting our bits, not our atoms.

For Internet start-ups today, Calacanis said, the opportunities are greater today than they were in 1995 or 1999.

Given that Boston doesn't have Silicon Valley's scale, we should leverage collaboration, support networks, and our intimate size to build great companies here, Calacanis suggested.

Calacanis: Everything truly innovative is both a scam and a game-changer.

Some pics:

Steve Zamierowski of Deloitte and MITX board member Don McLagan waiting to board the fast ferry from Hyannis to Nantucket.

Harry West and Ed Milano of Continuum, the West Newton design consultancy, get ready to lead a workshop on "design as a strategic asset."

Matt Pierson, chairman of JitterGram and the New Hampshire High Technology Council.

Larry Bohn of General Catalyst and Dharmesh Shah, chief technology officer and co-founder of HubSpot.

Portrait Software CEO Luke McKeever speaks on a panel about doing business globally.

Lilliputian Systems CEO Ken Lazarus (behind white pitcher) speaks as part of a break-out session on working with venture capitalists.

Left to right: iRobot CEO Colin Angle, Erika Ebbel of the non-profit Science from Scientists, and Michael Greeley of Flybridge Capital Partners at a lunch discussion on building big companies in New England. 

Desh Deshpande of Sparta Group chats with Bill Warner, angel investor and founder of Avid Technology.

Carbonite CEO David Friend prepares for a panel on developing products for consumers, which I moderated. Friend, who described himself as an ACLU member, said one of his toughest marketing decisions was spending $2 million on advertising with conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh — which proved effective for the company.

The conference's closing lunch, on the patio outside the Jared Coffin House, where most conference sessions were held.

War-gaming the evolution of China's smart grid

Posted by Scott Kirsner April 27, 2010 07:49 AM

Competitive intelligence guru Leonard Fuld is bringing together about 35 business school students in Cambridge tomorrow for a day-long "war game" exercise: which American companies will benefit most as China spends an estimated $100 billion creating a smart electrical grid over the next decade?

Cisco executives have said that the smart grid opportunity — developing a more intelligent way of distributing electricity and understanding the demand for it — could be 100 or 1,000 times bigger than the Internet, and Jeff Immelt, GE's chairman, has called it the "greatest investment opportunity in the first half of the 21st century."

Teams of MBA students from schools like Northwestern, MIT, Wharton, and Yale will role-play the leaders of four companies: Cisco, GE, IBM, and Siemens. Fuld tells me that about one-third of the students have worked in China, and most are planning to go into the energy sector upon graduating. They each received a 100-page briefing book in advance of tomorrow's day-long strategy game.

"China is going to be doling out $10 billion a year to make sure their smart grid gets built in the next ten years," says Fuld, "and most of the companies involved will be U.S. and E.U. companies." One interesting geopolitical wrinkle, of course, is that these companies could be helping China become "more powerful than the U.S., building electrical distribution systems way out into the hinterlands," Fuld says. "All this is going to add to China's capability as a global power."

Judges of the war game include a Marco DiCapua, a former U.S. Department of Energy official who has worked in China and Denis Simon, who heads the Program on U.S.-China Technology at Penn State. 

Fuld's Cambridge competitive intelligence firm was founded in 1979; they've been helping corporate customers run war game scenarios for the past decade or so, in industries like healthcare, consumer goods, and technology. "Customers want to do these when they have patents expiring, big mergers happening, or regulatory changes — something upsetting the balance," he says. 

The winning team at Wednesday's war game will get $5000, and Fuld says he'll publish results and video afterward on his blog.

Name checks: Tonight's book party for 'Mastering the VC Game'

Posted by Scott Kirsner April 26, 2010 09:22 PM

Here is some advice on making your parents proud: when you throw the party to celebrate the publication of your first book, invite them... and invite the governor to stop by and say some nice things about the role you and your venture capital firm play in the Massachusetts economy.

Gov. Deval Patrick stopped by Microsoft NERD tonight, at the shindig marking the launch of Jeffrey Bussgang's "Mastering the VC Game." (Bussgang works at Boston's Flybridge Capital Partners.) He joked that many of the people who buy Bussgang's $25 book will one day hit him up for an investment....and also thanked party host Microsoft for adding new jobs in the state, especially before his upcoming election in November.

Here's who I saw at the party:

Rob Go (left), freshly departed from his senior associate gig at Spark Capital...MIT prof Howard Anderson...Michelle Dipp of Sirtris/GlaxoSmithKline and managing partner Christian Bailey of IncTank Ventures...Juan Enriquez of Biotechnomy...Maggie Pax of MicroCHIPs...Bilal Zuberi of General Catalyst and Dayna Grayson from North Bridge...Don McLagan, noted poet and member of the MITX board of directors...Udi Meirav of Stata Venture Partners and Jo Tango of Kepha Partners...Amit Kanodia of Lincoln Ventures...reporter/editor/blogger Dan Primack of lawyer Bill Schnoor from Goodwin Procter...Eric Paley of Founder Collective...Oneforty founder Laura Fitton and Jason Evanish of Oneforty and Greenhorn Connect...and general counsel Winston Henderson of SurfaceLogix. (All of Bussgang's partners from Flybridge were present, too, of course.)

Here's Lucy McQuilken of Intel Capital with Greg Raiz of Raizlabs:

John Wall of the "Marketing Over Coffee" podcast with Mike Champion of Oneforty:

Jon Karlen of Flybridge Capital Partners sporting his bright green New England Clean Energy Council vest:

And Roy Hirshland of T3 Advisors talking with Eric Hjerpe of Kepha Partners:


MIT CIO conference announces 'innovation showcase' participants

Posted by Scott Kirsner April 22, 2010 09:00 AM

The MIT Sloan CIO Symposium doesn't happen until May 19th, but today they're announcing the ten start-up companies that'll be part of the "innovation showcase" at the event. These are early-stage IT companies with promising technology that'll get to demo their wares for the 600 or so chief information officers and tech execs in attendance. They were picked by a group of judges including David Verrill, executive director of MIT's Center for Digital Business and managing director of Hub Investment Group, and a number of local investors and entrepreneurs. 

Four of the ten companies are from Massachusetts. They're listed below (with the buzzword-studded descriptions of what they do provided by MIT):

· Buzzient / Cambridge, MA
Buzzient makes social media actionable for global enterprises by providing a next-generation solution for analytics and integration of this valuable content with enterprise applications.

· CloudSwitch / Burlington, MA
CloudSwitch helps users migrate existing enterprise applications to the cloud simply and securely, without re-architecting the application or changing your management tools.

· Copiun / Marlborough, MA
Copiun offers an enterprise-class solution for distributed PC and laptop data management, storage and search.

· Digital Reef / Boxborough, MA
Digital Reef is the most scalable and open solution for e-discovery and digital information governance, empowering corporations, law firms, and service providers.

