Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Filling Out Your Fall Calendar: Events Worth Knowing About

Here are a couple events for September, October, and November that I think will be worth going to. I'm planning to be at each of them in some capacity (reporter, moderator, organizer, etc.)

9.23-9.25: Emerging Technologies Conference @ MIT
Werner Vogels from Amazon, Rich Miner from Google, and Craig Mundie from Microsoft top the list of interesting speakers (according to me, at least)

9.25: Tech @ The Movies
This is the first entertainment industry panel that Mass TLC has organized, focusing on the role Massachusetts tech companies are playing in the movie industry. I'm moderating a panel, and giving a short talk about the historical contributions our state has made to the movies, based on my new book Inventing the Movies.

10.2: Mass TLC's Innovation UnConference
Mass TLC is reinventing its big fall event this year (previously known as the investor conference), trying to make it more valuable for entrepreneurs.

10.21 New England Mobile Summit
Part of the Mobile Internet World 2008 trade show, organized by the Yankee Group.

10.30 Ideas Boston
A chance to meet big thinkers like IBM's Martin Wattenberg, Daniel Schrag from Harvard, and John Maeda, the new president of RISD.

11.12 Innovation in Hollywood: Past, Present & Future
I'm giving an illustrated book talk about Inventing the Movies at the Museum of Science... chock full of movie clips, photos, and trivia.

11.15 HBS Cyberposium
Last year's speaker roster included Walt Mossberg, Ray Kurzweil, and Curt Schilling.

11.19 Future Forward 08
A gathering of entrepreneurs, investors, and CIOs/CTOs to explore new directions in technology. Audience limited in size; invite only.

12.6 MIT Venture Capital Conference
No Web site up yet for this year's event... but last year's included Google exec Chris Sacca and VMWare CEO Diane Greene.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

E Ink & Esquire

Had breakfast on Friday at Henrietta's with a really interesting bunch of tech company founders....including Wendy Caswell from Zink, Antonio Rodriguez from Tabblo (now an exec at HP), Gregg Favalora from Actuality, Nabeel Hyatt from Conduit Labs, and Sim Simeonov from Polaris/Plinky.

We talked about a lot of stuff, but one thing everyone was interested in (well, at least Gregg and I) was how we can get our hands on a copy of the October issue of 'Esquire,' which will have a front cover and inside cover featuring E Ink displays.

E Ink CEO Russ Wilcox said he's even having trouble getting his hands on a hundred or so of the magazines for his employees. (Not all of the copies of the October issue will have the E Ink displays affixed to them.) Subscribers won't get them... they'll be at newsstands only. (Perhaps mailing the mags posed too big a risk of damage.) Russ said he didn't know which newsstands will get them, so there's no use camping out at Out of Town News in Harvard Square.

Though you could get lucky...

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Big Tech Companies in New England: An Impossible Dream?

Last Sunday's column focuses (again) on New England's penchant for selling start-ups short rather than building what I call "pillar companies."

From the column:

    Maybe I'm a glass-half-empty sort. Maybe I refuse to acknowledge the reality of the financial markets, and the need for entrepreneurs to deliver a return for their investors within a reasonable time.

    But I can't help feeling that, whenever a New England company is sold to an out-of-state acquirer for big bucks, we've missed another chance to build a "pillar" company of our own.

    When Dell Inc. pays $1.4 billion in cash for New Hampshire's EqualLogic Inc. this year after the storage start-up had filed to go public, it feels as if we've missed the opportunity to cultivate another EMC Corp. in our backyard. When VeriSign Inc. buys m-Qube Inc., one of the pioneers of content delivery to cellphones, for $250 million, that's a potentially significant anchor tenant we've lost for the mobile software com munity here. When Microsoft Corp. buys Softricity Inc., that's a pioneer in application virtualization - delivering software over a network connection - no longer seen as a leading player in the field, and headquartered right here in Boston to boot.

The column includes a chart of some recent acquisitions by out-of-state buyers, and also a video from the recent Y Combinator "Demo Day," where fledgling start-ups show their stuff.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Know Your Genome

Apparently the only company that will sequence your entire genome is located in Cambridge.

The cost? $350,000. (That's $150,000 more that it costs for Virgin Galactic to fly you into space.)

The company, Knome, was the focus of my Boston Globe column earlier this week. Is there any benefit, in mid-2008, to having your DNA decoded?

