Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Innovation Economy’s “Cool Half-Hundred” Companies

Every week or two, someone e-mails me asking for my take on interesting companies in the Boston area. Usually, they’re hunting for their next job –- or they’re students looking for a fun place to intern.

Here’s my off-the-cuff list: call it the Innovation Economy Cool Half-Hundred. They’re chosen with complete disregard to any sort of scientific method. There were basically two questions I considered:

    - Is the company working on something important, or at least fun?
    - If you worked there, would you put people to sleep explaining what you do?

If the answer to the first question is “yes,” and the second “no,” the company is eligible. (You’ll notice a distinct shortage of enterprise software and telecom companies on the list.) At the bottom of the list, I suggest a few ways to discover other interesting new ventures. The list is in no particular order, and it’s not comprehensive: if your company isn’t on it, that doesn’t mean you can’t lay claim to coolness.

Feel free to share other advice, or list other cool Boston-area companies, in the comments area below.

Consumer Electronics

1. Ambient Devices: Integrating information displays into everyday devices, like umbrellas that tell you when it’s going to rain. (Video of Ambient founder David Rose.)

2. Bose: Noise-cancelling headsets, Wave radios, iPod docks, and other stuff that makes the world a better-sounding place.

3. E Ink: Pursuing the holy grail of electronic paper. Currently supplies high-contrast, low power screens to Amazon’s Kindle and Sony Reader, the leading e-books.

4. Emo Labs: Trying to merge speakers and displays.

5. Myvu: Digital displays integrated into eyeglasses.

6. ZINK Imaging: Polaroid’s last great hope, this spin-off is bringing to market technology for pocket-sized digital photo printers. (Video with ZINK CEO Wendy Caswell.)

Web 2.0 / Digital Media

7. Brightcove: Tools for publishing, measuring, and monetizing video on the Web. (Video of Brightcove CEO Jeremy Allaire.)

8. Frame Media: Delivering content to Internet-connected picture frames.

9. Going: Online social director for people interested in going out to live events.

10. Maven Networks: Pioneer developer of tools for online video publishing; acquired by Yahoo in 2008, so the future may be a bit hazy.

11. MyPunchbowl: Trying to knock off Evite as the dominant site for party planning.

12. ScanScout: Managing ads embedded in Internet video.

13. TripAdvisor: The definitive word on where to stay. Developing into a social network for travelers. Owned by Barry Diller’s Expedia Inc. in New York. (Video of TripAdvisor CEO Steven Kaufer.)

14. Veveo: Video search for mobile devices. (Video that includes a short interview with Veveo co-founder Murali Aravamudan.)

15. Visible Measures: Providing data about how users engage with video on the Web.

Product Design / Web Design / Marketing

16. Brickyard VFX: Visual effects for TV commercials and shows like “CSI: NY.”

17. Continuum: Design firm with offices in West Newton, Milan, and Seoul. Lots of work on medical devices, consumer products like the Swiffer, and hardware like the $100 laptop.

18. IDEO Cambridge: New England outpost of the famed Silicon Valley design firm that has worked with Apple, Palm, HBO, and Prada.

19. Sapient: Interactive shop whose clients include Staples, Celebrity Cruises, Sony, and Harrahs.

Software, Software-as-a-Service, Virtualization

20. Avid Technology: Software for movie, TV, and music editors and producers. (Video of Avid employee Matt Feury.)

21. Cakewalk: Software for amateur and professional musicians.

22. Desktone: Helping companies better manage desktop software by delivering it virtually.

23. Matchmine: Funded in part by the Krafts, the first family of New England football, company aims to deliver more personalized content: music, video, and text.

24. Nuance: The world leader in speech recognition software, right here in Massachusetts. (Video of Nuance exec Peter Mahoney demoing Nuance-powered GPS system.)

25. Vlingo: Talk to your cell phone and have it understand you. Run by former Nokia, SpeechWorks, and Groove Mobile execs. (Video that includes a short interview with Vlingo co-founder Mike Phillips.)


26. Airvana: Infrastructure for high-speed wireless networks. Also, developing femtocells (cell phone booster devices) for consumer use at home. Run by former Apple exec Randy Battat. (Video of Battat explaining the femtocell market.)

27. Akamai: The FedEx of the Internet.

28. Peermeta: Software platform to improve the end-user experience on mobile devices. Started by Acopia Networks founder Cheng Wu.

29. Verivue: Advanced networking services for the delivery of digital media.


30. Old Road Computing: Aims to help enterprises better manage mobile devices.


31. Luminus Devices: Brighter LEDs for TVs and lighting applications.

32. Nantero: Nanotube-based memory chips.


33. Zipcar: The world’s largest car-sharing firm is heavily dependent on technology. (Video of Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith.)


34. Boston Dynamics: Creator of walking robots like BigDog, as well as simulation software for the military.

35. Hydroid: Robots that don’t mind getting wet.

36. iRobot: Robots for the living room and the battlefield.

