Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Boston's Biggest Trade Associations Flunk the Student Test

Let me be clear: I really hate students.

They don't really add anything to our local economy, except for sometimes when they start companies upon graduation (like Microsoft, Akamai, Facebook, iRobot, MicroCHIPs, Harmonix Music Systems, Brontes Technologies, etc. etc.)

They also don't really help local companies by joining them... with all their youthful energy and fresh ideas.

That is why I agree with all of the major trade associations that it is not a good idea to get students involved, or make it easy for them to participate in events.

What would be the benefit? It's not like students would ever start a company that might pay the annual membership fees to belong to one of these associations, or work for a company that might join.

OK, enough sarcasm for one post.

To me, the biggest way to make Boston more competitive and innovative right now is to do a better job connecting students with our innovation economy. Which is why it pains me that our trade associations and networking groups make it so hard for students to get involved.

Here's my assessment of how our local organizations are doing on this front. The most informal groups (those that don't tend to charge membership fees) rank high. Oddly, the groups that charge the most for annual membership fees also seem not to care much about developing new members for the future. I'd say that bodes poorly for their long-term health.

How'd I grade these groups? I looked at the remaining 2008 events on their Web sites and evaluated how easy/affordable it would be for an undergrad or grad student to attend, and whether they offered memberships to students. I plan to turn this report card into a Globe column soon, and I plan to talk to some of these organizations about why they are so impenetrable to students... it will be interesting to see if any of them change their stance at all between now and then.

    A+. Mobile Monday Boston organizes panels and networking events at least once a month, which cost nothing to attend. An October meeting focused specifically on bringing together student groups from local schools with successful mobile entrepreneurs. The goal? "...[E]xpose local students to the professional opportunities available in Boston's mobile industry."

    A+. Web Innovators Group organizes monthly demo nights at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge. They're free to attend, and while drinks are served, there's no problem for under-21-types to get in.

    A+. OpenCoffee Club Boston: An informal gathering of entrepreneurs every Wednesday morning in Cambridge. Free to everyone.

    A. TIE Boston: Student memberships cost $25, and that brings down the rate to attend most events to $10 or $20. Some events are free for members. Non-member rates for students are posted for all events, and tend to run only a bit more than that. Going to the annual TieCON East conference, though, is a bit pricey even for student members: $175. What TIE (The IndUS Entrepreneurs) does better than most associations is make it obvious that students are welcome to be part of the group... and not just Indian students!

    A. Harvard Business School students organize several events throughout the year... including the Cyberposium in November. The cost to attend as a student is $20 to $30.

    A. MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge. Student membership costs $20 and offers free admission to some events, $10 to $35 admission to many others.

    A. Xconomy has just begun offering a limited number of student passes to their events, at $35. The next one up is focused on Energy Innovation.

    A-. The biggest event at Babson College is the Babson Forum on Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Cheap for Babson students ($35), but $45 for other students.

    A-. MIT holds an annual conference on venture capital in December, along with other events throughout the year. The VC conference is $55 for students outside the MIT community, and $40 for MIT-ers.

    A-. Search Engine Marketing New England offers a $95 annual student membership, which provides free admission to all of the group's meetings.

    B+ The Renewable Energy Business Network organizes free schmooze-fests... but they're at bars, so unfriendly to the under-21 crowd.

    B+. Boston Post Mortem puts on a monthly event for folks in the vidgame industry. It's free, but held at a bar... (Update: Darius Kazemi of Post Mortem mentions that anyone over 18 can get into the pub where the event is held. But the group's Web site should let people know that.)

    B. Biotech Tuesday: Students aren't eligible to join the networking group, but can attend its cocktail parties for $17.

    B-. The Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange (MITX) has a $25/year student membership. That's great, but the typical event costs between $35 and $50 for members. The annual MITX Awards ceremony, coming up later this month, is $95.