From the piece:

    These are the rip-roaring Wild West days for companies peddling genomic information to consumers, offering insights about the twisted nucleic acids that make us who we are - and also those trying to bring down the cost of sequencing an entire genome.

    Some believe the large-scale gathering of genetic information will remake the way healthcare is practiced and shift its focus from treating disease and chronic conditions to staving them off. Others, such as genetics researcher David Altshuler of the Broad Institute, liken it, at least in the near-term, to the recent rage in whole-body CT scanning for healthy people. Genomic analysis may identify potential problems that don't ever become real maladies, but generate all sorts of unnecessary diagnostic tests and procedures.

Here's the video -- a chat with Knome CEO Jorge Conde.

Wired has a wonderful profile of Knome founder George Church (written by Thomas Goetz) that begins...

    George Church is dyslexic, narcoleptic, and a vegan. He is married with one daughter, weighs about 210 pounds, and has worn a pioneer-style bushy beard for decades. He has elevated levels of creatine kinase in his blood, the consequence of a heart attack. He enjoys waterskiing, photography, rock climbing, and singing in his church choir. His mother's maiden name is Strong. He was born on August 28, 1954.

    If this all seems like too much information, well, blame Church himself.

Side note: Conde pronounces the name of the company, Knome, like it rhymes with "gnome." Church pronounces it "know-me." Conde says with a smile that Church must be more influential, since he hears far more people pronouncing it the Church way.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Xconomy's Expansion... and New Biotech Reporter

This post is of interest mainly to the media wonks and PR pushers among you...

I noticed yesterday that Ryan McBride, the exceptionally sharp biotech reporter at Mass High Tech, had disappeared from the masthead. Mass High Tech editor Doug Banks told me he'd moved to Vermont with his wife, and been replaced with Stephen DeSantis. DeSantis came from Thomson's CenterWatch publication, which focuses on clinical trials.

Later in the day, I ran into Xconomy founder Bob Buderi at the Y Combinator Demo Day event in Cambridge. Buderi told me he'd just hired McBride to freelance for him, and that McBride had already written a few pieces for the site. Buderi also confirmed that he's trying to raise more money for the site -- likely a few hundred grand to support expansion -- and that the third city Xconomy will build a site for will be San Diego, sometime this fall. (First two were Boston and Seattle.)

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Y Combinator's August 2008 Demo Day in Cambridge

Here are the three things that hit me hardest about today's Y Combinator Demo Day in Cambridge.

1. The Boston VC community has finally woken up to this event, and the promise (and engineering skillz) that many of the YC start-ups show. Represented in the audience today were Matrix, Sigma, Kepha Partners, Spark Capital, and a zillion others -- many of whom weren't present last August. General Catalyst sent at least three folks, including co-founder Joel Cutler. More conspicuous this year were the VC firms who didn't sent a partner or associate, like Polaris, Prism, Highland, North Bridge, and some alleged early-stage funds like .406 Ventures and DACE Ventures.

2. Many of the start-ups were focused on radically simplifying the sign-up process to use a new Web service, or set up a new blog or Web page. I found myself wondering, "When will a YC start-up figure out how to enable me to join a new service before I've even heard of it?" Maybe in the Spring 09 crop...

3. I think Paul Graham is the Schumpeter of the 21st century. Every start-up seemed to be trying to destroy (or at least improve upon) something that has been around for a couple years....including Evite, Monster.com, Reddit, Blogger, existing digital photo frames, and Tumblr. That's a good thing, but it was funny to hear Posterous, the first start-up to present, diss Tumblr with Tumblr investors (two guys from Spark) in the audience.

Here's the video I shot at the event, followed by some notes on all of the non-stealth companies that demoed. (Video includes TicketStumbler, Fliggo, Picwing, MeetCast, CO2Stats, Job Alchemist, Slinkset, Frogmetrics, Anyvite, Popcuts, Snipd, and Ididwork -- though not in that order. There's also a brief cameo from John Puskarich, co-founder of Bountii -- a Y Combinator alum.)

- Posterous was first out of the gate, and impressed a lot of people. A slick, simple way to start and maintain a blog using only your phone (or any device that can send an e-mail). Handles photos, MP3s, and video really well. Great company name, too. Already covered by TechCrunch and VentureBeat.

- TicketStumbler is, simply, Kayak for sports tickets, searching lots of sites across the Web and then helping you sort the options, for instance, that exist for seeing the Red Sox game. (Where do you want to sit, and how much do you want to pay?) Covered by TechCrunch here. They say they are already profitable.