The report from Chirp, Twitter's first gathering of its developer ecosystem

Posted by Scott Kirsner April 15, 2010 09:15 AM

About a thousand folks who develop applications related to Twitter gathered in San Francisco yesterday for Chirp, Twitter's first-ever developers conference. 

Cambridge-based Oneforty, a site that serves as a marketplace for Twitter-related apps, helped throw what was the big pre-conference party on Tuesday night. And two Boston-area investors, Bijan Sabet from Spark Capital (who serves on Twitter's board) and Mike Hirshland from Polaris Venture Partners, were on a panel yesterday about investing in the Twitter ecosystem. Former Skyhook Wireless evangelist Ryan Sarver, now working at Twitter, was also on the agenda, talking about Twitter's platform roadmap.

The minor news announced before Chirp was Twitter's acquisition of Tweetie, a one-man start-up which makes an iPhone and desktop client for viewing and posting Twitter messages. And the major news was Twitter's new advertising model, which involves highlighting tweets from paid sponsors.

I asked Sabet and Hirshland via e-mail for their take on the gathering.

Hirshland said he sensed the "latent tension between developers and Twitter," noting that the "elephant in the room is that Twitter pursuing [its] own business necessarily involves some conflict with the developer ecosystem. Twitter and developers both need to figure out how the post-business-model Twitter can still support [a] great developer community."

Not surprising that Sabet, whose Newbury Street firm is an investor in Twitter, had a slightly different take. "Amazing how much the entire Twitter ecosystem has grown," he wrote, observing that there are now more than 100,000 Twitter-related apps. "It's wonderful to see this much energy." Sabet says that new Twitter features like @anywhere (which makes it possible to integrate more Twitter functionality into other Web sites) and annotations (which allows labels, tags, and other metadata to be added to tweets) "will make the platform that much richer for developer innovation." 

I also caught up with Mike Langford, who runs Westborough-based Tweetworks, just as he was leaving the conference yesterday afternoon. 

Langford's opinion is that Twitter's new advertising model will be "good for the ecosystem." (People who create Twitter apps or Twitter-related sites can show sponsored Tweets and share in the revenue 50-50 after costs, similar to the way Google's AdSense network generates earnings for Web publishers.) "It gives developers a mechanism for them to monetize their work, and it doesn't eliminate other monetization strategies you may want to have, like banner ads or pro-level accounts."

Echoing some of Hirshland's comments, Langford said he sensed some unease among his fellow developers about other companies Twitter might acquire; no tiny start-up wants to suddenly find itself competing with the mothership. "I think it is hard to be clear on what the division is going to be between what Twitter wants to do and what developers can do," Langford said. "That's important for developers to be clear on, and the investment community that may put money into developers."

As I finished my chat with Langford, he mentioned that he was boarding a bus for the Chirp "Hack Day" event, which ran all night last night and continues today.

Name checks: Last night's Koch Institute fundraiser

Posted by Scott Kirsner April 7, 2010 01:11 PM

Quite an impressive group of investors, entrepreneurs, and scientific researchers gathered at a swanky Concord manse last night for a fundraising event for MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; the evening's entertainment was a talk by renowned MIT researcher Bob Langer about his work developing new drug delivery systems to combat cancer.

Here's who I saw: Koch Institute executive director Robert Urban, MIT giving officer O'Neil Outar, and Bob Metcalfe of Polaris Venture Partners (at right.) Polaris, which has helped fund scads of start-ups spawned by Langer's MIT lab, was well represented at the event: founding partner Terry McGuire was there, as was Alan Crane.

Other VCs in the house included Michael Greeley of Flybridge Capital Partners, Bob Higgins from Highland Capital Partners, Nick Galakatos of Clarus Ventures... Noubar Afeyan from Flagship Ventures...and PureTech Ventures founder Daphne Zohar. All that capital in one room was a good thing, as the Koch is trying to raise $150 million for its new building (due to open in December) and $100 million for its research activities.

During the cocktail hour, angel investor Jean Hammond was chatting with Lita Nelsen, director of MIT's Technology Licensing Office (pictured at left)...I also spotted Millipore CEO Martin Madaus... Raju Kucherlapati of Partners HealthCare's Center for Personalized Genetic Medicine...Alnylam CEO John Maraganore.... Synta Pharmaceuticals CEO Safi Bahcall....Sylvie Gregoire, president of Shire Human Genetic Therapies....Ken and Laura Morse....and MIT president Susan Hockfield, who, as a PhD neuroscientist, undoubtedly grokked much more of Langer's PowerPoint presentation than I did.

Benefactor David H. Koch was there, of course; his Kansas-based conglomerate, Koch Industries, is the second-biggest privately-held company in the U.S. "Some of my very favorite people in the world of cancer research are here tonight," Koch declared.

The Chorallaries of MIT, a student a capella group, closed out the night with a short (but rousing) performance. Appropriately enough for a fundraiser, the opening number was the Aretha Franklin hit "Share Your Love With Me." (That's The Chorallaries posing with Hockfield, at right.)

I would love nothing more than to one day endow something really big at the Koch Institute (perhaps the Scott A. Kirsner Pipette.) But my only contribution last night was $2 to the speedy valet parker who brought my car around.

Nobel laureate: If you want to get kids interested in science, legalize fireworks

Posted by Scott Kirsner March 31, 2010 05:02 PM

Lots of fun lunching today with Nobel laureates Philip Sharp and Sir Richard Roberts, and conducting an on-stage interview with the two immediately afterward at the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council's annual meeting. The two were awarded Nobel Prizes in 1993, for work they did independently on RNA splicing.

When I asked Sir Richard at lunch what we could do to spark more interest in science among young people, I was surprised by his answer: make it easier for them get their hands on fireworks. That, apparently, is what initially got Sir Richard jazzed about chemistry. "When I talk to my Nobel colleagues," he said during the on-stage portion of our conversation, "more than half of them got interested in science via fireworks." Blowing stuff up, apparently, generates excitement about chemistry in a way that staring at the periodic table of the elements just doesn't.

I also asked Sir Richard and Sharp where they feel the biggest opportunities are today. 

Sir Richard, chief scientific officer at New England Biolabs, mentioned stem cells ("this has to be the future of medicine," he said) and the study of bacteria.The human meta-genome — all of the bacteria and other organisms that live with us — is more interesting than the genome, Sir Richard said, suggesting that the National Institutes of Health ought to spend more money researching bacteria, some of which are known to cause cancer. 

Sharp cited genomics, and the declining cost of sequencing your genome. Better understanding of the genome will provide more information about the best way to attack diseases, and create all sorts of opportunities for pharmaceutical development, he said. (Sharp has been at MIT since 1974, and now runs a research lab within the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.)

Of designing treatments for individuals based on their particular genetic make-up, Sharp said, "it's coming, but [personalized medicine] will be accused of overhype for the next ten years."