    C. The Mass Biotech Council is holding a career fair in November. It's free, and open to anyone with two years of life sciences experience or at least a two-year degree in a life sciences-related field. In December, the council holds its annual investor's conference, which has a $300 rate for academically-affiliated attendees. Three other November events are open only to member companies and their employees. Universities can become a member of the council for $2500 in annual dues. I called the office, and found that students at those universities can attend member events for free, but that policy isn't outlined on the Web site.

    D. Mass Technology Leadership Council has no memberships available for students, and all of its November events cost $80 for non-members to attend. I happen to know that one of the council's monthly events, Tech Tuesday, is free for students to attend, but I couldn't find any clear info on that event's registration page that explained that. Also, it's held in a bar, which rules out most undergrads from attending.

    D. The Mass Network Communications Council has two events in November. They cost $65 and $80 for non-members. Universities and colleges can apply to become members for $1000, which presumably would enable students and faculty to attend events at the member rate ($45 and $50 for the November events)... which is still a bit high for an undergrad or grad student. There's also no list on the Web site of which universities, if any, are members. I called up the head of the council to ask what the scoop was, and he said that they often allow a few interested students to attend events for free. It's a great policy, but shouldn't it be explained somewhere on the Web site?

    D. The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce charges $90 or more for non-members to attend its events. While many universities (Harvard, MIT, BU) are members, it is not clear whether students at those schools could take advantage of member rates (which still average $50). I called them up and found out that students can take advantage of those member rates if they go to a school that's a Chamber member, but it shouldn't take a phone call.

    D. The Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council has a membership category for academic institutions. If you call them up, you learn that students at those institutions can take advantage of the member rate (but that isn't explained on the Web site.) Students who don't go to those member schools would pay the non-member rate of $85 to $250 to participate in council events.

    D. New England Clean Energy Council offers no student memberships. Universities pay $500. The council's November event, a "green tie gala," costs $330 for individual non-members to attend.

I'm not going to give a grade to the events I'm involved with locally. It's very hard for students to go to the Nantucket Conference without paying the pricey registration fee, although there have been a few editions where we've invited high-schoolers to participate. We usually set aside a small number (somewhere between 2 and 4) of passes to Future Forward to current students. And at the Convergence Forum in June, we sometimes set aside a few "scholarship" passes, usually for grad students and post-docs working on an entrepreneurial venture. I'm also trying to weave a few students into a breakfast series for entrepreneurs that I'm organizing.

If you feel that it's important to pave the way for students to get involved with our innovation economy here in New England, and you're a member of any of these groups that don't score so well, would you help agitate for change?

Often, it's only a case of making it more obvious on the organization's Web sites that students are welcome, and explaining how they can participate.

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Anonymous Don Dodge said...

Good point Scott. We all need to do more to get students involved...for free.

If some of the bigger groups and associations won't make their meetings available for free, then maybe some of the big companies should just pay for them to attend. A kind of scholarship for conferences and events.

Microsoft has done this many times, although it doesn't get much recognition. Maybe we need to do a better job of encouraging, and giving recognition to companies that do help pay for students.

Thanks for bringing this issue to light. I will speak to the organizations I am involved with and ask them to make it clear we want students to attend...for free.

Don Dodge

November 4, 2008 11:00 AM  
Blogger Joost Bonsen said...

Good points. Mass could definitely be more friendly to in-migrants.

On your listing, you completely missed the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge -- http://www.mitforumcambridge.org/ -- which has since its founding in the 1970s been and remains free to all students. This is where I first was introduced to entrepreneurship in New England after coming to MIT from California -- and I'm still here.

And the MIT Enterprise Forum's Innovation Series has historically been one of the first to spotlight emerging technology-business clusters -- for instance, this months session on neuroscience entrepreneurship -- http://www.mitforumcambridge.org/nov.html -- which is also the subject of my MIT seminar on Neurotechnology Ventures -- http://neuro.media.mit.edu/classes/neuroven/08.fa/ -- which we have also opened to students cross-registering from anywhere.

