Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Zipcar and Flexcar merge

Cambridge-based Zipcar is merging with Seattle-based Flexcar. Scott Griffith, CEO of Zipcar, will stay on as CEO -- and they'll keep the Zipcar name.

From the San Francisco Chronicle::

    In addition to San Francisco and Washington, Zipcar operates in New York, Boston, Chicago, Vancouver, Toronto and London. Flexcar locations include Seattle, Portland, Ore., Los Angeles, San Diego, Atlanta and Pittsburgh. Both companies also provide car sharing on dozens of college campuses.

There's also a story in the Globe that notes that the new Zipcar will have 5000 cars in its fleet.

Also a short item in the Boston Business Journal.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Desktone fills out the team

I'm out in San Diego this week for a conference, and I bumped into Paul Gaffney, the former CIO at Staples. Paul is now COO at Desktone, a start-up developing "virtual desktop" technology.

BBJ has a piece today about several executive hires at Desktone, which is funded by Highland Capital and Softbank.

The company is starting to look like a sequel of Softricity, a start-up acquired by Microsoft last year. Same CEO (Harry Ruda), same head of bizdev (Les Yetton). Plus, Jeff Fisher and Julian Weinstock.

One thing that's different: the VC backers.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Ski Tech: Event Next Friday in Boston

Pascal Marmier of the Swiss Consulate e-mails with news of a cool event, coming up next Friday, November 9th. He says a few spots remain. The deets:

    Mingle with fellow skiers and snowboarders and learn about the latest in ski manufacturing, ski clothing, and safety on the slopes – all made in Switzerland. Plus, get a chance to win a pair of exclusive zai skis, a flight to Switzerland with Swiss Airlines, an 8-day Swiss Rail Pass, and Swiss Army knives! A wide array of typical Swiss foods and drinks will be served.

    WHEN: Friday, November 9, 2007, at 6:00 PM
    WHERE: Goethe-Institut, 170 Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02116
    ADMISSION: Free (RSVP required, though)

    6:00 PM – 6:30 PM

    6:30 PM – 6:35 PM
    Christoph von Arb, Consul General, Swissnex Boston

    6:35 – 7:45 PM
    Presentation + discussion
    · Zai Ski: Simon Jacomet, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Zai, will present his innovative and stylish line of high-end skis. See the world’s first ski with a core of stone.
    · Nanotechnology for ski apparel: Rene Rossi from Empa – Materials Science and Technology will introduce the concept of body mapping used to improve body temperature control in athletic clothing.
    · Piste patrol, emergency rescue, avalanche control: Marc Ziegler from Swiss Ropeways, the association linking Switzerland’s 450 main cable car and ski lift operators, will present new training concepts to improve safety on the slopes.

    7:45 PM – 9:00 PM
    Reception and Raffle

To RSVP: E-mail Andreas Obrist at before Halloween.

Wish I could go, but I'll be out of town...

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Today's Globe column: When VC Firms Go Back to the Well

Today's Globe column is about the fund-raising process that VCs have to go through every few years. It focuses on one new fund, DACE Ventures, and one older fund, Masthead Venture Partners, but also mentions a few others, including .406 Ventures, Kepha Partners, Longworth Venture Partners, and New Atlantic Ventures (formerly DFJ New England.)

Here's the opening:

    Entrepreneurs visiting a venture capitalist to ask for money sometimes feel like kids asking Dad for an allowance. Ordinarily, they're not in the power position.

    But every few years, Dad has to hit up Grandpa for a handout. When VCs spend through a given pool of money, they return to the investors who supply them with cash to manage the pension funds, university endowments, and wealthy individuals whom they refer to as "limiteds," or limited partners.

    Just as fund-raising for entrepreneurs is a pivot point at which businesses will get a jolt of juice or struggle to hang on - fund-raising is a moment of truth for venture capitalists, too. Some will keep on truckin', and some will run out of gas.

    "There's a tremendous amount of weeding out that takes place when younger firms go back and try to raise more money," says Josh Lerner, a professor at Harvard Business School.

Video is below -- and here are two paragraphs that got snipped from the end of the column in the edit process (happens all the time.)

    Longworth partner Peter Roberts says the firm hasn’t officially drafted the private placement memorandum that it’ll use to raise the next fund, but says he’s optimistic about the reception they’ll get. “We’ve had a pretty good run over the past 18 months or so,” he says.

    Lerner, from Harvard, and a collaborator at MIT, Antoinette Schoar, have been gathering data that shows that as VC firms get older, raising their sixth, seventh, or tenth funds, their financial performance improves markedly. But the challenge, he says, is surviving that long.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Stealthy helmet-making start-up comes out

Big story on the front page of today's New York Times about Xenith LLC, a start-up company in Boston that has designed a new kind of football helmet that could be especially effective at preventing concussions. "Studies have found that 10 to 50 percent of high school players each season sustain concussions, whose effects can range from persistent memory problems and depression to coma and death," according to the article.

The price of the new helmet will be around $350, more than twice the cost of current helmets. But the initial target market will be individual parents who want to protect their kids, rather than selling a couple dozen to a high school or college team ... an interesting approach.

Company Web site is here. They've raised $10 million in venture capital, most of it from Dan Gilbert, the chairman and founder of Quicken Loans, and the majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA team.

