Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The A123 Systems IPO: Signed, Sealed ... But Not Yet Delivered

Two unnamed sources with close ties to A123 Systems, the Watertown maker of next-gen lithium ion batteries for Black and Decker cordless tools and plug-in hybrid cars, tell me that the company's IPO filing is essentially complete. Once the first quarter numbers are finalized, an S-1 is likely to arrive in the SEC's inbox sometime in the next month or so. The offering could value the company at more than $1 billion. Road show is planned for September; Goldman, JP Morgan, and Merrill are underwriting, I'm told.

A123 Systems has raised more than $150 million since it was founded in 2001. Among the biggest winners from a successful IPO would be North Bridge Venture Partners and Sycamore Networks chairman Desh Deshpande. (North Bridge has a cool video case study on A123.) Sequoia Capital and General Electric are also investors.

Will Wall Street have an appetite for a battery IPO in September? We'll see...

A123 Systems' PR rep, Keith Watson, says, "The company can't comment on anything related to an IPO."

(In the photo is George W. Bush with A123 CEO David Vieau, standing next to a plug-in hybrid Prius that A123's Hymotion division converted. White House photo by Paul Morse.)

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mark Levin's First Two Deals at Third Rock

Mass High Tech had the first word last Friday on Constellation Pharmaceuticals, the first big company announced by Mark Levin's new venture capital firm, Third Rock Ventures. Levin was the long-time CEO at Millennium Pharmaceuticals. Constellation will focus on the relatively new arena of epigenetics.

Today, Todd Wallack of the Globe gets a bit more in depth with Constellation, noting that the firm has raised $32 million, and that Levin will serve as interim CEO (though he's recruiting a permanent chief executive.) Wallack also mentions that Third Rock has backed another company, Zafgen, which is hunting for treatments for obesity. That company has raised $23 million.

Here's the official press release on Constellation.

(Still no news of either company on the Third Rock Web site.)

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A Gathering for Student Entrepreneurs, This Saturday at MIT

MIT senior Albert Park is putting together an event called Underground 2008 this Saturday, May 3rd. All student entrepreneurs are welcome. As Albert explains it, the goals are:

    INSPIRE: Hear the latest and greatest on how your fellow entrepreneurs are changing the world.

    CONNECT: Quiz successful entrepreneurs, investors, and each other for some new perspectives on entrepreneurship.

    CREATE: Befriend your college's entrepreneurs and learn about what resources are available for you.

Students from MIT, Harvard, Babson, Olin, BC, Tufts, and BU are expected to attend -- but everyone is welcome. Dharmesh Shah, founder of HubSpot, will give the opening keynote. That'll be followed by panels on "Student Successes," "Alumni Entrepreneurs," and "Investors in the Hot Seat."

It starts at noon on Saturday. There's a Facebook group, but no Web site for the event. You can RSVP (with your name and college) to - and sooner is better. In addition to Albert, Underground 2008 is being organized by:

    Harvard College Entrepreneurship Forum
    MIT Science and Engineering Business Club

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Monday, April 28, 2008

ROFLCon Round-Up

Kudos (!) to the MIT and Harvard students who organized ROFLCon, an exploration and celebration of Internet culture and contagious memes, last week. I dropped in Friday afternoon and Saturday morning... and especially enjoyed a ten-minute disquisition by Tron Guy about whether it is appropriate to wear underwear with a skin-tight white 'Tron' costume. (No, is the answer.)

Carolyn Johnson has a great wrap-up piece in the Globe this morning ... Chris Herot has a blog entry about it ... and David Weinberger, who delivered a keynote on Friday morning, has a number of posts, including one on the LOLcats panel. There's also coverage from Wired News, and photos from the excellent San Francisco-based blog Laughing Squid.

The big news, however, was a street fight between Firefox and the TripAdvisor owl, right outside the venerable Media Lab:

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Today's Globe column: From IMO to EMO

Today's Globe column digs into the story of a start-up, IMO, that was once heralded as bringing a revolution to the way mobile phones are sold. IMO quietly disappeared earlier this year; its founder, Mort Rosenthal, is now building a new company (Enterprise Mobile -- which we might call EMO) with a big financial assist from Microsoft.

Here's the opening:

    Successful start-ups have 100 fathers, someone almost said. But flameouts are orphans.

    IMO was an idea that seemed to click from the start: bring together in one retail outlet a vast selection of mobile phones and service plans - and help consumers compare them.