While the trade associations are key, universities -- and the innovation ecosystem leavened by the universities -- are important sources of influence, encouragement, and filtering. Indeed, I suspect much of the "impenetrability" you fret about is in fact a filter to keep out those who are neither prepared nor serious. But I have rarely had organizers of events turn me down when I strongly recommend a student attending who I've vetted and think would both benefit from and add to a trade association event.

The real problem here is bolstering the scale and reach of the venture mentor network in Boston and New England generally. All too often, alas, those who serve to advise and help are not particularly rewarded or valued in their organizations. Therefore they leave -- and with them goes their network and their recommendations and their service to the region...


November 4, 2008 11:34 AM  
Blogger David Wechsler said...


I couldn't agree more.

As you probably remember, I ran the Boston Chapter of the Association of Internet Professionals (AIP) for several years (1996 - 1999). During that time, we had a FREE monthly (maybe bi-monthly) meeting at which pizza and beverages were always served. Usually, almost without fail, I could call one of 30 local software companies that were more than happy to pick up the $200 food bill in return for having a handout or banner at our meeting. As you also probably remember, the volunteers that helped me always managed to secure incredible speakers, everything from the FBI to some of the greatest tech entrepreneurs of all time.

Typically, we had 150 - 250 attendees to our meetings. The composition of these meetings were generally 1/3 students, 1/3 young entrepreneurs and a 1/3 established tech professionals. This mix provided incredible depth and breadth - actually, that's what made our group so special. The students (always from MANY local colleges and universities) had great ideas, an incredible understanding of the technology and a desire to be part of it. What more could you want in a professional organization?

Recently, as I looked at what was available in local networking groups, I saw fees likes $85 - $100 for a single meeting for non-members, with membership starting at several hundred dollars per year. What are these groups thinking? Ok, a lot have discounted rates for students, but that's not the point. There really is no desire to engage the community. I understand that many of these organizations have paid staff, but I fear that by creating these silos, we will never restore Boston's place in the tech economy.

I applaud your efforts and suggest that every organization self-reflect on how they are missing this important asset. Boston has more brain power than anywhere in the country, much of it concentrated in students and recent graduates. Now it's time to again capitalize on that strength and grow as a region.

David Wechsler

November 4, 2008 12:10 PM  
Blogger Kent Quirk said...

Students are the lifeblood of the Boston economy. We have many of the best schools in the nation around here, and organizations need to find ways to involve students if they want to continue to thrive. Experience is valuable, but the energy and new knowledge of students is also important.

The game industry has traditionally been poor about helping people to break in, but Boston Post Mortem (the game industry group you mentioned, which I helped found) has always allowed students to participate freely, and we're even ramping up to host some student-centric events over the next year.

Yes, please continue the press to encourage area businesses and business groups to integrate students. Too often we lose people who don't think there are jobs here, just because they don't find a welcoming attitude.

November 4, 2008 1:03 PM  
Anonymous Rob Go said...

Great post. Our student population is one of Boston's main competitive advantages as a city. We all need to do more to make MA an attractive place to start an entrepreneurial career post graduation.

Some of these trade organizations could make a real impact by helping students start careers at entrepreneurial companies. Maybe in the form of a career fair or mentorship program. I was at a startup in Palo Alto last month and half of the development team was comprised of Stanford students (and this was not a "big name" like Facebook). Maybe I'm wrong, but are there a few startups that are sucking in a large number of MIT students these days?

November 4, 2008 1:36 PM  
Blogger Bob B said...

Go Scott! Fostering innovation depends on a wide variety of factors, starting with creating a culture of innovation that spans diverse groups, diverse specialties and interests, and--as you point out--diverse age groups.