On the company's board are John Duerden, formerly president and COO of Reebok; former Harvard athletic director Bill Cleary; and former Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti. On the management team are veterans of Puma and Burton Snowboards.

Xenith was founded in 2004 by Vincent Ferrara, a former Harvard quarterback. He wasted no time: 2004 was also the year that Ferrara graduated from Columbia's business and med schools.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

And the final number is...

Just to update an earlier post: General Catalyst's fifth fund has topped out at $714 million. That's up there with some of the biggest funds raised this year, like Battery Ventures' $750 million fund (#8 for the Waltham collosus.)

Other VCs in Boston regard General Catalyst as a marketing machine, pulling in money from limited partners at an incredible pace. The exits, though, have been scarce thus far: GC's biggest hit has been M-Qube, a wireless marketing company in Watertown, MA. That was a 6x return for investors when it was acquired last year by Verisign for $250 million.

(Mass High Tech had this fun story earlier in the year, about M-Qube execs going off to start new companies, like Mobicious and Matchmine.)

Lately, GC has been betting big on video: its portfolio includes Maven Networks, Brightcove, Visible Measures, Everyzing, ViTrue, and ScanScout.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Howtoons: The book that'll turn your kids into inventors, scientists, or engineers

I saw Joost Bonsen, the Mayor of MIT, earlier this week, and he showed me a fresh-off-the-presses copy of his first book, Howtoons: The Possibilities are Endless!

If you know children, this is what to buy them for Christmas, Chanukah, or Kwanzaa. It's a compilation of fun projects that kids can do -- like making a marshmallow shooter, or a turkey baster flute. Bonsen guarantees that they will be accepted into MIT if they read it; actually graduating is their problem.

To get a feel for Howtoons, check the Web site.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Forthcoming book on George Doriot, the Granddaddy of Venture Capital

It's not gonna be out until next April, but I'm looking forward to the publication of 'Creative Capital: George Doriot and the Birth of Venture Capital.' The author is Spencer Ante from BusinessWeek. (Note: I have no connection to the author or publisher... just mentioning it 'cause I find it interesting.)

Doriot was an influential prof at HBS and the founder of American Research and Development, the first VC firm; their biggest hit was a li'l company called Digital Equipment Corporation.

I'm not aware of another biography that has been written about Doriot, though someone did collect his writings in 2004.

Here's the description of 'Creative Capital,' from the Harvard Business School Press book catalog

    ...The author traces the pivotal events in Doriot's life, including his experience as a decorated brigadier general during World War II; as a maverick professor at Harvard Business School; and as the architect and founder of the first venture capital firm, American Research and Development.

    ....Ante gives us a rare look at the man who overturned conventional wisdom by proving that there is big money to be made by investing in small and risky businesses. This vivid portrait of George Doriot reveals the rewards that come from relentlessly pursuing what-if possibilities. ...

From Doriot's obituary in the NY Times:

    In his role as a venture capitalist, Mr. Doriot thought of himself as someone who nurtured others' dreams. Comparing his role to that of a father with his children, he refused to give up on a business that was going through hard times. ''A history of profits is much more important in the long run than a profit in any one year,'' he said.

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Talk About Hiding the News: JibJab Gets a Fresh Infusion from Polaris

JibJab, the digital entertainment company out in Santa Monica, California (the ones who produce musical parodies like 'This Land Is Your Land' and 'It's Good to Be in DC') put out a press release this morning. Here's the start (but don't stop reading):

    World famous Internet creative studio takes aim at online greetings with the launch of JibJab Sendables™

    VENICE, CA —October 24th, 2007— JibJab, the Internet comedy pioneers behind more viral video hits than any other independent or traditional entertainment studio, today announced that it is entering the online greetings business with the launch of JibJab Sendables™. (

But the last line of the release is what grabbed me: "The company recently closed a Series B funding with Polaris Venture Partners." The size of the round was undisclosed (according to PE Hub's Dan Primack, it was $3 million), but there were no other investors. Waltham-based Polaris gave the company its initial funding last June -- a $6.4 million A round.

That's Polaris co-founder Jon Flint, in the center, with the two brothers who started JibJab, Evan and Gregg Spiridellis.

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Schilling at the Podium

Curt Schilling is keynoting at the Consumer Technology Innovations conference next month, in Silicon Valley. He'll be talking about 38 Studios, his gaming start-up.

My big question: will he be sporting any new jewelry by then?

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Tech Blogs Event Last Night

The 'Tech Blogs' gathering last night at Cambridge Innovation Center was a lot of fun, and the food was really good (thanks go to Schwartz PR, Morse Barnes-Brown & Pendleton, and CHEN PR for picking up the tab.)

Dan Bricklin has posted a podcast and some photos from the event. (Dan was also kind enough to bring the sound system.)

The panelists were all really thoughtful, and there were a number of bloggers in the audience, like David Laubner from 93South, Mike Feinstein from The Fein Line, and David Cancel. Paul Gillin was there, and posted some notes.

One thing we did which I think kept it from being a traditional panel was to weave in comments, questions, and rebuttals from the audience throughout the night -- from the very first question. Chuck Tanowitz from Schwartz played Phil Donohue, running around with a wireless mic.

Don Dodge from Microsoft was very funny, telling a story of how he was nearly fired for criticizing Microsoft's attorneys on his blog...and I challenged Nabeel Hyatt to talk about a post that he headlined "Idiots at NY Times write about virtual goods and miss the entire industry." Is that a good way to make friends with journalists? (He said he e-mailed the writer of the NY Times piece, but never heard back.) Listen to the podcast...