    But after four years and about $10 million in funding, IMO quietly closed its two stores - in Framingham and Columbus, Ohio - earlier this year. No one issued a press release, and the company's name vanished from the website of its single backer, Highland Capital Partners of Lexington. Tom Stemberg, the founder of Staples, scrubbed the company's name from his bio. (He'd served on the board.) And IMO founder Mort Rosenthal moved on to a new business - this one supported by a $20 million allowance from Microsoft Corp.

Here's the video, in which Rosenthal talks about the difference between raising money from a VC firm (IMO was backed by Highland Capital) and a strategic investor like Microsoft:

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Starting this Weekend: Cambridge Science Festival

We're really lucky to have something like the Cambridge Science Festival in our town, organized by the great MIT Museum. It starts tomorrow, and runs through May 4th. Great activities for kids, teens, and adults, on topics like biotech, brewing beer, alternative energy, solar flares, climate change, women in science, and sustainable chocolate. (Sustainable chocolate?)

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How Do We Better Connect Students to Boston's Innovation Economy?

I joined a group of people for an informal dinner discussion last night, the topic of which was: “What can we do to better connect Boston’s student population with the entrepreneurial sector in town?”

The dinner participants included three student entrepreneurs; two venture capitalists (representing Sigma Partners and Spark Capital); profs and career services folks from Babson, Boston College, Boston University, and Tufts; one person from an industry association (Tom Hopcroft of Mass TLC) and one from an angel investing group (James Geshwiler from CommonAngels); and several entrepreneurs.

It was an interesting mix of perspectives. Everyone felt that we can do a better job of exposing students to entrepreneurial companies here, and helping them build the skills and connections they’ll need to eventually start their own business. Some of my notes from the discussion are below (they’re not comprehensive), but let me try to summarize what I heard as some of the key constructive recommendations for addressing the issue:

    1. Our local industry groups, trade associations and conferences ought to offer student rates, even if they limit the number of students that can attend a particular event. Many do, but they don’t always make that clear.

    2. Students and universities are eager to have more entrepreneurs and venture capitalists visit their campus to talk about what they do. They’re especially interested in hearing from companies with summer internship or job possibilities. I know entrepreneurs and VCs are very busy, but would it be too much to ask to have them do this once a year, or once a semester – at their alma mater or another local school?

    3. It seems odd that Boston area students travel out to Silicon Valley for “Tech Treks,” where they visit the leading lights of Silicon Valley, yet there are very few opportunities for them to visit companies in their backyard, like EMC, Akamai, Genzyme, Zipcar, and Harmonix (creator of the “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” games.) Why isn’t there a weekly series of lunches, on Fridays say, that would run throughout the academic year, and invite a group of b-school students (and even a few motivated undergrads) to visit our most innovative local companies? If demand increased, this could be something that multiple companies do each Friday throughout the school year.

    And what about the VCs? I wonder why there isn’t an “open house” once a year up on “Mount Money” in Waltham, where most Massachusetts VCs have an office, that welcomes students and offers an overview of each firm’s portfolio companies.

    4. We need more events organized jointly by the students or faculty of several different schools. It’s nice that some schools have entrepreneurship conferences, or business plan competitions, but working together seems like it could accomplish much more. It was encouraging to hear that the BC and Harvard entrepreneurship clubs are beginning to work together on some initiatives.

    5. We need to do a better job of marketing/communicating to students the high-growth industries that are rooted here, from robotics to cleantech to videogames to life sciences. This could be through a combination of on-campus events, advertising in student newspapers, or creating online resources especially for students. This hasn’t been a traditional area of focus of our trade associations – aside from organizing the occasional recruiting fair.

Participants Rob Go from Spark Capital and Gregg Favalora of Actuality Medical have already posted their thoughts about the dinner, beating me to the punch.

My rough notes follow:

    - Companies ought to list internship opportunities on their sites. (Career services people at Boston-area universities: are there specific sites that you recommend to students, or see them using, that companies should also post to?)

    - Cindy Klein Marmer from Babson said she uses the BBJ’s list of the top 100 fastest-growing companies to suggest places students might want to work or intern. I published a list of fifty “cool” companies recently. It’d be nice to create a “list of lists” somewhere that career services folks, and students, could peruse. Don McLagan mentioned that MITX has a list of its member companies, all involved in digital media and technology. Other trade associations, like Mass Biotech, also have good member directories.