The POPSignal Mix party report

Posted by Scott Kirsner March 24, 2010 11:59 AM

POPSignal is an occasional networking event that brings together people in the Boston tech community. Founded by Viximo's Brian Balfour and Jay Meattle of Shareaholic, they hold occasional giant come-one-come-all shindigs for hundreds of people (often at Landsdowne Street clubs), and also smaller gatherings of founders and investors that they call POPSignal Mix events. These you have to be invited to, or recommended by someone who is already involved with the group.

Last night was their first Mix event that brought together alumni of the five prior Mix gatherings, at the Enormous Room in Central Square. The room was too dark for decent iPhone photography (see the egregious example above, of Chris Keller from HubSpot and Matt Lauzon from Gemvara), but here's who was there...

BetterLesson founder Alex Grodd, happy to have landed a second round of funding from the New Schools Venture Fund... Sean Lindsay from Viximo... Marginize founder Ziad Sultan, who is working on the start-up full-time, and has moved from being an analyst at Longworth Venture Partners to an entrepreneur-in-residence.... Healy Jones from OfficeDrop (formerly Pixily), a former principal at Atlas Venture who helped William Sulinski of AccelGolf raise angel funding earlier this year (the mobile golf apps company has employees now in Massachusetts and Maine)... Anupendra Sharma from Siemens Venture Capital... Jon Pierce from Betahouse...and Rob Go from Spark Capital.

Ariel Diaz from Youcastr told me that we both once worked for the same management consulting firm, Lochridge & Company (though not at the same time), and we both hail from Miami... Dave Balter from BzzAgent was in the house, as was Flipkey founder TJ Mahony, now majority owned by Expedia & reporting in to their TripAdvisor subsidiary... Chris Sheehan of CommonAngels and Scott Friend from Bain Capital Ventures... Northeastern student and BostInnovation staffer Jennie White was scouting for stories, no doubt... but Google exec Rich Miner told me that a rumor posted to the site earlier in the day, that Facebook has a small development team working in Cambridge, possibly in Google's offices, was not true — though Facebook setting up shop in town would certainly be a good thing.

The aforementioned Lauzon said his custom jewelry start-up, Gemvara (formerly Paragon Lake)  is close to closing a B round of funding, but that Deb Besemer, who'd joined as CEO last year, is no longer in that post; instead, she's serving as chairman and coaching Lauzon, who is once again running the company. Guess some hires don't work out. 

Keller apparently got a new nickname earlier this month on the trip down to South by Southwest, when friends were mocking him for being the only attendee at that conference to not own a smartphone. (He still uses a Motorola RAZR.) They set up a blog and Twitter account to harangue Keller, whom they've dubbed Razrdude.

Making technology more touchy-feely, this week in Waltham

Posted by Scott Kirsner March 24, 2010 07:25 AM

Touch is the topic of the week in Waltham, starting tomorrow, when the Haptics Symposium comes to town.

It's mainly an academic event, but among the exhibitors will be Woburn-based SensAble Technologies, one of the pioneers of incorporating the sense of touch into computing. Their Phantom peripheral, pictured at right, is both an input and output device: when you hold the stylus at the end, you can do things like practice a surgical procedure or sculpt a block of clay into a prototype cell phone. Your actions are reflected in three-dimensional models on your screen, and you also feel the effect your actions are having on the object, whether it's skin you're slicing or clay. (The device in the picture is the Omni model of the Phantom, which sells for about $1000; more sophisticated Phantoms go up to $80,000.)

The company spun out of MIT in 1993, making it pretty ancient for a venture-backed start-up. Earlier this month, SensAble announced it had raised another $8 million from investors including North Bridge Venture Partners in Waltham.

The company's Phantoms (about 8,000 have been sold so far) are used by designers at companies like Mattel, Hasbro, Converse, and Gillette to shape new prototypes, but chief technology officer David Chen tells me the two biggest growth areas are medical and dental applications: surgeons can use it to practice a procedure on a 3-D model of your anatomy before they actually get you on the table, and dental labs are using the technology to "help them design crowns, bridges, and dentures," Chen says. York University in Toronto has also written software so that the Phantom can be used — with a stick attached — to test the skills of hockey players before the NHL draft.

The new round of funding will help the company build momentum in the dental industry, says Chen, adding that "our other business lines are profitable." The company has 45 employees, and VP of sales and marketing Joan Lockhart says the 2010 plan is for "very aggressive growth." None of the founders is still involved with the company. (I should disclose that I did some consulting for SensAble, helping improve its Web site, back in 1997 and 1998 when I was not working full-time as a journo.)

SensAble will be highlighting its QuickHaptics API at the Haptics Symposium this week, aimed at making it easier for software developers to build touch-enabled applications.  

Capitalize convenes Bostonians at SXSW for Sunday afternoon pitch session

Posted by Scott Kirsner March 15, 2010 03:30 PM

I'm sure quite a few entrepreneurs have pitched investors in bars. But I wonder how many have stood behind the bar, PowerPoint projected on a screen overhead, while two investors sit on barstools.

That was the set-up yesterday afternoon when Nicky Hajal, founder of Transissimo, participated in the Capitalize series of public investor pitch sessions at the South by Southwest festival. The series ordinarily takes place at the offices of VC firms around Boston, but the organizers put on a special edition at the Thirsty Nickel on Austin's Sixth Street. You can watch the video below, which features angel investors Dave McClure and Dan Martell sitting at the bar, asking questions and giving unvarnished feedback about Hajal's human-powered online translation service.

The gathering brought together an interesting sample of Bostonians (and a few New Hampshire-ites) who are here in Austin for SXSW, including Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot; Tim Rowe from Cambridge Innovation Center; Laura Fitton of OneForty; Jules Pieri of Daily Grommet; Blueleaf founder John Prendergast; Sim Simeonov of FastIgnite; Kabir Hemrajani from RiotVine; Betahouse's Jon Pierce; and Google exec Don Dodge.

The next Webcast of Capitalize, I'm told, will take place at Spark Capital on April 20th. Check the site for details.

How do you get to South by Southwest?

Posted by Scott Kirsner March 9, 2010 07:32 AM

Everyone knows the old joke about how you get to Carnegie Hall. 

But how does your band get to South by Southwest, the enormous music festival that descends on Austin, Texas next week?

You pay $40 to Sonicbids to submit your band's EPK (electronic press kit) to the festival organizers. This is the Boston start-up's third year of handling the submission process for the festival. The company sells a subscription-based service that helps bands market themselves and land gigs; it also helps promoters book bands for shows and festivals.

"For us, it's a great way to drive new customers," says Sonicbids CEO Panos Panay of the South by Southwest partnership. "We get several thousand [new customers] every year from South by Southwest. As part of the application process, you get a six-month free trial [of the service], and we hope you fall in love with it and stay on board." The company charges $6 a month for its basic service, and $11 a month for a premium version. 