I hope to do more free events like this, where we get together to talk about some aspect of the Innovation Economy in New England. Your ideas are welcome...

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

In Portsmouth Tomorrow: Northeast Regional Angel Investor Conf.

Just learning about this today, but if you're free on Wednesday and interested in the dynamics of angel investing in our region, here's the event for you: The Northeast Regional Angel Investing Conference, at the Sheraton Harborside in Portsmouth, NH.

Speakers include Jeff Sohl from UNH, David Cohen from TechStars, and Tech Coast Angels founder Luis Villalobos. Tickets are $50.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Una Ryan's Biotech Co. to Merge with NJ Company

Avant Immunotherapeutics, the Needham vaccine developer run by Una Ryan, a former chair of the Mass Biotech Council, is merging with a New Jersey company called Celldex Therapeutics. From CNN Money:

    Following completion of the transaction, Avant shareholders will own 42% of the combined company and Celldex shareholders will own the remaining 58% on a fully diluted basis.

    Avant, which plans to effect a reverse stock split as part of the deal in order to maintain its Nasdaq listing, expects the transaction to close in the first quarter of fiscal 2008.

    The combined company is in the process of developing a number of products, including vaccines for cholera and Salmonella typhi, the cause of typhoid fever, as well as a brain cancer immunotherapy. It will also have a commercialized product, Rotarix, an oral vaccine developed in collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline. (NYSE:GSK)

Here's the official press release and Webcast about the deal. Ryan remains CEO. Sounds like Celldex's vaccines will now be manufactured at Avant's facility in Fall River, MA.

In August, Avant received a delisting notice from Nasdaq, when its market value fell below $50 million.

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This week's Globe column: A mash-up of Amazon and Second Life

Yesterday's Globe column focused on an e-commerce start-up called Kinset, co-founded by serial entrepreneur John Butler.
From the opening:

    John Butler is trying to introduce true browsing to the online shopping experience, blending the innovations of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos with the old-school merchandising of R.H. Macy.

    Butler is the founder and chief executive of Kinset Inc., a Marlborough start-up that plans to launch its first online stores this week. Kinset's stores combine e-commerce with the kind of visually rich, three-dimensional environment that has been made popular by the virtual world Second Life and such videogames as World of Warcraft, but that would feel familiar to a conventional department store shopper.

    In November, Brookstone will launch a Kinset store that will allow shoppers to roam virtual aisles in search of the perfect holiday gift. And Canton-based Tweeter, the consumer electronics chain, could have one online in time for the Su per Bowl, when buyers tend to hunt for new TVs.

For those who appreciate historical allusions, RH Macy ran a dry goods store in Haverhill, MA (called the Haverhill Cheap Store), and even sponsored a parade in the town, before he moved to New York to start the shop that became Macy's. Interestingly, Macy was a die-hard entrepreneur: he failed four times before opening his store in Herald Square. More on that here.

Here's the video for this week's column -- a chat with John Butler at the Newton Marriott, and a demo of the software. You can also now check out their two demo stores, BunchBooks and 'lectroTown, on the Kinset site. (Assuming you have a Windows PC.)

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mass TLC Awards

I'm still getting used to calling the Massachusetts Software Council by its new(ish) name, the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council.

On Thursday, they announced the winners of their 2007 Technology Leadership Awards at the Copley Plaza Hotel. Full list is below.

That other technology association, the Massachusetts High Tech Council, is marking its 30th anniversary on Tuesday with a dinner at - where else? - the Newton Marriott. The keynote speaker is Dean Kamen -- a New Hampshire entrepreneur and inventor who at least lived in Massachusetts for a few years, while attending WPI.


Mass TLC 2007 Awards


Enterprise Applications
Open Pages

Reva Systems


Innovation (co-winners)

User/Implementer (co-winners)
Barrett Distribution Centers
Jordan’s Furniture


CEO of the Year
Doug Levin, Black Duck Software

CIO of the Year
John Halamka, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical

CTO of the Year
Kenneth Kuenzel, Covergence

CXO of the Year
Tom Murphy, Bit9

Emerging Executive of the Year
Keith Kocho, Extend Media

Mover and Shaker of the Year (co-winners)
David Weinberger, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School
Linda Plano, Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center (MTTC)

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Innovation Economy Video Series

Every week, I post a short video related to my Innovation Economy column in the Boston Globe. Here's the entire series, with the most recent at the top. (But it's a bit easier to see what each video is about if you use this bigger player.)


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What's Andora Up To?

Bob Langer's lab at MIT seems to be going through a particularly fertile period -- I heard tonight that two Langer Lab companies are currently out talking to VCs.

Ryan McBride of Mass High Tech had a fun piece last Friday about another recent Langer Lab spin-out, Andora, basically speculating about what they may be up to. The company raised $4 million earlier in the year.

Andora (no Web site yet) is in Kendall Square, and were until recently was cohabitating with Tempo Pharmaceuticals, another Polaris-backed start-up. Avid surfer Amir Nashat is running the company. Oddly, Jon Flint from Polaris, not usually a life sciences investor, is on the board.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Coming Up: Cool Events Around Boston

Some events that look good in the next week or so...