- Fliggo runs an existing video-sharing community ... planning to introduce something new soon, geared to people who're dissatisfied with YouTube. A bit more about what they're up to is in the video, above.

- Picwing is trying to do for photo frames what Apple did for MP3 players... marry nicely-designed hardware with easy-to-use software. Frame is $249, and has a Linux computer inside. Their demo involved shooting a (blurry) pic of the audience and then having it appear a few seconds later on the frame. Neat! The somewhat cyncial VC next to me seemed ready to place his order.

- MeetCast: trying to make Web conferencing simpler than WebEx yet more sophisticated than Tokbox. Start a conference in a few seconds... invite people to call in or participate via video... or share presentations or docs from their desktops. This was one of those apps that you really want to get your hands on to see if it's actually as easy-to-use as the demo made it seem.

- CO2Stats felt like the most mature start-up of the bunch. And they have an actual business model that involves people paying money for a valuable service, not simply placing "targeted ads" on Web pages, or hoping someone will buy them before it becomes obvious they can't produce revenue. They certify that a Web site is run with green power, and will actually sell the site renewable energy credits to offset the site's carbon footprint. Already profitable, apparently the early leader in its space, and just signed IBM as a customer. I suspect they will be acquired before 2008 is out...

- Youlicit: Trying to best Mahalo and Squidoo by using algorithms rather than human editors to create guides to a given topic (like "picking up girls".) The results are similar to the topical directories that humans built for Yahoo in the mid 1990s. Maybe Yahoo should throw everything away and simply buy Youlicit? They'd hardly have to change the ticker symbol...

- Job Alchemist: Helping blog publishers make more money by putting targeted job listings on their sites... and collecting a bounty when a candidate gets the job. Also makes setting up niche job boards easier. Can't wait to try this.

- Create Digg-like rating systems, or votable lists, in a few minutes with Slinkset. Another thing I need to tinker with for InnoEco.com.

- Frogmetrics uses Nokia N810 devices (about $350 each) to collect survey data from consumers after they've engaged in transactions. Six employees.... they say they're already profitable... and just landed a Fortune 150 client. They say their survey response rates are better than 90 percent... and that they use the N810 because they think people are less likely to swipe it than an iPod touch, which is cheaper. Establishments can collect e-mail addresses from their customers, and also analyze how people rate individual employees or product quality at a particular time of the week. Like, does a restaurant's food get bad ratings on Sunday night, but great ones on Monday? They've been testing it in two Cambridge restaurants, which they wouldn't name.

- Anyvite is yet another Evite-killer. Focused in part on making invitations easy to create and respond to on mobile phones. Covered here on TechCrunch.

- Snipd is doing content-sharing/social bookmarking, with a focus on honing in on specific passages of an article, or segments of a video, that users find most interesting. That lets other users hone in on the "hot zones" of a video -- the part that other users found most compelling.

- Ididwork allows employees to track what they've accomplished, and publish it to a Facebook-style feed page. Managers can also use the system to review employees, giving them more frequent feedback than the quarterly review. Already profiled on TechCrunch.

- Backtype wants to be Google for comments, hunting down blog comments and making them searchable and trackable (so you could track all of my comment posts across any site, or create alerts about a given company that may be mentioned in comments.)

- Popcuts is a bit like the music site AmieStreet, except they reward people who purchase music early (and presumably tell their friends about it) by giving them a cut of future sales. If a song takes off, not only could you have the 99 cent purchase price refunded, but you could earn a return for being a "taste-maker."

A few other presenters are still in stealth mode, and we were asked to leave their presentations off-the-record. We'll see if folks do that...

Here are some of the people I saw in attendance:

David Beisel of Venrock, Don Dodge of Microsoft, Bijan Sabet and Rob Go of Spark Capital, Jeff Yolen of Sphere, Saar Gur from the California office of Charles River Ventures, Steve McCormack from Commonwealth Capital, Margaret Lawrence from Pilot House Ventures, Matt Witheiler from Flybridge, Tali Rappaport from Matrix, David Baum from Stage 1 Ventures, Jonathan Golden from Greylock, Jonathan Seelig from Akamai, Bill Warner of Warner Research, David Hornik from August Capital, Rich Levandov from Avalon, Neil Sequiera, David Orfao, and Joel Cutler from General Catalyst, Matt Hjerpe from Atlas, Jeff Glass from Bain Capital Ventures, Roger Krakoff from Sigma, Fred Wilson from Union Square, Dharmesh Shah from HubSpot, and Jo Tango from Kepha.