Panay says the company has fifty full-time employees, and that 230,000 bands from 100 countries use the service (that's a mix of free trials and paid subscriptions.) Sonicbids raised $4.5 million in VC funding back in 2007.

Sonicbids also holds a big annual party at South by Southwest (it happens next Friday), and Panay says it's "open to everybody" (which likely means long lines.) The bands playing the party include Jets Overhead, The Uglysuit, and Boston's-own Cassavettes. If you're not in Austin for it, you can watch the Webcast here.

Energy innovation at center stage, in D.C. and Boston

Posted by Scott Kirsner March 5, 2010 09:26 AM

Many of Boston's energy entrepreneurs dashed down to D.C. for the early part of the week to participate in the first-ever ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit. (ARPA-E is the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency, modeled after the Pentagon's DARPA.)

The agenda included local folks like Peter Rothstein, senior vice president at the New England Clean Energy Council; Desh Deshpande, chairman of A123 Systems; and MIT prof Yet-Ming Chiang, co-founder of A123.

And the Department of Energy released the video below to coincide with the summit; it spotlights the work of Cambridge-based Sun Catalytix, an MIT spin-out developing new ways to produce hydrogen that has received $4 million in funding from ARPA-E; Sun Catalytix co-founder (and MIT faculty member) Dan Nocera was down in D.C. for the event, and the video was briefly highlighted this week on the White House's homepage.

At the summit, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that his agency was making $100 million in stimulus funding available for research projects in three areas, including large-scale energy storage technologies.

Cambridge's Greentech Media has some great analysis of the event, headlined: "ARPA-E(mpty): Fantastic Program; Not Enough Money."

Today and tomorrow, MIT has the student-organized MIT Energy Conference at the Sheraton Hotel in Boston.

And next week's big energy-related event, Going Green East, takes place at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston; the agenda is full of local venture capitalists and CEOs.

The Next Coffee for No Reason

Posted by Scott Kirsner December 17, 2009 11:23 AM
What is Coffee for No Reason? 

It's an occasional gathering of people who work in tech, biotech, media, and the wider start-up world. The objective? To drink coffee together for absolutely no reason. Essentially, it's a chance to take a break from work, meet some interesting people, and hear what they're up to. (The other devious purpose is that my co-host, Jimmy Guterman, and I use the event as an excuse to give away free copies of all of the business/tech books we've accumulated in recent months.)

So here's how it works: we'll be in the front room of the Kendall Square Cosi on Wednesday, December 23rd from 9 to 11 AM. The next event is Friday, March 12th from 9 to 11 AM.  You stop by to say hello and drink some coffee (and perhaps grab a book. If you have goodies of your own to give away, that's great, too.) 

Depending on whom you meet and what you discuss, your productivity for the day will either be raised or lowered....we make no guarantees.

The Twitter hash tag for the event is #cfnr. If you're coming, tweet about it to let others know...

Pics from Friday's 10th anniversary party at Cambridge Innovation Center

Posted by Scott Kirsner December 5, 2009 09:25 AM

I was feeling ancient Friday night, remembering when I attended the grand opening party at what was then called Cambridge Incubator, in the spring of 2000. I'd just started writing a weekly column for the Globe called @large.

Now, it's called the Cambridge Innovation Center, and over the past ten years, it has been home to an energetic, constantly-changing collection of start-ups, investors, recruiters, PR firms, and foreign trade missions. It has become a magnet for entrepreneurs, especially those spinning out from MIT (which happens to own the building that houses CIC.) Friday was the big 10th anniversary celebration, which began in the afternoon and lasted into the night.

As I arrived, I bumped into Greg Bialecki, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, who'd given a short speech to kick things off.

Here are a few iPhone photos I took:


CIC founder Tim Rowe with Jason Schupbach, the creative economy industry director at the Mass. Department of Business Development.


Events For Your Consideration, Before Egg Nog Season Arrives...

Posted by Scott Kirsner November 30, 2009 07:34 AM

Before the holiday parties start crowding the calendar later this month, here are five events worth knowing about this week and next:

- David Vieau, CEO of the latest Massachusetts company to go public, A123 Systems, delivers one of the keynotes at the MIT Venture Capital Conference this Friday, at the Westin Copley Place. Tickets are $400 (student tix were $35, but they're sold out.)

- Also happening Friday is what'll likely be one of the biggest tech parties of the year. It's at the Cambridge Innovation Center, which ten years ago opened its doors as Cambridge Incubator. (Invite-only, sorry.) Tim Rowe and his team there have packed the high-rise at One Broadway on the edge of the MIT campus with scads of interesting start-up companies, investors, and service providers.

- Startup Weekend begins Friday and runs through Sunday evening. Teams of techies and entrepreneurs race to prototype business concepts and build demos by the end of the weekend. It's hosted at Microsoft's Cambridge R&D center, and the cost is $75, which includes a t-shirt and seven (!) meals.

- The final 2009 editions of Web Innovators Group and Mass. Innovation Night take place on December 7th and December 9th. Both cater to early-stage entrepreneurs, mostly in tech, mobile, and Web services.

Understanding the Healthcare IT Opportunity: Audio from Panel Discussion

Posted by Scott Kirsner November 24, 2009 12:18 PM

I moderated a panel last week at the Association for Corporate Growth fall conference, an agglomeration of dealmakers. Speakers included Picis CEO Todd Cozzens, Athenahealth CFO Carl Byers, Terry Hyman of Flexpoint Ford, and Peter van der Goes Jr. of Goldman Sachs.

We talked about how federal stimulus will affect healthcare IT companies; opportunities in the space; some of the challenges of deploying electronic health records (EHRs); and the M&A and IPO dynamics of the sector.

The complete panel, with questions, is about an hour long. The MP3 version is here, or just click play below.

I'm Joining the Open Office Hours Movement, November 24th

Posted by Scott Kirsner November 20, 2009 07:44 PM

I think there's a new trend surfacing in Boston: the Open Office Hours movement.

The idea is that you create a time slot in your busy schedule when anyone can come meet with you and get some free face time (and perhaps some good advice.) Basically, there are no strings attached -- it's just a chance to get a slice of your attention somewhere other than a cocktail party or conference hallway. You might do it in your office, or at a cafe or other public place. You might ask people to sign up in advance, or just show up. Open Office Hours get announced via blogs and Twitter.

Venture capitalist Chip Hazard of Flybridge is holding Open Office Hours on December 9th (advance sign-up required). Rob Go of Spark Capital held them earlier this month in Kendall Square. Dogpatch Labs, a start-up workspace operated by Polaris Venture Partners in East Cambridge, has a combination open house/office hours every Thursday afternoon. Pennsylvania-based First Round Capital held office hours last summer at Toscanini's in Central Square.