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunday's Globe column: Brightcove and Maven, duking it out

Today's Globe column is about the competition -- and many connections -- between Brightcove and Maven Networks, two Cambridge companies angling to become the dominant tool for media companies that publish video on the Net. (Their offices are a stone's throw from one another in Kendall Square.) From the column:

    The story of Maven Networks and Brightcove, two companies that have helped shape the way media firms distribute video online, is one of unbridled competitiveness: two entrepreneurs who were once on the same team now duking it out.

    Brightcove, by virtue of having raised $82 million in funding, is one of the highest-profile tech start-ups in Boston (Maven has banked $27 million). The big question is which one will wind up with the sweetest finish - either an acquisition by a big player like Microsoft or Google, or a public offering.

I actually had included Adobe in that list, as a potential acquirer, but it got snipped during editing. (Macromedia, now part of Adobe, acquired the first company that Brightcove founder Jeremy Allaire started, Allaire Corp.)

A few other interesting notes on possible exits: when Comcast bought thePlatform last year, they paid between $100 and $125 million, according to several sources. So that's the one valuation we know about in the enterprise video-publishing space. On the consumer side, we know about YouTube ($1.65 billion), and Sony's acquisition of Grouper ($65 million). (We sort of know about Vimeo, a video publishing site started as part of CollegeHumor, which Barry Diller's IAC acquired last year for a reported $20 million.)

YouTube received a grand total of $11.5 million in venture funding before it was acquired by Google. It starts to make it look as though Brightcove's backers ($82 million) may find it tough to make a 3x, 4x, 5x return. But we'll see. One intriguing possibility would be combining the two companies, since Accel Partners and General Catalyst are investors in both. Of course, they'd then confront Sophie's Choice, since I'm sure that Maven CEO Hilmi Ozguc and Allaire would never work together.

John Simon, the General Catalyst partner who sits on the board of Maven (his firm is also an investor in Brightcove), wouldn't talk to me by phone. But he sort of answered a couple questions via e-mail. I asked what he thought the benefit was of being an investor in both companies. He wrote that the "two companies ... show every sign of delighting customers, employees, and stakeholders and being very significant venture capital winners at this point," adding, "[T]hese are two companies we can really be proud of."

Here's this week's video.... an interview with Jeremy Allaire, published using (what else) Brightcove.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Why Not Think Big?

I am really glad that people are continuing to have the conversation about what it will take to build a new generation of really big, really important companies in New England.

Last week, Atlas Venture held an event in Vermont called the New England Founding Entrepreneurs Summit on Technology. Speakers included Analog Devices CEO Jerry Fishman, Venture Hacks blogger Babak Nivi, Rich Chleboski from Evergreen Solar, and Michael Zane from Kryptonite Locks.

Xconomy founder Bob Buderi moderated a fireside chat with Fishman, and he also blogged about the discussions around what it'll take to create more Analogs (and EMCs and Akamais) here.

I'm glad Atlas is focusing on the issue; I helped organize a dinner last year on the same topic. But both the Atlas conference and our dinner on "Building Billion-Dollar Companies in the Bay State" (which featured the founders of Boston Scientific and Thermo Electron) were top-secret, invitation-only events.

I'm helping to put together a gathering for Wednesday, November 28th, in the evening, in downtown Boston. I'll be doing a fireside chat there with Michael Greeley of IDG Ventures, who also heads the New England Venture Capital Association, and Paul Maeder of Highland Capital Partners, who is on the board of the National Venture Capital Association.

There will be limited comparisons between Silicon Valley and New England - I promise. But we will discuss what the factors are that seem to compel New England companies to cash out, rather than keep on truckin'.

Our venue on the 28th is limited to 50 attendees. We're going to limit attendance to company founders/CEOs and investors (VCs, angels, etc.)

So while this event is theoretically open to anybody who is building or funding companies, we need to be selective. But please e-mail me if you think you ought to be there: kirsner at At the very least, I promise that we'll do an audio or video recording, and you'll hear about it when it is online.

And you don't need to be completely sold on the idea of building big, independent companies -- essential to the mix of attendees will be people who believe that a sweet acquisition price isn't necessarily a bad thing.

For some background, here's a piece I wrote in the Globe back in January, about growing oaks, not saplings.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Top 50 Schools for Entrepreneurs: Who's on the List from Boston?

Entrepreneur Magazine has published its annual list of the Top 25 graduate and undergrad schools for entrepreneurs.

The big news is that Wellesley's Babson College has jumped from #10 to #1 on the list of undergrad programs, and from #22 to #2 on the list of graduate programs. (Babson is the only local school on that list, so I'll only publish the undergrad list here, which includes a second Boston-area school.)

    Top 25 Undergrad Programs for Entrepreneurship

    Babson College
    University of Houston
    Drexel University
    The University of Arizona
    University of Dayton
    Chapman University
    DePaul University
    Temple University
    University of North Dakota
    Loyola Marymount University
    Wichita State University
    Syracuse University
    University of Notre Dame
    University of Maryland
    University of Oklahoma
    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
    Xavier University
    The University of Alabama
    University of Southern California
    Ball State University
    The University of Iowa
    Brigham Young University
    Baylor University
    Northeastern University
    The Ohio State University

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E Ink Pockets $16 million; will be featured in new Amazon ebook device

Intel Capital, Motorola, FA Technology Ventures, and other backers have put another $16 million into Cambridge-based E Ink, the pioneer of paper-like display technologies. The company, amazingly, has raised $130 million in funding since its start a decade ago, according to Private Equity Hub.