While getting students more involved in innovation, and more thoughtfully involved, doesn't on its own ensure the strength of an innovation community, it is clearly of critical importance. Kudos to you for being one of the leading voices on this. -- Bob Buderi

November 4, 2008 2:04 PM  
Blogger Scott Kirsner said...


Thanks for pointing out that the MIT Enterprise Forum is very student friendly. I added them to the list and gave them an A.


November 4, 2008 3:07 PM  
Blogger Mike Feinstein said...

I agree, Scott. I've had steady involvement with student entrepreneurs since I graduated oh so many years ago. Although they all have a lot to learn, they also bring tons of energy and new ideas to the environment.

In addition to making events more accessible to students, organizations should actually do some marketing or promotion to students. Business schools in the area as well as organizations that run business plans competitions are natural marketing partners for local networking events and industry groups that want to appeal to students.

November 4, 2008 3:57 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

We are thrilled to have earned an A+! And we completely agree on the importance of making it free, welcoming and accessible for students to engage with the local economy.

Kate Imbach
Mobile Monday Boston

November 4, 2008 4:41 PM  
Anonymous Kiki Mills said...

It’s the million dollar question that all of us in the business and technology community have been talking– how do we keep the young talent in the region?

I grew up with the mantra “A’s are acceptable” – so scoring a B- , albeit on an impromptu test, is not perfect in my book. However, MITX has had students in mind since it was created with a student membership and introduced a Career Fair three years ago to bring together the students and our member base for internship and entry level jobs. What’s great is that at least five of our member companies hired from the Career Fairs this past year – that’s a small, but I think a good step in the right direction. That being said, there’s clearly more to be done (as you’ve noted).

I truly believe associations should and need to play an important role in this issue. We have held two forums over the past 6 months with Career Service Offices at over 20 colleges to help them understand the digital marketing, media and technology industry, the job opportunities and how we can move the needle to connect students to employers.
We need to make the doormats more welcome on the sites – but there’s a lot more grass roots activities that needs to be done that will involves other parties as well - the colleges, companies and the local government. With the help of local colleges, we’ve begun putting the wheels in motion to develop a Talent Retention & Recruitment initiative to make a practical impact with the schools, the students and our member companies moving forward. We’re excited!

Kiki Mills, Executive Director MITX

November 4, 2008 5:48 PM  
Anonymous Ted Morgan said...

I couldn't agree more Scott. All the pieces exist here in Boston to foster a strong startup community which is why so many companies begin here. But we do need the industry groups around town to evolve and reach out more to the next generation of entrepreneurs and the new areas of innovation (few of the traditional groups even covered the mobile segment until recently).

We also need institutions and VCs to help "stock the pond" by putting money into these groups/events so that they can stay free and attract students and other budding entrepreneurs.

November 4, 2008 5:53 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

I couldn't agree more. I work for a website that helps students network in a way they can appreciate. It is www.NUresume.com. Students can create their own online portfolio, write a blog, find jobs or internships, network, upload videos and join groups. It even has Instant Messaging.

November 4, 2008 7:57 PM  
Anonymous John Stack said...

Really nice post and very good points. My thoughts and the ideal - like many others - "your student ID is your passport to any organization."

Fundamentally, while these are mostly innovation-based groups, the concept needs to extend beyond to specific industry groups beyond the local entrepreneurial ones- such as ACM, CEMA, etc.

Additionally, while there are many wonderful entrepreneurial programs in those posted here; I've maintained that there is something lacking - that faculty needs to provide incentives to work in lockstep with these associations - winding assignments and curriculum into and around some of these programs and associations.

November 5, 2008 8:32 AM  
Blogger Nick said...


You raise a very important point.

We are behind in our efforts, but have much on the drawing board:

We initially decided to postpone individual memberships when we were in the initial building phase—just too much to handle for a tiny staff. However, we will be allowing them in 2009, and will welcome students @ $25. We will also be allowing students to attend (most) of our events for free.