I'm going to do office hours this coming Tuesday, November 24th, from 9-10:30 at Cosi in Kendall Square. It's a chance to tell me about what you're up to... new sectors or clusters you see emerging... trends worth covering... or things I should absolutely not write about anymore. (VC real estate moves, anyone?)

Here's how it'll work: 9 to 9:30 AM will be open to anyone -- just show up. From 9:30 to 10:30 AM, I'll have six 10-minute slots. Just e-mail me using the form at right (or by clicking my name in that right-hand column, under "About the Blogger") if you'd like to sign up for a slot, and let me know if you have a time preference or a range of times that work best for you in that 9:30 to 10:30 AM hour. I'll let you know here when all the sign-up slots are gone. Update: All the sign-up slots are gone, but feel free to come by in the 9 to 9:30 time slot for a chat.

And one more thing....I'd like to encourage entrepreneurs, investors, execs, and people running important non-profit initiatives related to the innovation economy to show up. Especially good is if you're planning to launch a new venture soon. My only request: no PR people. (I love you, but we already see each other enough.)

My hope is that other folks much more important than I will decide that doing Open Office Hours once a quarter is a great idea -- something that will make our region's innovation economy feel much more supportive of people just starting out, and trying to get momentum for a new idea.

Who ought to give it a try? People with expertise in PR and marketing; angel investors; attorneys; realtors; recruiters and HR experts; scientists and CTOs; logistics and operations mavens; killer sales and bizdev execs.

If you don't have a blog of your own, and you'd like to announce Open Office Hours, just post a comment here with the details and send me an e-mail, and I'll help spread the word.

Welcome to the movement, and I'll see you on Tuesday!

Tuesday Night Hotel-Hopping: MITX Awards & Boston History and Innovation Awards

Posted by Scott Kirsner November 18, 2009 01:15 PM

You know you are a bit innovation-obsessed when the highlight of your Tuesday night is meeting a Nobel Laureate: Joseph Murray, the 90-year old Wellesley resident who performed the first successful organ transplant in humans, in 1954. Murray was a guest at the Boston History & Innovation Collaborative's 10th annual awards ceremony, held last night at the Hotel InterContinental.

It was a pretty high-wattage crowd, including Governor Deval Patrick, MIT president Susan Hockfield, Globe publisher Steve Ainsley, Boston Harbor Association executive director Vivian Li, Charles River Ventures co-founder Rick Burnes, Boston Foundation president Paul Grogan, Leo Beranek of Bolt Beranek & Newman, and MIT prof Jim Utterback. In the photo are Tim Rowe, founder of Cambridge Innovation Center with Marina Hatsopoulos, whose father, Thermo Electron founder George Hatsopoulos, was being honored. (Rowe, whose Twitter name is @rowe, did a good deal of tweeting from the event, as did I.) The whole shindig was emceed by Jim Rooney of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and Bob Krim, executive director of the Boston History & Innovation Collaborative.

The most entertaining story of the evening was told by E Ink CEO Russ Wilcox, an honoree (along with co-founder Joe Jacobson). Early in the company's life, its engineers were having a hard time keeping the tiny black and white microcapsules that serve as pixels on E Ink's displays from being broken as they were pumped through a production system. Wilcox says they imported one of the world's experts on fluid pumping -- someone from outside of Boston, he noted -- to come up with a solution to the problem. Instead, he produced a report that declared that what E Ink was trying to do was impossible. Wilcox was dispirited...Until he showed up at the office the next day and discovered that some of his young engineers had hacked together a solution that worked, using a $12.95 aquarium pump they'd bought at PetSmart. They tossed the consultant's report in the trash and made a lewd gesture at the circular file. (The same gesture you're likely to see in Boston rush hour traffic, he mentioned.)

Boston, Wilcox told the crowd, is the best city in the world for actually making revolutions happen.

Earlier, I'd stopped by the 14th annual MITX Interactive Awards at the Marriott Copley. Bumped into Globe editor Marty Baron, as well as Jeff Bussgang from Flybridge Capital and Cesar Brea. A few pics from the cocktail hour that preceded the awards:


Recruiter Keith Cline of Dissero (who also runs the VentureFizz site) was chatting with Matthew Mamet (now on the market, having recently left Visible Gains/PermissionTV) and Bobbi Carlton, the PR maven who also runs Mass Innovation Nights and the new Innovation Breakfast series.


Carlton was wearing a Poken device around her neck -- a "social business card." (See above.) She hadn't run into any other Poken users with whom she could exchange contact info, though.


Carole Gunst, the marketing consulting who also runs the great High Tech History feed on Twitter, was not at the bar the entire night -- just for this pic.


Michael Barron, the founding father of MITX and an attorney at DLA Piper, with Blaise Heltai of NewVantage Partners.


Brian Cusack of Google Cambridge with Don McLagan, former CEO of (both are MITX board members.)

Spotted Sim Simeonov of FastIgnite and Philip Jacob of StyleFeeder on my way out, as everyone else was filtering into the ballroom.

Mass High Tech has the complete list of award winners.

Have Breakfast with Zipcar's CEO, Boston Beer Works' Founder & "Borrowing Brilliance" Author on Thursday

Posted by Scott Kirsner November 17, 2009 10:08 AM

WBZ has put together a really interesting panel for Thursday's "Business Breakfast." The focus is on "Building Your Business in Bailout Times," and the speakers include the CEO of Newbury Comics, Mike Dreese; Scott Griffith of Zipcar; Jim Koch of the Boston Beer Company; and David Kord Murray, an ex-Intuit exec who wrote the 2009 book "Borrowing Brilliance: The Six Steps to Business Innovation By Building on the Ideas of Others." (Rejected title: "Stealing Smart Stuff: Three-and-a-Half Ways to Rip Off Good Ideas Without Getting Caught.")

I caught up with Murray earlier this month. He's a native of Sudbury, educated at UVM, who worked in sales roles here in Massachusetts before joining Intuit, where he was head of innovation. I'd heard good things about talks he gave earlier this fall at iRobot and MIT.

At Intuit, Murray told me, working directly with CEO Scott Cook, he started exploring the questions of where the best ideas come from, how they're honed, and whether you can teach people to come up with them in the first place.

"When you look at great ideas, and where they come from, you find that they're all combinations of existing stuff," Murray says. "For me, the revelation was, you're borrowing other ideas and combining them. Borrowing is where you get the stuff to build great ideas. It's not taking the idea, but using pieces of an idea and reassembling them into something new."

The event is free, and it takes place from 8 to 10 AM at the Westin Copley Place. Register here. (That's Murray in the picture, atop Mount McKinley. I have to wonder: Is that a borrowed climbing axe in his hand?)