The company's displays are already in the Sony Reader e-book device, but the next product everyone's awaiting is the Amazon Kindle e-book device. Here's a NY Times piece from September that links E Ink and the Kindle.

(An aside: Doesn't the product name Kindle make you think of book burning? Or I suppose you can "kindle someone's interest" in a topic or an author...)

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Robot demos and panels at WPI, next week

From Worcester Polytechnic Institute:

    As of fall 2007, WPI is offering the nation's first bachelor's degree program in robotics engineering. The new major grows out of an increasing demand for robots and robotics systems to meet national needs in areas such as defense and security, elder care, automation of household tasks, customized manufacturing, and interactive entertainment, and also responds to the escalating interest in robots among young people. This major, which crosses academic boundaries, is designed to prepare a new breed of engineer with the skills and imagination to develop intelligent machines that go beyond today's reality.

To mark the launch of the program, they're holding a one-day symposium this coming Tuesday, which features speakers like Dean Kamen of DEKA and Helen Greiner or iRobot. They'll also have robot demos -- and the registration price is cheap: $20.

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Tech Blogs: A Conversation at Cambridge Innovation Center, on 10/23

This event will fill up soon, so RSVP now if you'd like to come...Here's the description:

    Tech Blogs: How are Blogs Changing the Way Technology is Covered?

    Entrepreneurs, CEOs, VCs, journalists, and PR professionals are increasingly cranking out blogs, podcasts, and video dispatches. How does this change the way the tech sector gets covered? What does it mean for CEOs trying to get their stories out, PR firms trying to get coverage for their clients, VC firms touting their investments, journalists trying to cover important news, and customers tracking the market? (Not to mention the relationships between all of these players.)

    We'll bring together representatives from all four camps for a wide-ranging conversation (definitely *not* a panel) about the way blogs are changing the game in the tech world.

    Participants will include:

    - Don Dodge, Director of Business Development, Microsoft Emerging Business Team, and blogger,

    - Jimmy Guterman, Editor of Release 2.0 and blogger, O'Reilly Radar

    - Barbara Heffner, partner at CHEN PR and blogger,

    - Nabeel Hyatt, CEO at Conduit Labs and blogger,

    - Scott Kirsner (that's me), Boston Globe "Innovation Economy" columnist and blogger,

    - Bijan Sabet, venture capitalist at Spark Capital and blogger,

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Sunday's Globe column: Dean Kamen is out to reinvent the prosthetic arm

Today's Globe column focuses on the next-gen prosthetic arm being developed by DEKA Research and Development, Dean Kamen's skunkworks, up in Manchester, NH. It's being funded by DARPA, the nice folks who brought you the Internet.

From the piece:

    When Kamen, one of America's best-known inventors, first spoke with officers at the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, they told him they were looking for a research and development group that could build a prototype of a new prosthetic arm. Kamen was expecting to hear a list of technical specifications, such as how much the arm would need to lift and how many moving joints it would require. Instead, Kamen says, the Pentagon officials told him they wanted to create an arm that could "pick up a raisin or a grape from a table, know the difference without looking at it, and be able to manipulate it into the person's mouth without breaking it or dropping it."

Here's the video, which includes Kamen's perspective on the project, as well as a lot of demo footage.

DEKA also is working on another DARPA project, which we didn't talk about when I was there in late September: a project called PowerSwim, the goal of which is to increase the speed and efficiency of human swimmers (ummm, Navy SEALs, perhaps?) by about 50 percent. More on that here and here.

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Saturday, October 6, 2007

NEVCA Lunch: A Critical Look at the New England Market's Demise

The New England Venture Capital Association gave its annual networking luncheon a provocative title: "California Dreamin': A Critical Look at the New England Market's Demise."

Two two speakers were introduced as Muhammad Ali and Smokin' Joe Frazier; in real life, they were Paul Maeder of Highland Capital Partners in Lexington, and Tim Draper of the Sand Hill Road firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson (that's Draper on the left). Playing the role of Michael "Let's Get Ready to Rumble!" Buffer was Tom Finneran, host of Finneran's Forum on WRKO. The main event was held this past Thursday, in the Regattabar at the Charles Hotel. (And unfortunately, there was a lengthy musical interlude.)

Maeder and Draper, it turns out, were classmates at Harvard Business School.

Draper spoke first, giving a rambling talk that was anti-architecture and anti-history.

"Everyone I know in Boston is always quoting people from the past," Draper said. There are constant references to the Boston Tea Party, the Green Monster, "the British are coming." He said Boston needs to "maintain the philosophies" that made us so revolutionary in the 18th century, but "blow up the buildings," which he seemed to see as representative of some kind of crusty thinking or ennui. Apparently, bricks inhibit innovation.

But aside from that, Draper didn't take many digs at Boston or New England. He cited a few of the companies that have made DFJ money here, including EnerNOC, AthenaHealth, and Parametric Technology Corp. (He skirted the issue of whether DFJ will continue to have an affiliate fund locally ... there used to be DFJ New England, in Cambridge, but that fund has separated from the mother ship and become New Atlantic Ventures.)