Also saw John Puskarich from the shopping search site Bountii, a Y Combinator graduate from a previous class. They've gotten some angel funding. John, an MIT alum, has been working in Cambridge, with his co-founder Samir Meghani in the Bay Area. Sadly, John told me today he's heading west soon to keep building the company out there.

We'll see if some Boston investors put money into this summer's batch of start-ups...and maybe keep them around the neighborhood. So far, Bijan Sabet of Spark is the one Boston-area VC to put money into a YC company, I'm In Like With You, which is actually based in NYC.

Here's some previous InnoEco coverage of Y Combinator and video with Paul Graham.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Working in Video? Mark Your Calendar for Sept. 9th

Will Richmond of the analyst firm/publication VideoNuze is putting together a cocktail party for anyone working on Internet video. It's September 9th, in Downtown Crossing. I'm going to try to stop by...

You can RSVP here.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Inside the Cambridge Innovation Center

Rob Weisman had a great piece in yesterday's Globe Sunday Magazine about the role of the Cambridge Innovation Center in Boston's start-up economy... and the recent launch of Conduit Labs' LoudCrowd game. (Conduit is a tenant of CIC.)

Weisman writes:

    It is not a stretch to argue that while a company like Fidelity Investments may be the most important financial player this state has, a hospital like MGH may hold in its hands millions of medical miracles, and a university like Harvard may house some of the brightest young minds in the world, it's a building like the 17-floor One Broadway that holds in its small, cramped offices the future of the Commonwealth. Because if technology and innovation are the lifeblood for our future, then CIC is ground zero.

    That's saying a lot, considering it sits in the Kendall Square neighborhood next door to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (which owns the building) and its cutting-edge research labs. The square also includes a sizable chunk of America's biotechnology industry.

    But if the Boston area is going to produce its own Google or YouTube someday soon and restore its place as a high-tech hub on par with California's Silicon Valley, it's more likely to come bubbling out of One Broadway than any of the traditional technology geysers around town. That's because of the Cambridge Innovation Center, which is steeped in a culture of entrepreneurship. While earlier generations of hotshots gravitated to General Electric or IBM, today's are drawn to this high-tech group home, a Silicon Valley in miniature on seven floors.

He also focuses on the impact that nearby Google and Microsoft labs may have on CIC: will promising young smarties go there, instead of the risky start-ups housed at One Broadway?

The article made me a little nostalgic.... back in the Year 2000, I went to the launch party of what was then called Cambridge Incubator. I wrote about it in my old Globe column, @large. They gave out some sort of crystal paperweight as a party favor, which I've long since ditched.

    What's a "Liquid Launch Party"? David Sack, marketing director at the Cambridge Incubator, can't really explain it, except to declare that it most likely will not involve indoor Slip 'N Slide. Too bad.

    The Incubator is throwing the invitation-only launch party this Thursday to inaugurate its new office space in Kendall Square. It's got a full floor of the high-rise, which includes two studios for visiting artists, a small auditorium, and a nap room next to the server room.

    Sack wants to keep most of the details of the party secret, except to say that guests will be able to get a free massage, do some brainstorming, and see demos from four of the Incubators' "member companies" - BrandStamp, Etineraries, Veritas Medicine, and Alper Caglayan's intriguing-but-still-stealthy PeopleStreet.

    Though judging took longer than expected, the Incubator will also announce the winner of its Get .ORGanized competition for nonprofit Net businesses at the party.

    The three finalists are all wonderfully creative: Click-Up for Kids proposes rounding up online purchases to the nearest dollar, and donating the difference between that and the actual price to charity; Mathtastic uses sports statistics to teach math; and Secure Sponsorship helps people use their databases of contacts to get pledges (via credit card) for charitable events like walkathons. The winner gets $250,000 of Incubator financing and services

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Delivered: A123's IPO Papers Arrive at the SEC

InnoEco told you back in April that an IPO for A123 Systems was on the way... and I actually assumed that since three months had elapsed with no news, the company had put it on ice, waiting for market conditions to improve.

But they just filed this morning, likely hoping to take advantage of the public interest in cleantech, and anything (like the company's plug-in hybrid car conversion business) that can combat high gas prices. A graphic included in the company's S-1 filing says, "Our world is warming up... to a new generation of energy storage solutions enabled by nanotechnology."