We are organizing an event with the Collegiate Energy Association (an association of energy clubs) on December 3—students will be invited at no charge. Also helping this group to organize its efforts.

We will be launching an internship program shortly, creating a dedicated database on our website which allows students to browse available internships. The goal is to work with area companies such that we have a robust set of positions for Summer 2009.

We will shortly implement an overhauled jobs board on our site which lets students (and other job seekers) browse available jobs, post their resume anonymously, and subscribe to open positions matching desired criteria.

I appreciate you lighting a fire under all trade groups on this issue. It’s a critical piece of the puzzle.


Nick d'Arbeloff
Executive Director
New England Clean Energy Council

November 5, 2008 11:41 AM  
Anonymous David Beisel said...

The bimonthly Web Innovators Group meetings are free and open to everyone in the web and mobile entrepreneurial community, including all students. In fact, in the past couple years we’ve had a number of student-run companies included in our startup demos profiled … included one run by a high-school student. I appreciate the high mark for WebInno in your post, but we could always be doing more to proactively reach out to students and welcome them to our events.

David Beisel, Founder, Web Innovators Group

November 5, 2008 4:41 PM  
Anonymous Kristin Casasanto said...

Thanks for taking the time to mention student involvement in the technology industries in Boston. We thrive on the involvement companies extend to our students, via internships, mentorships, guest lectures, networking and industry events. The video game industry in MA has been difficult to break into for entry-level jobs. Often game companies are too busy to properly set up an internship program that bennefits both the company and the student. But the companies who have invested in interns find that they then have quality resources to hire with a fraction of the learning curve or training cost.

Associations like MITX, Autodesk Animation User Group Association, and Boston Post Mortem have been great at encouraging students to attend events at a reduced or no cost. These organizations often provide resources to connect recent graduates to internships or job opportunities. I hope more companies follow this practice. We have so many great colleges in New England, with so much creative talent in the Boston area.

Kristin Casasanto
Assistant Director, Career Services
Media Arts & Animation
Web Design & Interactive Media
The New England Institute of Art

November 5, 2008 5:10 PM  
Anonymous Jeff Bennett said...

Boston is in a very unique position in the world with the abundance of colleges and universities here. I can attest to the value of tapping into the college community to aid in the building of businesses - I did this when at Lycos, on several new business initiatives and now at NameMedia. The kids at Bentley, Babson, Harvard and MIT were great to work with...though I have a soft spot for the up and coming stars at Bentley. There is an enormous opportunity for the Boston entrepreneurial community to tap into our educational institutions. Collaboration with the colleges and universities can be a very big win-win for all of us. This can be a source of new ideas, talent,intellect and research. The more fertile we can make our region the more reasons will be formed for these college students to stay here. This can and needs to be a very big contributor to the innovation economy in New England as we go forward. Scott I have been doing my part here on my own but very happy to collaborate with the broader community to make this a pillar of how we all do business - lets make this into a big deal. Shame on us to let the next Mark Zuckerberg flea to Silicon Valley!

Jeff Bennett
NameMedia, Inc.

November 5, 2008 8:21 PM  
Blogger Anthony said...

Great article, Scott!

I attend the Mobile Mondays events pretty regularly and I can say that they're always interesting *and* they attract cool people.

One of the other local networking groups I typically attend is the Boston chapter of the Usability Professionals Association. Membership is free for everyone! The group has regularly monthly lectures, offers cheap (~$75) day long training workshops about once a quarter, and an inexpensive yearly mini-conference (about $300).

UPA meetings are a great place for students to learn something new about the field of user experience and usability, and there are almost always at least 2 companies announcing open positions every month. For a motivated student, it's a great way to network for internship and coop opportunities, too! (Though I don't think students take advantage of these opportunities nearly enough.)

BTW, the Boston UPA chapter is coordinating World Usability Day activities at the Boston Museum of Science on Thursday, Nov. 13 from 9 am - 5 pm. There will be fun activities for the whole family, plus organizations (esp. non-profits) can request free usability evaluations of their web site!