    - Pamela Goldberg of Tufts mentioned that she brought a table of Tufts students to a recent BBJ event honoring the 100 fastest-growing companies. That was the first time Tufts had done that, and she thought it was a success.

    - One issue at the federal level that has people concerned is the availability of visas for foreign students, so they can stick around once they’ve finished their studies. Paul McManus from BU said that 47 percent of BU’s grad students are in the country on a visa, and most can’t stay to work here afterward.

    - Entrepreneurial companies need someone to start today, CommonAngels’ James Geshwiler pointed out. They don’t have long-term hiring plans where they can recruit on campus in the fall for someone who’ll join them next June.

    - One issue is that students aren’t inclined to leave campus very often for activities. Pamela from Tufts said her approach to is to bring entrepreneurs to campus for group lunches with students.

    - Christine Griffin from BC talked about a recent visit to Silicon Valley. “There are no obvious hang-outs here,” she said, that compare to University Ave. in Palo Alto, where you might bump into Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Ross Mayfield of Socialtext.

    - She proposed a great idea, which is to pool resources among schools and create a “collaborative seminar” that would involve studying local companies and then visiting them. She’s working with some Harvard students on this project, and the idea is that students from a few local schools would each set up two or three company visits, sharing the burden.

    - Paul McManus noted that faculty involvement in that kind of project is important, because it gives things continuity as students move on.

    - At many schools, it’s not clear who the faculty point person is who could connect an entrepreneur to the most promising students – either for jobs or internships. Actuality Medical’s Gregg Favalora said that each school ought to have a “node” … an individual who is well-connected to the entrepreneurial and VC world, and also has a great sense of which students are hunting for jobs, internships, or even seed funding for a start-up idea. Running a blog would make it clear to the rest of the world who that person (or those people) are at a school.

    - James talked about “the power of role models.” Celebrity entrepreneurs, like Zuckerberg, encourage others to try to make their ideas work. “We have the anti-celebrity mentality in New England,” he said. It was jokingly suggested that I start an East Coast version of Valleywag.

    - Roger Krakoff of Sigma noted that Y Combinator is doing great work helping to cultivate early-stage start-ups. But he said that New York and Atlanta are much more focused than Boston right now on spinning up excitement about their tech scenes. He mentioned Tech Meetup in New York, which happens once a month. “New York is far more vibrant right now,” he said.

    - Among the events in Boston compared to Tech Meetup were WebInno, OpenCoffee, Mobile Mondays, Biotech Tuesdays, and Tech Tuesdays, the new monthly event organized by software pioneer and all-around nice guy Dan Bricklin. Most are free to go to, and open to students. Krakoff spoke very highly of events organized by TiE, including their entrepreneur forum coming up in May. A student membership is $25.

    - Hopcroft mentioned that students get half-off the member rate on MassTLC’s breakfast events, which makes the price $20.

    - Favalora told a very funny story about TellMe Networks recruiting at Stanford by storming computer labs at midnight and handing out free pizzas. This was during the dot-com boom.

    - Jessica Athas of The Martini Workout, a fitness entrepreneur, said that entrepreneurs from outside the tech world can sometimes feel excluded, since so many of the networking and educational events that happen here are geared to tech and biotech.

    - Paul McManus said we ought to expose liberal arts students to entrepreneurship, too – not just engineers. Pierre Omidyar, eBay’s founder and a Tufts alum, wasn’t a programmer.

    - Krakoff suggested we might need to create an event (“this big, combustible event” were his exact words) that brings together entrepreneurs with budding entrepreneurs, ideally from many different schools: Tufts/BU/Babson/Bentley/etc.

    - “Let’s make the community responsible for the problem,” Krakoff suggested. “Boston needs to promote itself better.”

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Play Hard: The New Game Company in Town

Hiawatha Bray has the first piece about Play Hard Sports, the new game company being formed by Jeff Anderson. Anderson was formerly CEO of Turbine Inc., which operates 'Lord of the Rings Online.' While Turbine had raised money from Highland and Polaris, both in Massachusetts, Anderson's new company just banked $5 million from New Enterprise Associates, a predominantly West Coast firm that has offices in Maryland.

Bray writes:

    The company will begin by offering a football simulation game, with plans to eventually add baseball, basketball, and other sports. Players will be able to create their own teams and pit them against other gamers via the Internet. "I can go online, find people of similar skills and abilities, and play them immediately," said Anderson.