Draper spent a lot of time talking about how "entrepreneurs are heroes," and how most of the "solutions to society's problems come from business," not government; Finneran, former Speaker of the House here in Massachusetts, tried not to wince. Draper listed a number of successful companies that have taken on "something that's old and decrepit and needs to be changed":

    Hotmail reinvented the post office
    Overture reinvented advertising
    Skype reinvented telecommunications
    ...and so on...

None of Draper's examples were Boston companies.

Toward the end of his talk, Draper launched off into la-la land. He talked about how the future is "a la carte government," where citizens will be able to choose to abide by the corporate structure laws of the Cayman Islands, the religious freedoms of America, the healthcare of Sweden, etc. (Not sure exactly how that will work.) He talked about the potential for "near-thought communication," and something called a "food drop," and the need for the human race to "get off this planet."

Draper wrapped up by singing -- no, caterwauling is the better word -- a song he wrote, a capella, to the tune of John Lennon's 'Imagine.' Some random lines: "Imagine there's no business".... "Imagine there's no VCs" ... You get the picture. I fully support Yoko Ono in demanding a couple million in royalties from Draper for this "performance." (Maeder sang back up, so he's on the hook, too.)

Maeder's talk actually had some shape to it, focusing on "how we can make New England better than it is."

He started by slyly taking apart the notion that Massachusetts is somehow lagging California, using a lot of stats.

    1. Nobel Laureates
    California has 74, Massachusetts 56
    But if you adjust it per million population, California has 2.0, Mass has 8.8

    2. NIH grants
    California has received 5192, Massachusetts 7464

    3. Small companies
    California has 1.4 million, Mass has 296,000
    But adjusted per million population, California has 39, Massachusetts has 46

    4. Patents
    California has been granted 25039, Massachusetts has 4368 (not sure of the time-frame here)
    Adjusted, it's 688 to 683

    5. Average temperature
    San Francisco is 53 degrees Fahrenheit, Boston 52

    6. 2007 tech IPOs by region, <$400M
    California has had 11 so far, New England has had 8

    7. 2007 tech IPOs by region, >$400M
    California has had 5, New England 6

    8. VC IRR (internal rate of return) over the last 15 years
    California VCs have chalked up a 44.4 percent IRR, Massachusetts 57.8 percent

Maeder did concede that 39 percent of the US companies that have $1 billion or more in annual sales are headquartered in California, and then he went on to focus on three really interesting problems.

First, Maeder argued that "we sell just a wee bit too soon...we take the money and run." Cisco, he observed, got big not by selling out, but by becoming an acquirer of little companies. "We have been selling the seed corn," he said.

A second challenge is that Harvard, the top-ranked university in the world in terms of faculty publications, hasn't been doing a great job of commercializing its inventions; Harvard falls off the list when you look at number of patents issued, leaving MIT, CalTech, and Stanford on top of the heap. (Draper chimed in later, observing that "we see nothing from Harvard," and theorizing that "the people who get into Harvard haven't there's a fear of failure." It's unlikely that you'd become an entrepreneur if you fear failure, he said. "You don't create a monster business by being smart," he continued. "You create a monster business by being dumb. It's an irrational thing to do.")

Maeder's third hot-button issue is that non-competes are enforced in Massachusetts; not so in California. Enforcing non-competes is "a silent killer, like high blood pressure," Maeder said. "It has a dampening effect on innovation," discouraging employees from big companies from going off to give life to new start-ups.

Draper, loopy as he was, conveyed that uniquely West Coast sense of possibility: pitch me on an all-electric sports car, and I just might invest. Maeder was logical, focused, and methodical: pure East Coast.

The dessert served at the lunch may have biased me (Boston cream pie, one of our city's great innovations), but I thought Maeder won this match.

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Racepoint employee posts comment as fake Fake Steve Jobs

Todd Defren of SHIFT Communications has an interesting post detailing the dust-up over the fake Fake Steve Jobs.

Apparently, an employee at Waltham-based Racepoint Group, a PR firm, posted a comment to a blog, pretending to be Fake Steve Jobs. Racepoint represents the One Laptop Per Child Project, and this Racepoint employee, Kyle Austin, couldn't resist jumping in to defend OLPC, in Fake Steve Jobs' voice.

Valleywag has more.

Incidentally, Racepoint is part of Larry Weber's W2 Group, about which I posted yesterday. Here's a quote from Larry Weber's recent book, in which he criticizes Wal-Mart's use of fake bloggers to improve the retailer's rep:

    The harm it does to a company's reputation when the deception is revealed (which happens sooner than ever on the Web these days) cannot be offset by any short-term gain in sales or publicity.

I agree. To Racepoint's credit, VP George Snell took responsibility for the mistake on the company's blog.

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Friday, October 5, 2007

Larry Weber and the Case of the Phantom Blog

I was meeting with an entrepreneur today, and Larry Weber's name came up.

Weber is the PR guru who started The Weber Group, now Weber Shandwick, one of the world's biggest PR firms (and a unit of the Interpublic Group.)

This entrepreneur mentioned that he thought Larry had a blog. I bet him $100 that Larry doesn't have a blog.

Larry, do I win?

Even though Larry published a book this past summer called, "Marketing to the Social Web: How Digital Customer Communities Build Your Business," I think the guy does not have a blog.