37. Kiva Systems: Robotic warehouse workers. (Video with Kiva CEO Mick Mountz.)

CleanTech, Power, and Batteries

38. A123 Systems: Nanophosphate technology allows batteries to pack more punch; an A123 division called Hymotion also converts hybrid vehicles into ultra-high-mileage plug-in hybrids.

39. Great Point Energy: Converting coal into natural gas, while sequestering the CO2.

40. Konarka Technologies: This Lowell company wants to put thin, flexible solar cells on just about every surface exposed to the sun. (Video that includes interview with Konarka CEO Rick Hess.)

41. 1366 Technologies: Trying to bring down the cost of silicon-based solar cells.


42. Conduit Labs: Start-up trying to bring more fun and games to social networks. Founded by Nabeel Hyatt, formerly of Ambient Devices.

43. GuildCafe Entertainment: Creating an online hang-out for players of role-playing games.

44. Harmonix Music Systems: The MIT spin-out that gave birth to “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band.” Now owned by MTV Networks. (Video visit to Harmonix headquarters.)

45. Rockstar New England: known until recently as Mad Doc Software, this shop specializes in bringing artificial intelligence to games. Acquired in April 08 by Rockstar Games, publisher of “Grand Theft Auto.”

46. Turbine: Builder of online fantasy realms linked to “Lord of the Rings” and “Dungeons and Dragons.”

Research & Development

47. BBN Technologies: You’ve heard of the Internet? They helped build it. Ever sent an e-mail? They sent the first one. Since 1948, they’ve been working on the edge of what’s possible in software and networking.

48. DEKA Research: OK, it’s in Manchester, NH (about 45 minutes north of Boston). But founder Dean Kamen is the Willy Wonka of New England tech, always cooking up something tantalizing. (Video visit to DEKA headquarters.)

49. Google Cambridge: It’s not exactly Mountain View, but Cambridge engineers have contributed work to Google’s Android mobile operating system…and they’ve just moved into swanky new office space.

50. Microsoft Research Cambridge: Just set up in 2008 to focus on core computer science, design, and social science.

* * * * * * *

3 Ways to Find More Cool Companies

1. Go to events like the MIT $100K competition, the monthly WebInno gathering, the Mass TLC Investor Conference, and OpenCoffee Club. (Other events are listed in the right-hand column here, under “Regular Gatherings.”)

2. Meet someone who works at the Cambridge Innovation Center, and ask them to show you around. An astonishingly high percentage of cool start-ups in town start off in this space.

3. Keep an eye on new company fundings on the Web sites of local venture capital firms. Some good places to start: Prism, Flybridge, Sigma, Matrix, Polaris, Highland, Spark, General Catalyst and Greylock.

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Anonymous Brian Shin said...


This is Brian Shin from Visible Measures. First, thanks for the shout-out. And second, this list is amazing in terms of its scope! great work - Go Boston!

April 8, 2008 10:16 AM  
Blogger Nabeel said...

Just happy to be on a list with Brian. :)

April 8, 2008 11:20 AM  
Blogger Tim Rowe said...

This is Tim Rowe from Cambridge Innovation Center. Thanks for the shout-out too, Scott!

I think you should do this list every year, and we can start to use it as a bench-mark for how we are doing attracting cool companies to CIC and the area at large. I just did the math, and 16% of the companies in your list this year got their start at CIC! Here is a shout-out to those guys: Go Ambient, Maven, ScanScout, Visible Measures, Luminus Devices, Great Point Energy, Conduit Labs, and Google Cambridge!


April 8, 2008 11:24 AM  
Anonymous David Cancel said...


Great list keep up the good work!

Although you forgot both Compete and my new company Lookery!!!!!!



April 8, 2008 2:44 PM  
Blogger corey said...

This is a terrific list, so thank you. I'd throw Forrester Research in there under R&D as well. We're doing some very interesting stuff on social technology and actually have a new book coming out on the subject. Cool people, great analysts, Kendall Square. What more could you want?

April 9, 2008 9:51 AM  
Anonymous Jon Radoff said...

Thanks for putting the list together and including GuildCafe! We're honored to be in such great company.

April 11, 2008 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Waikit said...

Great list and thanks for including us!


April 11, 2008 5:47 PM  
Blogger Joost Bonsen said...

I double reinforce your comment on Cambridge Innovation Center. The place should be called the Innovation Epicenter, so many cool things confluence & emerge from there

April 11, 2008 6:07 PM  
Blogger seanlindsay said...

Great list Scott, and great to see so many of my friends getting recognition.

Keep your eyes on Viximo. Consider us the scrappy up-and-comer for your next list.


April 12, 2008 7:07 PM  
Blogger Nobody said...

Fantastic! How about a list for New York City?

July 13, 2008 1:11 PM  
Blogger Armando said...


Great post. As a medical student, I am very interested in biotech and bioengineering companies. I know Boston has the largest concentration of such companies. Though I didn't seem to see many I'd hoped to see on your list, you included some interesting companies.

Keep it up.

July 16, 2008 6:38 PM  
Anonymous Cheap Web Design New York said...

Nice list.....thanks for this post.

July 3, 2009 5:55 AM  

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