    Anderson may have picked the perfect time to offer an online football game. Earlier this month, Electronic Arts Inc., the leading maker of sports games, announced it would no longer sell a version of its hugely popular football game Madden NFL for desktop computers. "That changes the dynamic and the landscape dramatically," said Anderson. "It leaves a very big vacuum."

Company is based, appropriately enough, in Foxborough (home to the New England Patriots). Here's a quick glimpse of the types of folks they're trying to hire, from the Play Hard Web site.

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Wow: Glaxo Pays an 84 Percent Premium for Sirtris Pharma

This one will be an HBS case study before long: how do you take some very early academic research from Harvard and generate $720 million of value in just four years?

GlaxoSmithKline is paying that amount, in cash, for Cambridge's Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, which develops drugs based on the chemical resveratrol. Resveratrol is an ingredient found in red wine, and it may help fight diseases related to aging. Even more fantastically, it seems to extend lifespan in mice.

Sirtris has no drugs on the market and no revenues. It was founded in 2004, and went public last year. Its most advanced drug candidate, SRT501, aims to treat diabetes, but it just completed Phase 1b trials, the results of which were announced in January.

The biggest question about this deal -- not addressed in any of the stories -- is, how long are Westphal and his key team members required to stick around after this acquisition? I wonder whether they'll have the desire, or the incentives, to stick around long enough to transform the company's early promise, which was clearly attractive to Glaxo, into actual drugs.

Here's the NY Times coverage ... and the story from today's Boston Globe. Forbes notes that the deal is part of a trend of foreign pharma companies buying US firms because of the weakness of the dollar. Bloomberg ran an earlier piece on the company, last November, 'Sirtris may fight diseases of age.' Xconomy has a Q&A with Sirtris exec Michelle Dipp, who handles corporate development and PR for the company.

I wrote about Sirtris and one of its predecessors, Elixir Pharmaceuticals, last November in the Globe.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wired Mag on Ray Kurzweil (and His Forthcoming Movie)

The current issue of Wired profiles Massachusetts inventor, entrepreneur, and life-extension enthusiast Ray Kurzweil. Gary Wolf writes, "He takes 180 to 210 vitamin and mineral supplements a day, so many that he doesn't have time to organize them all himself. So he's hired a pill wrangler, who takes them out of their bottles and sorts them into daily doses, which he carries everywhere in plastic bags."

The story also offers some details about Kurzweil's forthcoming movie:

    To press his case, Kurzweil is writing and producing an autobiographical movie, with walk-ons by Alan Dershowitz and Tony Robbins. Kurzweil appears in two guises, as himself and as an intelligent computer named Ramona, played by an actress. Ramona has long been the inventor's virtual alter ego and the expression of his most personal goals. "Women are more interesting than men," he says, "and if it's more interesting to be with a woman, it is probably more interesting to be a woman." He hopes one day to bring Ramona to life, and to have genuine human experiences, both with her and as her. Kurzweil has been married for 32 years to his wife, Sonya Kurzweil. They have two children — one at Stanford University, one at Harvard Business School. "I don't necessarily only want to be Ramona," he says. "It's not necessarily about gender confusion, it's just about freedom to express yourself."

    Kurzweil's movie offers a taste of the drama such a future will bring. Ramona is on a quest to attain full legal rights as a person. She agrees to take a Turing test, the classic proof of artificial intelligence, but although Ramona does her best to masquerade as human, she falls victim to one of the test's subtle flaws: Humans have limited intelligence. A computer that appears too smart will fail just as definitively as one that seems too dumb. "She loses because she is too clever!" Kurzweil says.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Mascoma: Lone Massachusetts Company in First Quarter's Top Ten Venture Deals

The PriceWaterhouseCoopers/NVCA MoneyTree Report covering Q1 activity just came out.

Part of the news is that there was a worrisome drop in the amount of capital poured into New England companies during the first quarter.

But the other interesting tidbit comes from the list of the top ten money-raisers in the quarter: companies like Slide (developer of Facebook apps), Asthmatx (medical devices for asthma sufferers), and Infinia Corp. (Stirling engines and generators), each of which raised $50 million.

Company #10 on the list is a mysterious Brighton, MA biotech company that raised $44.99 million from firms like Atlas Venture, General Catalyst, Kleiner Perkins, and Khosla Ventures. It's the only Massachusetts company to make the list.