(I just checked... no, Al Gore is not on their board of directors, despite that "Inconvenient Truth"-style messaging.)

Some key info from the filing:

    We design, develop, manufacture and sell advanced, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and battery systems. Our batteries and battery systems provide a combination of power, safety and life that we believe no other commercially available battery provides. We believe that lithium-ion batteries will play an increasingly important role in facilitating a shift toward cleaner forms of energy. Using our innovative approach to materials science and battery engineering and our systems integration and manufacturing capabilities, we have developed a broad family of high-power, lithium-ion batteries and battery systems. This family of products, combined with our strategic partner relationships in the transportation, electric grid services and portable power markets, position us well to address these markets for next-generation energy storage solutions.

    In our largest target market, the transportation industry, we are currently working with major North American and European automotive manufacturers and major automotive, or tier 1, suppliers to develop batteries and battery systems for hybrid electric vehicles, or HEVs, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, and electric vehicles, or EVs. For example, we are engaged in design and development efforts with several passenger vehicle manufacturers and tier 1 suppliers, including General Motors Corporation, or General Motors, and Think Global AS, or Think Global, relating to the design and development of batteries and battery systems for eleven passenger vehicle power train programs that can be applied to 19 vehicle models. We estimate that the number of HEV, PHEV and EV models with an annual production run of at least 20,000 vehicles will grow from ten models in 2008 to over 100 models in 2012. The advanced battery market for HEVs, PHEVs and EVs is currently a $700 million market. We estimate this market could grow to at least $5 billion by 2012.

    ...We began selling our first products commercially in the first quarter of 2006. We have over 1,100 employees worldwide. Since our inception through March 31, 2008, we have generated $87.1 million in revenue, consisting of $72.6 million from battery and battery system sales and $14.5 million from research and development services. Our revenue has grown from $34.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2006 to $41.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2007, and from $8.1 million for the three months ended March 31, 2007 to $10.3 million for the three months ended March 31, 2008.

Like a lot of start-ups, they're still losing money: $31 million in 2007, up from $15.8 million in 2006. Revenues were $41.3 million last year, up from $34.3 in 2006.

[ Update: Dan Primack has a post noting that A123 also disclosed in the filing that they raised an additional $102 million this year, bringing their total funding to $230 million. ]

As I'd reported earlier, the biggest A123 shareholders to this point are North Bridge Venture Partners (13.6 percent), Desh Deshpande (12.7 percent), GE (10.4 percent), and Qualcomm and Motorola, both with about eight percent. CEO David Vieau holds 2.4 percent of the stock. No word on how much founders Yet-Ming Chiang and Ric Fulop hold. Another beneficiary of a successful IPO will be MIT, which licensed some of the original IP developed there to A123.

In June, I wrote a column about A123's early history -- and produced a video about the company.

How excited are people about this IPO? I've gotten about a dozen e-mails over the last three months asking me whether I knew when A123 would file...

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Rethinking the Book Light

The most recent Globe column was a fun one to do... profiling Lightwedge, a Nantucket-based start-up run by husband-and-wife entrepreneurs.

When you talk to entrepreneurs, you never know what fascinating secrets they're going to spill -- ways they've discovered to get their companies growing fast. For Lightwedge, one of the secrets was collaborating with their customers (companies like Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, and Borders) to design their next-generation products. (Author and analyst Patty Seybold talks about this as "co-design" or "co-creation.")

Debbie and Jamey Bennett explain how it works in the video:

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Does Kayak Become Unusable Without American Airlines?

American Airlines is pulling its flight listings from Kayak.com, the travel site based in Concord, MA and Norwalk, CT.

American, which apparently knows that I've bought tickets from the airline by clicking through from Kayak, sent me an e-mail last night. The subject was: "American Airlines Ends Relationship With Kayak."

I think this will hurt American a tiny bit, since some travelers are accustomed to starting their airfare searches at Kayak, which until now has been comprehensive.

But I think it will hurt Kayak a lot, since American is the #2 airline in terms of domestic passengers carried, and #7 in terms of international, according to Wikipedia. Kayak is really not usable without American prices in the database. As of today, Kayak doesn't show American's fares, but it does offer an "Info" link that takes you to CheapTickets.com, which then shows you the fares. Not all that useful for a comparison-shopping site...

There's no news about the change on Kayak's blog,

Kayak posted a statement on their blog, but the search results presented to travelers don't make what's going on very clear.

(Here's a Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog post about the spat.)

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