The Last Five Tickets for Eric Ries' Lean Start-Up Talk, Next Thursday

Posted by Scott Kirsner November 13, 2009 02:15 PM

The hot-ticket event next week seems to be Eric Ries' "Lean Start-Up" presentation, which takes place at the Stata Center on MIT's campus on Thursday. The subtitle is "A Disciplined Approach to Imagining, Designing, and Building New Products." Ries is a techie, entrepreneur, and advisor to the eminent Valley VC firm Kleiner Perkins. He blogs at Lessons Learned, and tweets at @EricRies.

It's totally sold out, but you can have one of the last five tickets. Just e-mail me using the form at right ("Send an E-mail to Scott") or by clicking my name in that right column, and tell me what your one can't-miss event for the rest of 2009 is. What's the event on your calendar (aside from this one) that you've been telling your friends and colleagues about most often? On Monday, I'll pick five entrants at random to get tickets to Ries' talk at MIT, which happens Thursday, November 19th at 6:30. And I'll post some of the most frequently mentioned events. (Get your e-mails in by Monday, November 16th at noon Eastern. One entry per person, please, or you'll be disqualified.)

And if you can't make the "Lean Start-Ups" talk on Thursday, but would still like to share what the can't miss event on your 2009 calendar is, feel free to post a comment below.

Here's Ries' presentation from this year's Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco:

And here's some video of Ries in action:

The Ries event is being organized by Tom Summit of the recruiting firm (and start-up info site) Genotrope. (Incidentally, tickets to this event were all given out free and thus have no face value. I suspect some attorney somewhere would like me to let you know that.)

Harmonix Co-Founder Juggles "Rock Band" and Chamber Music

Posted by Scott Kirsner November 10, 2009 07:30 AM

Last month, I was chatting about music with Eran Egozy, the co-founder of Harmonix Music Systems; they make a little video game called "Rock Band," and earlier they created "Guitar Hero."

Egozy handed me a business card with a great color photo on it. It wasn't a card for Harmonix, the Cambridge company that is now owned by MTV Networks, but for the Radius Ensemble.

I knew that Egozy plays the clarinet, and I asked whether everyone in the chamber music group also has day jobs. Nope, Egozy told me, he's the only one. (That's the Radius Ensemble at right, with Egozy in the blue shirt on the right side.)

They've got an incredible Web site -- a real model of how performing artists can spark an interest in their work and build up a fan base. There's an e-mail list, a Facebook fan group, and a podcast where you can hear the group in action. They also sell tickets online (you get a $2 discount for buying that way) -- and take donations via PayPal.

This week, they're playing two concerts, one on Thursday at Rivera Hall in Weston, and another on Saturday at MIT. (Their next public performances aren't until March 2010.)

You can get a sense for how Egozy's clarinet playing connects to his work at Harmonix from this great "Office Invasion" video by Ann Silvio, D.C. Denison, and Carolyn Johnson.

A Berkeley Alum at MIT: Google CEO Eric Schmidt Stops By

Posted by Scott Kirsner November 6, 2009 08:45 AM

schmidt.jpgDuring his swing through Cambridge this week, Eric Schmidt sat down with "On Point" host Tom Ashbrook for an on-stage interview at MIT's Kresge Auditorium. The event was organized in honor of Michael Hammer, the late MIT professor, author, and management guru who died last September.

Ashbrook tried to conduct a wide-ranging interview with Schmidt, talking about everything from Google's book search project to the business problems of traditional media to Google's vast data centers. Ashbrook didn't get much from Schmidt other that his stock public-company-CEO responses: turns out that while Android is great, iPhone is the dominant smartphone today. Google runs "some number of relatively large data centers." Wow.

Schmidt has a wry sense of humor, but his dominant mode is that of the ultra-logical Vulcan engineer: every problem (or answer to a probing question) can be deconstructed and solved if you are smart enough. (In the pic, Schmidt is at center talking after the event with Rich Miner, the Cambridge exec who runs Google Ventures and helped develop the Android operating system for mobile phones.)

By the end of the event, I found myself wishing that someone with a deeper background in management, innovation, and corporate culture had been chosen to interview Schmidt, to really get at what is so novel about the way Google works as a company (and what challenges it really faces.) Clay Christensen from Harvard Business School would've been perfect -- he appeared in a video tribute to Hammer that was shown -- or Michael Cusumano of MIT. I do enjoy Ashbrook's show on WBUR, but he wasn't the right guy for this particular job.

But the questions from the audience were excellent (it was, as you might suspect, a smart crowd of Hammer's old friends and neighbors), and there were these two great quotes from Schmidt toward the end of the event:


Last Night's Mass High Tech All-Stars Party

Posted by Scott Kirsner October 30, 2009 12:52 PM

There's nothing quite like going to a shindig in the big ballroom at the Park Plaza Hotel at the end of a crisp fall day to make you feel: yes, this is Boston.

Mass High Tech held its annual All-Star Awards ceremony there last night, attracting a great agglomeration of tech folks. (Disclosure: Mass High Tech was kind enough to bestow an award on me. I am fairly certain it was some kind of clerical error.)

Here are some pics from the event (as usual, it was a bit too dark in there for my iPhone camera), and notes on some of the people I ran into:


Big Week for 'Accidental Billionaires' Author Ben Mezrich

Posted by Scott Kirsner October 19, 2009 07:15 AM

I caught up with Back Bay author Ben Mezrich last week for a quick chat.

The forthcoming movie based on his book "Accidental Billionaires," about the founding of Facebook, starts shooting in Boston today. Then, on Saturday, he's one of the speakers at the inaugural Boston Book Festival. (Requisite disclosure: the Globe is one of several media sponsors for the festival.)

I asked Mezrich about his approach to writing, his sources for the book, what he thinks will happen with Facebook, and whether he thinks there was a chance the company might have stayed in Boston, rather than putting down roots in Palo Alto.

(In the photo, from left to right, are Mezrich, his wife Tonya, and Bill Brunetti, one of the producers of the Facebook movie.)


Today's Closed-Door Breakfast with Ballmer: Who was there, and what did they talk about?

Posted by Scott Kirsner October 16, 2009 01:58 PM

Who got an invite to be part of this morning's private breakfast with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, at Microsoft's Kendall Square outpost?

Here's the fairly-complete list of who was there... this was a small group of just about a dozen people:

- Tom Hopcroft, President, Mass Technology Leadership Council
- Laura Fitton, Founder, Oneforty/Pistachio Consulting
- Tim Rowe, Founder, Cambridge Innovation Center/New Atlantic Ventures
- George Bell, Partner, General Catalyst Partners; former CEO, Excite@Home
- Brian Halligan, CEO, HubSpot
- Steve O'Leary, Partner, General Catalyst Partners
- Michael Greeley, Founder, Flybridge Capital Partners
- Bijan Sabet, Partner, Spark Capital
- Dan Bricklin, Founder, Software Garden
- John Landry, Founder, Lead Dog Ventures
- Bill Warner, CEO, Warner Research
- Diane Hessan, CEO, Communispace
- Gloria Larson, President, Bentley College
- Joseph Steig, Venturewell/National Collegiate Innovators and Inventors Alliance/Long River Ventures
- Gus Weber, Community Relations, Microsoft Cambridge
- Annmarie Levins, Associate General Counsel, Microsoft

Bricklin tells me that most of the discussion was "clearly off-the-record, and there were a few comments where we were asked not to tweet or blog or whatever." Bill Warner, founder of Avid Technology and an angel investor, didn't want to say much aside from, "I'm actually not sure if it was on-the-record or off, but it was a nice meeting."