Though the MoneyTree survey labels the company and its business as "undisclosed," all signs point to Mascoma Corp., a company turning cellulosic materials (plant-based schtuff like wood, straw, and switchgrass) into biofuels. (This was earlier reported as a $50 million combo of equity and debt, but there's no press release on Mascoma's site.)

Interestingly, the #1 money-raiser in the quarter was another cellulosic ethanol company, Colorado-based Range Fuels, which took in an eye-popping $130 million. Range and Mascoma have one investor in common: Vinod Khosla's Khosla Ventures.

(Both Range and Mascoma are classified by MoneyTree as "biotech" firms, but it seems to me they'd fit better in the "industrial/energy" category, though they do rely on living organisms and biotech processes to make their fuel.)

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Start-ups try to make student loan market more manageable

Yesterday's Globe column focused on start-ups trying to build businesses in the turbulent student loan market:

    "As a start-up, you either have to figure out how to change the world, or wait for things to happen organically," says Kevin Walker, cofounder and chief executive of Newton-based Simple Tuition Inc., an online service that helps students compare various loan options. The growing challenge of piecing together college financing, Walker believes, could help accelerate that organic change.

Story also deals with College Loan Market and Fynanz.

Here's the video, in which Walker offers some advice to students and parents who're currently wrangling with college financing.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Increasing Harvard's Entrepreneurial Output

Ran into Daniel Behr from Harvard's Office of Technology Development last night. He mentioned that they're planning an evening event on May 21st called "Unleashing Harvard's Innovation: The Role of Alumni." They're casting a wide net among Harvard-educated entrepreneurs, to join a conversation about how the school can better shepherd good ideas out into the world. Chris Gabrieli of Bessemer Venture Partners will help lead the discussion, and both alums and "friends of the university" are welcome, Behr says.

Info here, or e-mail

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

What Happened Between IDG and Flybridge?

I'm developing a few columns related to the venture capital world, so this afternoon I had a chance to chat by phone with IDG founder and chairman Pat McGovern.

One topic I wanted to ask him about was the split between IDG and the former IDG Ventures Boston team, which rebranded itself last month as Flybridge Capital Partners.

I'd run into Jeffrey Bussgang last week, one of the original partners at IDG Ventures Boston. He said that there were no hard feelings between IDG and the Boston investing team... but that IDG had chosen not to put money into the new $280 million Flybridge fund, after participating in two prior IDG Ventures Boston funds.

McGovern told me this afternoon that when the IDG Ventures Boston team asked how much he wanted to invest in their third fund, he said that he'd been getting better returns investing outside the US. (McGovern and IDG have funds in China, Vietnam, India, and Korea, among other places.)

"We didn't think the returns were competitive with the returns we could get elsewhere," McGovern said.

He was also bothered by the Boston team's desire to do more investing outside of New England and the East Coast. "They didn't want to stay east of the Mississippi," McGovern said, and they wanted to invest in some sectors outside of pure IT. (Another IDG fund is based in San Francisco.) "Your goals and the IDG brand are no longer aligned," McGovern said he told the Boston team.

"We agreed, they'll change their name, and raise money from people other than IDG," he said. (In 2005, when the Boston team raised its second fund, a $180 war chest, IDG had put in $25 million.)

Oddly, McGovern, who gave $350 million to MIT to start the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, said he thought the Boston team's forays into med-tech and diagnostics, like Predictive Biosciences' urine-based cancer tests, were too much of a stretch. "They were getting into areas where was no longer the major competitive advantage."

But McGovern said that "we're hoping that they do extremely well," referring to the new Flybridge fund. "We still have a lot of cash at stake in funds I and II." He said the team's historical returns had been "better than average."

McGovern is not totally pulling out of U.S. venture investing, however. McGovern said he's supporting a second IDG Ventures San Francisco fund, currently being raised. "We're putting 25 percent of the money into the new fund, which is a month or two away from closing at $180 million," he said.

I also spoke today with Flybridge managing partner Michael Greeley. (Disclosure: Greeley and I serve on the advisory board of the Nantucket Conference together.)

Greeley said, "It's a mischaracterization to say we've gone off-strategy," adding, "[Pat] has great personal interest in the healthcare convergence scene," given his philanthropic activities. Greeley also said that he expected about 80 percent of the new fund's investments to be companies that the partners can drive to from Boston, though he wouldn't rule out doing a seed deal on the west coast (though he termed it "unlikely").