For more information, the Boston UPA group's web site:


Thank you!

Anthony Hand
Boston UPA Outreach Coordinator

November 5, 2008 8:28 PM  
OpenID thebostonentrepreneur said...

I’m a Babson MBA candidate that feels blocked from participating in certain trade associations due to fees. Many trade associations have student rates, but for proactive students interested in more than one association the fees add up quickly. I actively approach the Babson administration asking if the school has access to entry for meetings and trade conferences, and I am amazed when I continuously am told “no.” I know one example of a Boston area association that allows 4-5 Babson students to attend every meeting for free. There is a contact at Babson that monitors the passes, and distributes them fairly. I love this program and I will be attending a conference using one of these passes next month. Most students are unaware of the program; which tells me that the students utilizing the passes are the proactive self-starters that will participate and add value to the associations/meetings/conferences. I strongly believe that trade associations should work with the schools, and offer a limited number of free passes to each meeting and conference for interested students.

If you read this and are interested in creating a partnership like I mentioned, I am more than happy to start a program at Babson.

Great post Scott!

Eric Shooman

November 6, 2008 10:07 AM  
Blogger Doug Levin said...

Many good points in this post.

I have some additional points you can read here: http://www.newsoftwarepathways.com/blog/?p=52

November 8, 2008 4:55 PM  
Blogger Nabeel said...

This post has been removed by the author.

November 9, 2008 8:31 PM  
Blogger Nabeel said...

Great rundown, Scott. Although I think you are too kind to the folks at OpenCoffee. Although we are free and open to all, we don't really have a website and don't do much to let the folks at local Universities even know we exist. Both of these are due to the informal nature of OC, but regardless we could be doing more to let motivated students know where they can interact with entrepreneurs and get feedback on their ideas.

I'd also love to see a scorecard of how some of the larger startups are performing in hiring interns as well as recent grads. Too often I hear of folks leaning towards the resume instead of the talent. There should be public accolades for folks who do a good job incorporating recent grads.


November 9, 2008 10:04 PM  
Blogger Tom Hopcroft said...


I applaud your efforts to help make Boston more competitive and innovative, and appreciate you carrying the torch and fostering greater dialogue on this issue.

The Mass Technology Leadership Council shares your belief that better ties between our academic community and industry will benefit us all. The Council has a long tradition and commitment in this area; our initiatives include (1) engaging student entrepreneurs in our entrepreneurial programming; (2) working with educators at all levels on issues related to training our future workforce; and (3) working with researchers on mechanisms for greater collaboration between schools and with industry.

Your post on trade associations flunking the student test is provocative and a good stimulus for discussion, but it misses the critical fact that trade associations/groups do not all come in the same flavor. Each has a different mission, different structure (ranging from no membership, to individual membership, to corporate membership), and each offers different value to its members, the community, and our students.

This diversity is a great strength in New England that should be embraced. I look forward to continuing to work with you and other local leaders to help our student and other entrepreneurs map the various opportunities and get better connected to the larger technology community.

At the Mass Technology Leadership Council, for example, we are dedicated to driving innovation and fostering entrepreneurship. We host programs specifically designed to help all entrepreneurs – student or otherwise – and we often support entrepreneurs who cannot afford to pay full price. For example, (1) at our recent unConference we offered scholarships to over 80 early-stage entrepreneurs, (2) we do direct outreach to entrepreneurship programs at local universities and offer their students reduced rates to our Entrepreneurial Cluster programs, and (3) Tech Tuesday: Gadgets & Geeks networking nights (cited in your post) are free, available by public transit, and held at the Skellig, a restaurant/bar, so people of all ages can attend.

-Tom Hopcroft, Executive Director, Mass Technology Leadership Council, Inc.

November 13, 2008 11:31 AM  

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