Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Forrester/Jupiter Rivalry Ends

Making pronouncements about the potential of the Internet was still a growth industry back in 1997. Back then, Forrester Research and Jupiter Research were cut-throat rivals. Forrester was even basing part of its analysts' pay packages on how many times they were quoted in the press. From a Wired piece I wrote about the two companies:

    ... "A very critical way we market is through the media," says Forrester president George F. Colony, a charismatic 44-year-old who founded the company in 1983. "Quotes help us sell."

    No one understands that better than Adam Schoenfeld, a VP at Jupiter Communications in Manhattan. The scrappy, fast-growing Jupiter is Forrester's closest competitor in the consumer research market, with a projected $10 million in annual revenue, and Schoenfeld is Jupiter's one-man quote-spewing jihad. He averages 1.25 mentions a month in the Times - more than any one of the competition's pundits. "I keep my eye on a couple of my favorite Forrester analysts," the 33-year-old Schoenfeld acknowledges with a grin, "just to make sure I'm getting quoted more than them."

(Interestingly, Shoenfeld seems to have become a professional poker player since I last spoke to him.)

Now, Forrester, which has long since eclipsed its rival, is buying Jupiter for $23 million.

Here's the official press release.

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Microsoft's Cambridge Lab: The Employee Directory

I like the thoroughness of this Xconomy post: publishing the roster of people working at Microsoft's new Cambridge research lab, from "founding members" like Butler Lampson to interns.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Snapshots from a VC Summer Shindig

Flybridge Capital Partners (formerly IDG Ventures Boston) held the fifth edition of their annual 'Catch the Wave' shindig this past weekend. Most of the attendees are entrepreneurs, and the gathering happens in Kennebunkport, Maine.

The big event is the Saturday night costume party. This year's theme was 'Rockstravaganza,' and some of the costumes were great. Photos are here.

Below is the Flybridge team dressed as the Village People....and a pair of guests as the Blues Brothers.... and a most excellent Amy Winehouse.

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Q Robotics: The Wraps Come Off Wednesday Night

I've been waiting just about a year to find out what the heck Q Robotics is up to. (See this post from July 07.) Q is a sort of splinter from the iRobot tree; co-founders Joe Jones and Paul Sandin were both at iRobot previously, where they helped develop the first-gen Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner.

So far, they've been very stealthy. The Web site still says zilch about their focus.

But Joe Jones e-mailed today to let me know that Wednesday night at an MIT Enterprise Forum event, they'll be talking about their focus and strategy, and CEO Charlie Grinnell will show some video of prototype robots in action.

Jones writes via e-mail: "We found an agriculture-related application that meets three prerequisites I see as essential for a successful robot: 1) The robot satisfies is a genuine market need. 2) The task is within reach of current robotic technology. 3) The cost of the robotic system can be competitive with existing non-robotic solutions."

The Groton, MA company is also unveiling a new name: Harvest Automation.

I think that makes them the first Massachusetts company specializing in robotic farmworkers... but correct me if I'm wrong.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Boston's Most Innovative Display Companies

Sunday's Globe column focused on three companies trying to bring new display technologies to market: Siftables, Vitality, and A2a Media.

Here's the video, with demos from Siftables and A2a, followed by my list of the five most innovative display companies right now in the Boston area (plus a few bonus companies).

So in addition to those three companies, each of which I think has some promise, here are the five most innovative display companies in the Boston area. How do I define innovative? Cool technology with the potential to change the world. Let me know who I missed in the comments section.

    1. E Ink: Low-power, paper-like digital displays for products like Amazon's Kindle and mobile phones.

    2. Ambient Devices: Putting Internet connected displays in unexpected places, like a refrigerator magnet or umbrella handle. Former Palm CEO Carl Yankowski was enlisted last summer to help Ambient make it big.

    3. Myvu: Will consumers wear Robocop-style glasses to watch video content from their iPod? Myvu's gonna find out.

    4. CircleTwelve: A one-man effort to commercialize the DiamondTouch table developed at Cambridge's Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs. Here's some earlier Innovation Economy coverage of CircleTwelve, and a comparison of DiamondTouch and Microsoft's Surface technology.