Greeley says one big reason for the name change, and the split from IDG, was that he worried entrepreneurs would confuse his new fund with the IDG Ventures San Francisco fund. He and the other partners said that raising money for this new fund wasn't a problem, even without IDG's allowance: "We did not to an offering memo" to market the new fund, Greeley told me.

He also told me that the firm is looking for new space in the Back Bay, having outgrown its current digs at One Exeter Plaza, IDG's headquarters. "It's a shame not to be able to bring on entrepreneurs-in-residence because you don't have enough space," Greeley said.

(PEHub's Dan Primack served up some inside info on the relationship between McGovern and the new Flybridge fund last month.)

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Paul Graham on 'Why There Aren't More Googles'

Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham writes one or two essays a month. (They're much more thoughtful and elegantly written than the typical blog post.)

The latest one is on 'Why There Aren't More Googles.'

From the piece:

    [Computer science pioneer] Howard Aiken said "Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." I have a similar feeling when I'm trying to convince VCs to invest in startups Y Combinator has funded. They're terrified of really novel ideas, unless the founders are good enough salesmen to compensate.

    But it's the bold ideas that generate the biggest returns. Any really good new idea will seem bad to most people; otherwise someone would already be doing it. And yet most VCs are driven by consensus, not just within their firms, but within the VC community. The biggest factor determining how a VC will feel about your startup is how other VCs feel about it. I doubt they realize it, but this algorithm guarantees they'll miss all the very best ideas. The more people who have to like a new idea, the more outliers you lose.

Given that Graham and Y Combinator need to work with VCs -- the start-ups that Y Combinator funds typically rely on VCs for a next stage of funding -- his candor is refreshing (and a bit surprising).

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fred Hapgood's Calendar of Sci/Tech Lectures in Boston

This selective calendar of science, engineering, and tech lectures in Boston is really excellent... just discovering it, courtesy of Joost Bonsen's blog. It is maintained by long-time science and technology journalist Fred Hapgood.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Spreadshirt: The East Coast Answer to CafePress?

Had lunch today with Jana Eggers, the former Intuit exec who is now the CEO of Spreadshirt, a customized apparel company that was founded in Leipzig, Germany in 2002. The company entered the US market in 2005, and Eggers joined as CEO in November 2006.

Spreadshirt will make a jacket, t-shirt, or baseball cap with your design on it -- and they'll also let you sell your product to others in their marketplace. Unlike their California competitors at CafePress (which sells clocks, mugs, and clothing), Spreadshirt is focused only on apparel -- they offer five different kinds of hoodie, for example. But Eggers doesn't think Spreadshirt needs to go head-to-head with CafePress for market share -- at least at this stage.

"According to our research, 70 percent of online shoppers in the US don't know that you can do this," Eggers told me. "So it's less about stealing customers from CafePress than building awareness."

Eggers wears one of the company's products every day; today it was a brown long-sleeve t that said, "Believe it to see it." When she's in Germany, that can raise some eyebrows, since t-shirts aren't usually part of business attire. (One of her favorite shirts says, "I'm recruiting," which usually generates a conversation: "Recruiting for what?")

Eggers is building an office in Cambridge, at Cambridge Innovation Center in Kendall Square, to serve as the US headquarters of the company. It has just five employees so far (plus her) who work in sales, marketing, and finance. But she expects to add more people, in graphics and product management, by the end of the year. And a move to Southie could be in the offing. Spreadshirt's US orders are made at a plant near Pittsburgh; Eggers also says its possible that she could spark up some production in the Boston area.

The company has 250 employees in total, Eggers said.

She has a blog here, and is also a fairly avid Twitterer.

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John Adams: Massachusetts' First Innovation Cheerleader

I'm reading the David McCullough biography of John Adams now. It mentions Adams' work on our Massachusetts constitution, and that Adams inserted some crucial language about the role of education (and specifically, scientific education) in our schools:

    Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country...

(Emphasis is mine.)

According to McCullough, this paragraph was wholly unique at the time: it was "like no other declaration to be found in any constitution ever written until then, or since." You can see it in context here.

How well are we living up to Adams' hopes?

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Sunday's column: Creating a market for touch-enabled tables

Sunday's Globe column talks about the competition between a small Framingham start-up company, Circle Twelve, and Microsoft to bring touch-enabled tables to market. (Another start-up, SoCal-based TouchTable, is also in the running.)