Even though Larry writes on page 23, "Senior executive blogs ... can help establish industry thought leadership," I think the guy, now chairman of the W2 Group, does not have a blog.

Even though one of the companies within the W2 Group, Digital Influence Group, touts its ability to help companies go "out on the web to engage in conversations in the blogosphere and communities," I think the guy does not have a blog.

Digital Influence Group does have a blog, but it's not written by Larry.

Is this a case of the cobbler's children not having socks? (Larry is well-known for his penchant for baring his ankles.)

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EMC to Analysts: Stop Bugging Us Already

EMC needed a play in Web-based back-up. If they didn't get into this business, geared to consumers and small companies, Wall Street analysts would never stop bugging them about why they didn't have a play.

So this week, EMC bought Berkeley Data Systems, the Utah company which runs the online back-up service Mozy. EMC didn't disclose the price, but TechCrunch says its sources peg the tag at $76 million.

What's interesting to me is that EMC didn't make a bigger deal of this acquisition: no quote from nominal EMC CEO Joe Tucci in the release...and they didn't seem to offer Tucci up to the Globe, which ran just a brief item or the Wall Street Journal. The NY Times hasn't covered the news at all, so far as I can tell.

Is that really the way to indicate that this is an important new direction for your company?

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In hamsters, Viagra helps alleviate jet lag

Yes, researchers have proven it... and last night at Harvard, they won an Ig Nobel Prize.

Each year, the Igs are awarded by the Annals of Improbable Research for scientific achievements that "cannot (or should not) be reproduced." They're handed out by actual Nobel laureates, who always seem to be having a lot more fun that at the *real* Nobel ceremony in Stockholm. Craig Mello of UMass, who won the Nobel in Medicine last year, was one of the presenters. (If you have not been to the awards ceremony before, rectify that as soon as possible.)

Here's coverage from The Tech at MIT. From the story:

    Mayu Yamamoto from Japan won the Ig Nobel prize in chemistry for her development of a novel way to extract vanillin, the main component in vanilla bean extract, from cow dung. In tribute to Yamamoto’s achievement, Toscanni’s imitated her achievement and distributed samples of the resulting ice cream to Nobel laureates seated on the stage. Loud chants of “Eat it! Eat it!” from the audience finally persuaded the skeptical Nobel laureates to try a taste of their samples. For those brave and adventurous enough, Toscanni’s is offering a free tasting of the ice cream today at 11 a.m. at their Central Square Location.

There's coverage in The Guardian, The San Jose Mercury News, and ABC Science Online. The BBC story leads off with a prize given to the researchers at an Air Force lab working on a "gay bomb," a chemical weapon intended to make enemy troops sexually irresistible to each other. More on that an other prizes in the Reuters piece.

The event is overseen by comic genius Marc Abrahams, who also edits the Annals of Improbable Research.

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Will Candidates Talk Tech Policy on November 12th in New Hampshire?

A group of New Hampshire VCs, profs, and tech industry execs have been trying to put together a forum on November 12th featuring presidential candidates from both parties. They're getting an assist from the New England office of TechNet, the technology lobbying organization.

Here's the premise:

    To govern effectively, the next President needs to have bipartisan support and have a clear vision about how to grow the Innovation Economy. This forum offers candidates the opportunity to communicate their plan to a live audience of hundreds of New Hampshire and national technology executives and University of New Hampshire students as well as to the millions of technology-interested Republican, Democratic and Independent voters in New Hampshire, California and other early states through national and local media coverage of the event

It sounds incredible, and apparently Intel chairman Craig Barrett has agreed to moderate. They have a venue, at University of New Hampshire, and an impressive group of organizers that includes venture capitalist Jesse Devitte, UNH provost Bruce Mallory, and Fred Kocher, president of the New Hampshire High Technology Council.

Only problem: no candidates are yet on the hook. At the bare minimum, organizer Ross Gittell told me last night, this event would work with one candidate from each party (in that scenario, their goal would be to get Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.)

To me, this would be one of the more interesting primary season I'm hoping it does come together.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

MGH Researchers Push to Reduce Pain

This Boston Globe piece is worth reading, even if only for the wonderful historical parallels: anesthesia was invented at Mass General Hospital in 1846, and more than 150 years later, researchers there are still working to make it better.

From Colin Nickerson's story:

    Scientists at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital today described a new "targeted" approach to anesthesia that appears to totally block pain neurons, but doesn't cause the numbness or partial paralysis that is the unwelcome side-effect of anesthesia used for surgery performed on conscious patients.

    If approved for use in humans, the method could dramatically ease the trial of giving birth -- by sparing women pain while allowing them to physically participate in labor. It could also diminish the trauma of knee surgery, for instance, or the discomfort of getting one's molars drilled. Not only would there be no "ouch," there would be none of the sickening wooziness or loss of motor control that comes from standard forms of "local" anesthesia.

Interesting tidbit: their approach relied in part on capsaicin, the ingredient that makes chili peppers hot.

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The inquisition begins: Coughlin under the microscope

Frank Phillips of the Globe reports today that the State Ethics Commission "has launched a formal investigation to determine whether the new president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, Robert K. Coughlin, violated conflict-of-interest laws when he entered job talks with the industry association while continuing to work as Governor Deval Patrick's economic development undersecretary, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation."