    5. QD Vision: Enlisting quantum dots to produce brighter displays that use less power. Here's a Technology Review article on the company.

And in the honorable mention category: Actuality Systems still sells its knock-out 3-D displays, but is repositioning itself as a medical imaging company. Emo Labs is a company built atop cool technology: integrating a display and speaker, so the audio actually comes out of the screen. But they've been having trouble gaining momentum, despite some funding from Polaris Venture Partners.

On the content side, three more companies are worthy of note.

FrameMedia is a neat Wellesley company thinking about how to deliver content to Internet-connected picture frames... and LocaModa and Aerva are both exploring ways to enliven flat-screen displays in public places with all kinds of interactive content.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Stonebraker's Latest Start-Up: Byledge

Database pioneer Mike Stonebraker is quickly becoming one of Boston's most prolific parallel entrepreneurs. When I wrote about him last December in the Globe, it sounded like there was something new cooking.

Turns out, there's at least two new pots on the Stonebraker stove. (Stonebraker is a founder of StreamBase and Vertica, which have together raised more than $50 million in VC funding... and earlier in his career helped start Ingres Corp., Illustra, and Cohera.)

The first is Byledge, a new company funded by Kepha Partners and Flybridge Capital Partners (formerly IDG Ventures Boston.) There's no site yet, and no funding announcement. The company hasn't set up offices, but there's a team taking shape, and a rough strategy.

I'm told, by someone who is familiar with the company, that Byledge will focus on "long tail travel search," scouring the Web for hidden information about lodging, restaurants, activities, and events and organizing them in easily searchable databases. (Another person who knows about Byledge described it as "semantic enrichment" -- trolling for unstructured data and then applying the right tags and labels and categories to it.) If you're looking to go salmon fishing in Alaska, how do you find all the guides, and information about the terrain they cover? Byledge aims to supply the answer.

That places the company squarely in the middle of Boston's travel info cluster, which includes companies like TripAdvisor, ITA Software, and Kayak, which is partly based here and partly in Connecticut. Kayak co-founder Paul English told me he hadn't yet heard of Byledge when we spoke yesterday. The idea sounds to me like it's closest to what TripAdvisor does -- but TripAdvisor relies heavily on human editors to organize and clean up information from around the Web.

The Byledge technology originates at MIT, where Stonebraker is a prof. I'm told it was developed by a researcher named Mujde Pamuk, who has worked alongside Stonebraker at CSAIL, the computer science and artificial intelligence lab. (Here's some of Pamuk's published work, with Stonebraker as co-author.) Also involved in the start-up are Andy Palmer, who also helped start Vertica; Vince Russo, a former chief architect at Lycos; and Mark Watkins, who headed the development organization at the enterprise search start-up Endeca, and before that worked at PTC.

Stonebraker isn't talking about the company, describing it as "currently in stealth mode" in an e-mail. Chip Hazard, the Flybridge partner who's serving on Byledge's board, wouldn't talk about the company's focus but hinted that it could be broader or different than travel. I'm told that Byledge may try to both license its technology to other companies and also run its own destination site on the Web, a hybrid strategy that Paul English characterized as pretty difficult to pull off.

Andy Palmer said that "we're gonna work pretty hard to keep our cards close to the vest." But he did tell me that both he and Stonebraker will remain involved with Vertica. He wouldn't say how much the company raised, except to describe it as "well-financed." Hazard said they have "enough to get the company to critical milestones. It's not $50,000." Update: Tango at Kepha Partners wouldn't peg the exact amoung, but wrote via e-mail that "we did a seed round a bit ago and did close an A round recently." Byledge is the third investment for Kepha, which is essentially a one-man firm.

Stonebraker's second new project is an initiative that will be part of Vertica, code-named Horizontica. Palmer describes it as an open source database designed for cloud computing applications. Sounds like there's some cool potential there.

Vertica's also in the midst of preparing for a move from Andover to Bedford.

How many projects can one person juggle simultaneously, while still teaching at MIT? Stonebraker seems intent on setting a record.

Byledge, by the by, is the name of the street Stonebraker lives on in Manchester, NH.