Microsoft has some cool videos demonstrating its Surface tables, which will start showing up this week in AT&T stores in New York, Atlanta, San Francisco, and San Antonio.

Here's Circle Twelve founder Adam Bogue explaining how his DiamondTouch table works:

And here's an earlier DiamondTouch video I shot, which focuses a bit more on the multi-user and gaming aspects of the table:

And I wrote earlier about Bogue's participation in a panel on new display technologies, which was the first report that I know of about the creation of Circle Twelve. (Circle Twelve is commercializing technology originally developed at the Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs in Cambridge.) That post includes an audio recording of the panel made by Dan Bricklin.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Understanding Yesterday's Millennium Pharma Deal

The acquisition yesterday of Millennium Pharmaceuticals by a Japanese firm for $8.8 billion is a big deal -- the biggest ever in the Massachusetts biotech industry.

The Globe's Jeff Krasner has some really solid analysis of Millennium's saga, which began with a lot of lofty predictions about the power of genomic information. Krasner writes:

    Nobody did more to raise those unrealistic expectations than Mark J. Levin, Millennium's cofounder and longtime chief executive. In December 2001, he told Technology Review that Millennium would use genomics to become wildly successful. He said: "Over the next five to 10 years, our goal is to become a company that's leading the world in personalized medicines, a company that is leading the world in productivity, a company with a value of over $100 billion, a company that has five to 10 products on the market that are making a big difference in people's lives, a company with the strongest pipeline in the entire industry."

    But beyond building lavish headquarters and striking licensing deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Millennium, the company didn't produce. Its two cancer-fighting drugs, Campath and Velcade, came about the old-fashioned way: Millennium bought the smaller companies that developed the drugs. Millennium has since sold its rights to Campath to Genzyme Corp.

In a column from last August, I talked about Millennium as a font of big picture, deal-making CEOs for smaller biotechs, including Alnylam, Infinity, and Tempo.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Dispatch From Venture Summit East: More Seed Funding in the Works from Kodiak?

Swung by the Four Seasons today to catch a bit of the AlwaysOn Venture Summit East, their first event in New England.

In the halls, I ran into David Andonian from DACE Ventures (who told me his two most recent investments were Howcast in NY and EveryScape here in Mass.) ... Flybridge Capital Partners blogger Jeff Bussgang ... M&A guy Paul Bowen ...former CEO Scott Meyer ... Mr. Punchbowl Matt Douglas ... and Intel Capital's Lucy McQuilken.

My panel was titled "So You Want to be a VC." After a quick, poll, it turned out that only one person in the audience we focused on what the panelists (all representing relatively new VC firms) are doing differently.

One interesting snippet that I wanted to share with you related to seed funding -- especially seed funding of unproven young entrepreneurs.

Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital said his firm had put money into Tumblr, an NYC start-up founded by 22 year-old David Karp. Sabet observed that "seed deals will inevitably have a high mortality rate...and we're not comfortable with that here." (Here presumably meaning Boston/New England.) He mentioned Y Combinator (based in Cambridge & Mountain View) and Tech Stars (Denver) as firms that are trying to build a model around very early, very small seed deals.

Chris Greendale of Kodiak Venture Partners said he thought it'd be smart for VC firms to take a million bucks, and put it into ten ideas. I asked him what would happen if he proposed that at his next Monday morning partners meeting. Greendale said "we're talking about it," and he told me afterward that some news could be forthcoming in the next 90 days. "Why is it such a bloody long process to give away $100,000 to a new company? We can give $100,000 to our existing portfolio companies at the drop of a hat," he mused.

The biggest (and only) applause line of the panel came from Drew Lipsher from Greycroft LLC. Someone in the audience asked about entrepreneurs moving west to find money. Lipsher said something to the effect of, if the entrepreneur doesn't believe in his company enough to believe it can succeed here -- they need to move it to Silicon Valley -- then we don't need to invest.

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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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Don Dodge's links to Boston start-up events and resources

Microsoft's Don Dodge -- who seems strangely omnipresent on both coasts (I run into him a lot in Boston and in Silicon Valley) -- has a swell post on start-up events and resources for Boston entrepreneurs today.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

A Sunny Day in Massachusetts

This expansion of Evergreen Solar's manufacturing facility in Harvard, Mass., doubling its size and adding 350 jobs, is really good news. From Sacha Pfeiffer's story:

    For Evergreen, a public company founded in 1994, the state's commitment to solar power played a key role in its decision to expand in Massachusetts, Feldt said.