Here's what was discussed:


Great Hair, Comfy Shoes: Some Pics from Innovation Day at the State House

Posted by Scott Kirsner October 15, 2009 02:00 PM

It was fun moderating a panel of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs at the Massachusetts State House this morning, at the first-ever Innovation Day. It was organized by the New England Venture Capital Association, as well as the MA Legislative Biotechnology Caucus and the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies.

Surprising, and a bit disappointing, was how few legislators and staffers showed up -- but it was apparently a busy day at the State House. (My general experience about our elected and appointed officials is that they will show up only if asked to speak. Listening they are not so good at.) Economic development secretary Greg Bialecki, who is trying to position himself as a champion of innovation in MA, was on the agenda to speak but didn't show up.

Those gripes aside, here are four pictures from the event:


"Heroes" Creator Tim Kring on the Evolution of Storytelling

Posted by Scott Kirsner October 13, 2009 04:12 PM

I'm hosting a session called "Beyond the Margins and Between the Lines" next Saturday at the Boston Book Festival that'll feature Tim Kring, the creator of the NBC television hit "Heroes." (Disclosure: the Globe is a media sponsor of the festival, but that's not why I'm posting...)

When I was in LA last month, I had a chance to visit the "Heroes" production offices for a quick chat with Kring. We talked about the concept of "transmedia storytelling," or telling a set of interconnected stories across lots of different distribution channels (like TV, books, the Internet, and videogames.) We also talked a bit about the audience's desire to participate in the "Heroes" universe, and also about how Kring got a book deal last year to write a trilogy of books unrelated to "Heroes."

Here's the video from our little sit-down:

Ballmer in Boston, Later This Month

Posted by Scott Kirsner October 6, 2009 07:00 AM

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is coming to town later in October, and his one semi-public event is proving to be a tough ticket.

The last time Ballmer was in town, in February, he was here for such a short time that the corporate jet's fan blades barely stopped spinning. This time around, on October 16th, he'll have a heftier schedule.

I'm told he'll have a morning "listening" meeting at the Microsoft NERD center in Kendall Square with a number of local tech entrepreneurs and investors. Then, Microsoft is putting together an invitation-only conclave of chief information officers. Ballmer may also connect with some Boston-based policy-makers while he's in town, a Microsoft exec tells me.

At lunch, Ballmer will speak to a gathering of the Chief Executives' Club of Boston, at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Boston. While that is described by a Microsoft spokesperson as a public event, it's not listed on the club's Web site -- maybe because the ticket is so hot that would-be attendees are trying to pull every string possible to get into the room?

I called Peter Rollins, executive director of the Chief Executives' Club, run by Boston College, to ask. He told me they've been getting lots of inquiries, but that the event isn't online for two reasons. First, attendance at the lunch is by invitation only, and second, the site needs an update. (Also coming to the club are the CEO of McDonalds on October 27th and the CEO of Pfizer in December.)

Want to get in to the invite-only lunch? Good luck. Everyone else will just have to enjoy this vintage bit of Ballmer performance art:

How Do We Turbo-Charge the Culture of Entrepreneurship in Mass.?

Posted by Scott Kirsner September 29, 2009 07:15 AM

Anyone can propose a topic for a session at Thursday's Innovation Unconference organized by the Mass. Technology Leadership Council. And the sessions aren't anchored by plodding PowerPoint presentations, but for the most part are very interactive conversations between the presenter(s) and the audience.

Last year I was part of a session on how entrepreneurs can effectively work with the media (whether with public relations firms or on their own.) A similar session may take place this year, I'm told.

But this year I'm eager to propose a different session -- one on how we can improve, accelerate, enhance, and spread the new culture of entrepreneurship in our neck of the woods. Joining the session will be folks like Shawn Broderick from TechStars, Tim Rowe from the Cambridge Innovation Center, Gus Weber and Don Dodge from Microsoft, Wendy Caswell from ZINK Imaging, and David Beisel from Venrock and WebInno.

Join the conversation if you plan to be at the Innovation Unconference on Thursday. And if not, what are your thoughts on what could be done to improve the entrepreneurial environment in Massachusetts, and help more innovative companies get big fast?

One Golden Ticket: Next Thursday's Ideas Boston Studio Taping

Posted by Scott Kirsner September 24, 2009 07:32 AM

The annual Ideas Boston conference will get a bit smaller this year -- but will reach more people around the world, its organizers hope.

Since 2004, Ideas Boston has assembled a slice of technological, artistic, scientific, and social innovators from our city to give short talks about their latest work. In the past, the audience has consisted of a couple hundred people who have convened at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston's large auditorium downtown.

This year, though, the event will be a "virtual conference," according to executive director Kathy Plazak. A handful of talks will be videotaped on October 1st at UMass Boston, and later distributed online.

The virtual conference, Plazak explains via e-mail, "is a very cost-effective way to get this content out to thousands of people. It reflects the economic realities of the times, with sponsorship funding scarce, and it also puts the emphasis more on our electronic audience, which is not limited by time or geography as are our exclusively in-person events."

This year's event features a half-dozen speakers, including neuroscientist-turned-novelist Lisa Genova; physician Ronald Dixon of Mass General; and sociologist/activist Charles Derber. (You can watch talks from 2008 here, by clicking "View Presentation.") Only about 30 people will be there for the live studio taping.

You can be one of them. Here's how:


Ever Wish You Had a Sixth Sense? Check Out This Demo from MIT

Posted by Scott Kirsner September 23, 2009 08:00 AM

One of the most popular technology demos from this year's TED Conference came from Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry at the MIT Media Lab. Sixth Sense, as they describe it, is a "wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information" and allows the user to use hand gestures to manipulate that information.

Here's the video from TED:

They're presenting another pair of talks today as part of MIT's Emerging Technologies conference.

I spoke with Maes earlier this summer. "The interest in Sixth Sense since TED has been overwhelming," she said.


Tito Jackson Heads to House of Blues ... And Mr. Cheung Returns from Washington

Posted by Scott Kirsner August 27, 2009 07:04 AM
There are two city council candidates, one in Boston and one in Cambridge, who are aligning themselves with the innovation economy. Both are under 35, and they're using just about every tool in the social media toolbox -- from Twitter to LinkedIn to Facebook to Google Voice -- to connect with prospective supporters.