His story says that the Mass Biotech Council received subpoenas last week asking for e-mail and phone records. But the worst punishment the Ethics Commission can dole out is a $2,000 fine, if Coughlin is found guilty of having violated the state's conflict-of-interest law in interviewing for his current job.

So far, this hire has been a complete disaster for Mass part because it totally hamstrings (at least for now) Coughlin's ability to work the media and elected officials on the Council's behalf. At best, they've been paying him for a month to learn more about how the Council and the biotech industry operate, and organize his desk blotter.

Earlier blog posts on the issue are here.

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When I say 'I live at the mall,' I really mean it

I consider artists part of the innovation economy here in New England, pushing all of us to think and see in different ways...

...Which is why I love this story: "Artists get probation for building secret mall apartment." From the AP story:

    Michael Townsend, 36, said he and seven other artists built the apartment in a 750-square-foot loft in the parking garage [of the Providence Place Mall] four years ago and lived there for up to three weeks at a time while documenting mall life.

    The apartment included a sectional sofa and love seat, coffee and breakfast tables, chairs, lamps, rugs, paintings, a hutch filled with china, a waffle iron, TV and Sony Playstation 2 -- although a burglar broke in and stole the Playstation last spring, Townsend said. The artists built a cinderblock wall and nondescript utility door to keep the loft hidden from the outside world.

Providence Journal columnist Bob Kerr quips, "The retail mecca had an artist-in-residence program and didn’t even know it."

You can see video and photos of the project here.

(Of course, some mall operator, somewhere, is now imagining the opportunity: if people love the mall so much, why not build time shares there that they can buy into?)

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Online Invite Site Gets Funding from Intel, Angels is an online invitation site that is trying to best by adding scads of new features, like one that helps a large group of people hone in on a mutually-agreeable date for a party.

This morning, co-founder Matt Douglas e-mails to let me know that the company has just landed some seed funding from Intel Capital and New Hampshire-based eCoast Angels. Company is based in scenic Natick, MA.

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Adobe, Google Grab Local Start-Ups

Two small Boston-area start-ups have been adopted by California parents: Adobe and Google.

Zingku runs a mobile social networking service; originally known as Bloobird Studio and funded by Flagship Ventures, the company's founders include Martin Fahey (formerly CEO at WebHire), Mussie Shore, and Sami Shalabi. (All three are Lotus Development Corp. alums.) Google acquired Zingku late last month, but didn't announce the purchase price.

From the PC World story:

    Zingku aims to make it easier for people to share photos, send invitations or conduct polls among friends via mobile phone. It also provides a way for businesses to send "mobile flyers" to customers advertising products and services.

    Zingku was started in 2005 and the service has been in testing with a limited number of users in the U.S. New account sign-ups have been frozen following Google's acquisition, according to Zingku's Web site. Existing accounts will be transferred to Google unless they are cancelled by Oct. 4.

    Detailed terms of the acquisition weren't provided and Google didn't return calls seeking comment. The company has confirmed that it bought "certain assets and technology of Zingku," according to the Google Operating System blog, which first reported the deal, and is not owned by Google.

And Waltham-based Virtual Ubiquity has been acquired by Adobe, also for an undisclosed amount. Virtual Ubiquity makes the Web-based word processor Buzzword. The company received some funding from Adobe's venture capital arm last year. This sets Adobe up to compete with Google in the battle for users of Web-based writing tools. (Tim O'Reilly says that Buzzword is superior to Google Docs.) Virtual Ubiquity's CEO was another Lotus alum, Rick Treitman. Here's the announcement from the company's blog.

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Monday, October 1, 2007

VC Vinit Nijhawan Turns in His Key

Missed this tidbit from Dan Primack at PEWeek in late September, but it seems like Vinit Nijhawan has split from Key Venture Partners.

From Dan's piece:

    KVP managing director David Dame confirmed the news yesterday (Nijhawan remains on the firm’s website), and said that it was caused by a divergence of stage focus: “Vinit decided that he has a greater interest in early-stage investing, whereas we’re more focused on growth-stage.”

    I also asked Dame about a secondary explanation – that Nijhawan has no economics in the current KVP fund, and had grown weary of waiting for the next one. Dame acknowledged that Nijhawan had the possibility for economics in the next fund, but reaffirmed his original “stage” statement. He also said that KVP still has dry powder for new investments, and that marketing for the next fund is expected to begin in early 2008.

As of today, Vinit is still on the site... and hasn't mentioned the switch on his own blog.

My guess is he'll resurface soon as a start-up CEO, which is his real love. He is already working with entrepreneurs in the robotics and wireless power spaces.

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Wireless charging: Please get here soon...and with a single standard

The day before I finished this Globe column about the prospects for wireless charging pads, I had one of those fun experiences where both my cell phone and laptop ran out of power while I was up in New Hampshire, and I'd stupidly left both chargers elsewhere. What's great about the concept of charging pads built into cars, hotel room desks, and airplane tray tables is that they'd let you charge devices without toting along their myriad power adapters. But the danger is that we might wind up with warring standards -- one charging pad might not juice a certain brand of phone, for instance.

Here's the gist of the column:

    Wireless power transfer is the next new frontier for the consumer electronics industry, and unlike a 47.3 megapixel digital camera or a combination cellphone/pepper grinder, it's something that consumers actually want. And several years after companies like Splashpower Ltd. of Britain began demonstrating charging pads, big electronics companies are starting to show interest in helping bring the technology to market.

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