    Before [Gov. Deval] Patrick took office, Evergreen was considering building its first US manufacturing facility in a state such as Oregon or New Mexico that offers hefty incentives to clean energy companies, Feldt said. But during his gubernatorial campaign, Patrick visited Evergreen's Marlborough headquarters to try to persuade it to construct its plant in Massachusetts, according to Feldt.

    Ultimately, the $44 million financing package dangled by Massachusetts - including $23 million in grants and $17.5 million in low-interest loans - was not the most generous Evergreen was offered. But "what really tipped the scales was the Patrick administration's focus on alternative energy," Feldt said.

    "Deval said he was going to create an environment that is solar-friendly, and that was really important to us, and he's really done that," Feldt added. "So while the financial incentive was attractive but not the best, it was the genuine interest - and then the follow-through - in making solar important in Massachusetts that had us stay here."

This is a solid step in making Massachusetts a magnet for cleantech innovation.

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sunday's column: Georges Doriot and the Origins of Venture Capital

Today's Globe column focuses on Georges Doriot, the founder of the modern venture capital industry...and the subject of a new book, "Creative Capital", by BusinessWeek editor Spencer Ante.

The opening:

    Without him, Digital Equipment Corp. might never have gotten started, and the electronics-testing company Teradyne Inc. might not have survived beyond infancy.

    He backed an oil rig-manufacturing company run by George H.W. Bush. The current Secretary of Energy, Samuel Bodman, once worked for his Boston firm. And a half-century ago, he put $50,000 into a company called Ionics Inc. that was trying to find new ways to desalinate seawater; GE bought the company in 2004 for $1.1 billion.

    Georges Doriot is the forgotten grandfather of the modern venture capital industry. His Boston firm, American Research and Development, or ARD, helped lay the foundation for the Route 128 technology cluster.

Here's the video:

One correction to the column: Ante notes on his blog that the total amount ARD invested in Digital was more like $400,000; $70,000 was just the initial tranche.

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Summer Programs for Entrepreneurs in the Boston Area

I'm only aware of two summer programs here in the Boston area for entrepreneurs who want to spend the warmest months of the year penned up indoors, working to get a company off the ground.

One is run by Y Combinator in Cambridge. Unfortunately, the deadline for submissions was yesterday. They've helped launch companies like Reddit, Loopt, Justin.TV, and I'm In Like With You. YC invests $15,000 in a company with two team members, in return for usually about 6 percent of the equity in the company. "The goal is usually to give you enough money to build an impressive prototype or version 1, which you can then use to get further funding," they say.

The other is run by Highland Capital Partners in Lexington. It's called Summer@Highland, and applications are being accepted through April 22. Unlike Y Combinator, though, this one is open only to current graduate and undergrad students (as well as folks who graduated between December 2007 and the present.) But only one member of the team has to meet that criterion. Teams get office space either in Lexington or Menlo Park, CA.

And here's an important element: "...if a team goes on to raise venture capital within 180 days from the end of the program, then Highland [must] be provided the option to co-invest in up to 50% of the total financing round."

If you know of other summer programs in Boston/Mass./New England whose goal is to help entrepreneurs get companies off the ground, post 'em in the comments.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

AlwaysOn List of Top 100 Private Companies

AlwaysOn has an interesting list of 100 promising private companies based in the Northeast. They peg Boston-Power, a next-gen battery company, as the overall winner.

You'll note in the intro that they use the terms "Northeast" and "New England" interchangeably...something only an outsider to the region would do. The Northeast, as I view it, includes such hostile territory as New York, New Jersey, and possibly even Pennsylvania and Delaware. New England *never* includes those states. Connecticut is always up for grabs...

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Boston Dynamics' BigDog Video Spawns Parodies

Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert sent an e-mail last month offering a sneak peek of a new video of the company's gasoline-powered robotic dog, BigDog. The 'bot was shown climbing in snow, and slipping on an icy parking lot -- before recovering its balance.

Then, earlier this month, after getting the proper approvals from DARPA (the Dept. of Defense agency funding the project), the BigDog video appeared on YouTube. It has since amassed almost four million views. Here it is:

Now, parodies and mash-ups are cropping up everywhere... a sure sign that Boston Dynamics, headquartered in Waltham, has achieved not just technical success (they call BigDog "the most advanced quadruped robot on earth"), but viral video success.

Two of the better ones:

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