Tito Jackson (no relation to the recently-departed King of Pop) is formerly the Massachusetts Office of Business Development's liaison to the IT industry. He vacated that job in order to run for an at-large seat on the Boston City Council. Jackson, 34, has also worked as a sales rep for drug companies like Eli Lilly and Ortho McNeil, and as an account exec for Silverlink Communications, a venture-backed start-up in Burlington that helps drug-makers communicate with their customers.

Leland Cheung, 31, is currently a student at MIT's Sloan School of Management and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. (Cheung, obviously a total slacker, earlier earned a pair of Bachelor's degrees in physics and economics from Stanford.) He spent the early part of the summer interning in Washington at the Department of Energy, where he worked for the brand-new ARPA-E program, which is in the process of funneling at least $150 million in funding to the next generation of energy technologies. Cheung earlier was a senior associate at Cambridge-based Masthead Venture Partners, and was an organizer of the MIT Energy Club and the MIT Energy Conference. His campaign aims to "make Cambridge the hub for America's Energy Innovation."

(That's Cheung in the picture above, back-to-back with "Daily Show" correspondent John Oliver, who was at MIT last month filming a segment for Comedy Central. The five folks in the photo are spelling out MIT, just FYI.)

Here's more on the candidates, and their plans for Cambridge and Boston:


Hammertime at Harvard, Next Week

Posted by Scott Kirsner August 26, 2009 07:23 AM

mchammer.jpgYou run into some pretty powerful thinkers at the Harvard Faculty Club in Cambridge, but how many of them have more than a million followers on Twitter?

Multi-platinum-selling rap star MC Hammer will be at the club next Monday for the Gravity Summit on using social media for marketing initiatives. Hammer, star of the A&E reality series "Hammertime," will talk about how he has used technologies like Twitter to "revitalize his brand and his businesses."

Other speakers include Gary Vaynerchuck, the "social media sommelier" who runs Wine Library TV; execs from Dunkin' Donuts, Southwest Airlines, and EMC; and Troy Kelley, chief digital media officer at Arnold Worldwide.

Gravity Summits have been held three times out in California; this is the first one on the east coast, according to organizer Rodney Rumford.

You can either pay $489 to be there in person; watch it streamed live on CNN for free; or go to the "Tweetup" gathering afterward at the Charles Hotel, starting at 5:30 PM.

The other big marketing conference, coming up in October, is the Inbound Marketing Summit, organized by New Englanders Chris Brogan and Justin Levy. It takes place October 7th and 8th at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. That one has a bit more local flavor, with folks from Mzinga, Crimson Hexagon, HubSpot, Name Media, IDC, Blue Sky Factory, and Advance Guard on the agenda. Gary Vaynerchuck will speak at that event, too, to promote his book "Crush It!" (out in October).

New Event Pokes Holes in Start-Ups, in a Positive Way

Posted by Scott Kirsner August 20, 2009 12:15 PM

One of the city's newest networking events is DartBoston, a gathering of young entrepreneurs and professionals who want to help each other get businesses off the ground.

"At the end of the day, we care about three things," the DartBoston Web site explains. "Making money. Having fun. Changing the world."

DartBoston gets together every Thursday night -- tonight included. The agenda includes the usual drinking and schmoozing. But they also do a live Webcast called "Pokin' Holes," where an entrepreneur presents a business idea and gets constructive feedback from a panel of experts. (No one, I'm told, tries to do a Simon Cowell impression.)


Does Harry Potter Belong at Boston's Museum of Science?

Posted by Scott Kirsner August 17, 2009 09:48 PM

At the Museum of Science on Sunday evening, I overheard a family talking excitedly about the "Harry Potter" exhibit that's coming in October. They were from California, and they joked that they might have to plan another trip to Boston to see it.

Clearly, the Museum of Science has struck a pop culture chord by inviting the young wizard and his friends to the Hub for a four-month stay.

J.K. Rowling's books have done a great deal: they've motivated and inspired millions of young readers, and they've created a fantasy world that plenty of adults have wanted to enter. Many of the Warner Brothers-made Harry Potter movies have been extremely well done, and I'm looking forward to the opening of a vast theme park experience at Universal Studios in Orlando next year.

But there's something about spells and potions, witchcraft and wizardry, Philosopher's stones and dark arts, that feels retrograde and anti-science to me.

I want to be clear: I'm not against Harry in any way, or the idea that fantasy is an important part of our culture. But what does magic have to do with science?

Magic is about incantations and wand-waving that summon supernatural forces to make something mysterious and amazing happen. Science is about understanding the rules of the natural world, and how they can be used to make amazing things happen. My air conditioning this morning is not powered by magical incantations: there is a power plant somewhere, and an electrical distribution infrastructure, that is powering the fans and compressors that blow cool air in and hot air out.

I called up Paul Fontaine, the museum's vice president of education, to find out how much educational value there will be in the exhibit.


Opening Video from Last Week's TedxBoston: Revolutionary Ideas Start Here

Posted by Scott Kirsner August 3, 2009 10:09 AM

Here's the video that opened the TedxBoston gathering last week. I found it pretty inspiring -- even though it leaves out so much in an effort to be succinct (Bostonians built the guidance system that helped Apollo 11 reach the moon, and a Bostonian created the first venture capital firm, for starters.) I especially like the branding statement at the end, which pretty neatly encapsulates what Boston, Massachusetts, and New England are all about: "Revolutionary ideas start here."

This was produced by Fidelity Investments, which hosted the event.

TED is Coming to Boston

Posted by Scott Kirsner July 14, 2009 03:52 PM

A group of folks at Fidelity Investments are organizing a satellite edition of the famed TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Boston this month. TEDxBOSTON happens July 29th at Fidelity's conference center near South Station.

The idea of TEDx is that it's a TED-like gathering focused on high-quality speakers, but it's independently organized by local "friends of TED." TEDx is just a half-day long, while TED, held in California, runs for four days. And unlike the main TED event, which costs $6000 to attend (you must apply and be accepted), TEDx is free.


July 22: Forum on Non-Compete Agreements

Posted by Scott Kirsner July 10, 2009 11:30 AM

The Boston Bar Association holds an open forum on the topic of non-compete agreements on July 22nd. (This is a topic I've written about several times, most recently in June, and also back in 2007.)

Not sure whether the proceedings on July 22 will be comprehensible to non-attorneys, but I'm going to go in the hopes that they are. The title is "Freedom to Compete? A Symposium on Bills Affecting Employee Non-Compete Agreements." State Rep. Will Brownsberger, who is sponsoring a bill to abolish non-competes, will be there.

Bijan Sabet, a partner at Spark Capital, this week started an online petition drive, encouraging people to sign if they'd like to ban non-competes.


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About Scott Kirsner

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

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March 3: Web Innovators Group
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March 7-8: MassDigi Game Challenge
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April 3-4: Mass Biotech Annual Meeting
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