(A thank-you to Genotrope, where I stumbled across the first mention of Byledge.)

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Highland Capital: We Do Cleantech Now, Too

Paul Maeder, co-founder of Highland Capital Partners, was a guest on NPR's 'Talk of the Nation' yesterday, analyzing the state of the economy. Maeder used the radio spot, essentially, to announce that Highland's now interested in doing energy and cleantech investments. In talking about innovation in the post-war period, Maeder suggested that there have been three major cycles:

    1. The personal computer in the 1980s
    2. The biotech boom of the 1990s
    3. The Internet bubble of the late 1990s

"The next wave of innovation is going to be around energy and the environment," Maeder said, suggesting that there are big opportunities in "energy production, and making energy consumption more efficient."

I e-mailed Maeder this morning to ask him whether Highland is planning to actually dedicate money and partner time to the cleantech/energy space, as Polaris and General Catalyst have. He said they are, and that he's "on it full-time now."

Highland's only real cleantech investment so far was a Utah company called Amp Resources, which developed geothermal power generation facilities; Amp was sold last year for $90 million to an Italian company, Enel. (An earlier deal to sell Amp didn't go so well.) Maeder and Dan Nova from Highland had served on Amp's board.

As a side note, I spotted Highland's other founder, Bob Higgins, having breakfast this week with ex-Presidential advisor and Harvard prof David Gergen. As for whether Gergen will be joining Highland as a venture partner, Maeder would only say, "I can neither confirm or deny." But I think that's a long, long-shot.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Facebook Drops $250K on Boston's LuckyCal

Earlier this week, someone turned me on to LuckyCal, a Boston-based service in beta that helps you connect with friends or business contacts while you're traveling... and suggests events you might be interested in. Sanjay Vakil, previously co-founder of PatientKeeper, is LuckyCal's founder.

One example is that your favorite band happens to be playing a gig in a city you happen to be visiting on vacation, and LuckyCal lets you know. Or your college roommate is visiting your city on business. LuckyCal uses your calendar to figure out where you are, what you're doing, and offer some visibility into what your contacts are up to, with your permission. Today, they just announced a $250,000 grant from Facebook's fbFund.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The latest Globe column: Can Pixily duplicate Netflix's success?

Sunday's Globe column focused on a boot-strapped start-up called Pixily. From the opening:

    Like Netflix, Pixily has bright, durable envelopes. The difference is that instead of sending DVDs, you send Pixily a stack of documents you'd like digitized. Pixily scans the documents for you, makes the text searchable online, and then either returns the documents to you by mail or shreds them and recycles the paper.

    A plan that allows you to send in one envelope a month (envelopes can contain up to 50 items) costs $14.95 per month.

    Will it fly? Pixily, with its sprightly name, is onto something big. Who doesn't have a desk cluttered with papers that can't be thrown away, but might never be glanced at again?


    But to make Pixily a household word, the company's founders will need to crack the riddle that faces every entrepreneurial venture: How do you generate awareness and acquire customers without spending yourself into oblivion?

Here's the video, with Pixily founders Prasad Thammineni and Vikram Kumar... one of the things they talk about is why they chose to build the company atop Amazon's Web services infrastructure:

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Monday, July 21, 2008

First Digital Magazine Cover Will be Powered by E Ink

Esquire Magazine and Cambridge's E Ink Corp. are partnering on an electronic paper cover for the magazine's September October issue, according to the New York Times.

The display will read, "The 21st Century Begins Now." Inside the front cover will be an ad for Ford's Flex SUV, also using an E Ink display. The thin battery powering both should last about 90 days. Esquire's parent, Hearst Corp., is an investor in E Ink, and Esquire has an exclusive on use of the technology in the magazine biz through 2009.

The Times reports, "The electronic cover will be used in only 100,000 copies that go to newsstands — its overall circulation is about 720,000." That ought to make these hot among collectors and technophiles.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

GenArts, Special-Effects Software Firm, Gets Big-Name CEO

GenArts, a little Cambridge company that makes software plug-ins used to create special effects in movies like 'Indiana Jones 4' and 'Iron Man,' just hired its first outside CEO, Katherine Hays. Hays was a founder of Massive, Inc., a company that pioneered the concept of advertising in videogames. GenArts founder Karl Sims will stay with the company and continue serving as president.

The official press release is here.

GenArts took some outside venture capital earlier this year from Insight Venture Partners in New York, but the amount wasn't disclosed. The company was founded in 1996.

(I wrote about GenArts, and New England's larger special effects community, in the Globe a few years back.)

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

What Innovation Economy is All About

Welcome, fellow Bloggers! (And thanks to Google for including this as a blog of note for July.)

Innovation Economy covers the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in New England... it's the companion blog to a weekly Boston Globe column that I write, also called Innovation Economy. There's also a video series that goes along with the column.

Some posts that might interest you:

If this kind of stuff interests you, there are a few ways to subscribe to Innovation Economy via e-mail or RSS, up in the upper right corner of this page.

I also run another blog that focuses on how new technologies are changing the entertainment industry... that one's called CinemaTech, and it's also hosted on Blogger.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

EO University in Boston

The Entrepreneurs' Organization (formerly the Young Entrepreneurs' Organization -- guess they were aging) is holding their annual gathering in Boston this month: EO University. Speakers include Ben Zander of the Boston Philharmonic, George Naddaff of Ufood Grill, Margaret Heffernan, and Jon Luther of Dunkin' Brands.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Paragon Lake: A New Paradigm for Student-Created Start-Ups?

Sunday's column in the Globe focused on the adventures of two Babson students, Matt Lauzon and Jason Reuben, who hatched a start-up idea in their Babson dorm and just raised $5.8 million in venture capital funding.

One thing that helped them build a foundation for the company, Paragon Lake, was Highland Capital Partners' summer entrepreneurship program.

My premise is that we need more initiatives like it targeted to helping sharp students put together businesses, and making sure they take root here (Lauzon and Reuben were considering setting up shop in LA, and even have the cell phone numbers to prove it.)

I talked with Lauzon about his participation in the Highland program ... and a unique hiring tactic: MP3 audio.

One small but interesting change in Highland's summer program: participants last year didn't owe Highland anything -- there was no right-of-first-refusal on investing, no exchange of equity for office space, nothing. This year, though, according to Highland SVP Michael Gaiss, Highland has the option to participate in up to half of a start-up's first round of funding:

    ...[I]f an institutional venture capital round (not angel, f&f) is raised within 180 days, we have option to participate. It’s one of a couple variables we changed this year including preference to initiatives with some momentum (could be bringing together board/advisors/team, prototype stage) behind it (versus raw concept/idea), and letters of recommendation from administration/faculty, advisors/board members or others close to the initiative that could speak to it or the team.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Gov. Patrick: Let's Crack the Energy Crisis

Gov. Deval Patrick writes about the state's new energy law in today's Globe:

    Our vision capitalizes on the Commonwealth's natural advantages in technology and entrepreneurship to combat rising energy costs and satisfy the need for new, clean, affordable ways to meet energy needs - creating a whole new industry along the way.

Later, he mentions a few companies by name:

    ...A123 Systems in Watertown, which is developing batteries for plug-in hybrid cars to enable them to get up to 150 miles per gallon; Evergreen Solar, which is set to open a new solar-panel manufacturing facility in Devens, encouraged in part by the state's new rebate program for solar electricity installations, Commonwealth Solar; Mascoma in Cambridge and Sun Ethanol in Amherst, two leaders in cellulosic biofuel, the non-petroleum, non-food-based fuel of the future, which will get a boost from a gas-tax exemption now pending in the Legislature, the first of its kind in the country; and GreatPoint Energy, a Cambridge firm now demonstrating its innovative technology for turning coal and biomass into clean-burning natural gas at the Brayton Point power plant in Somerset.

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Zink's first product: In stores this weekend

Zink Imaging's first products, marketed under the Polaroid brand, will hit stores this weekend, according to VentureBeat. Earlier coverage of Zink, which makes mobile printers that don't require ink (only special dye-coated paper) is here. Zink was founded in 2005, but the technology had been in development at Polaroid for years before that...

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