Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Three CEO Moves: Viximo, CloudSwitch, Paragon Lake

I don't usually track executive comings and goings here, but three interesting ones have happened recently (not all officially announced yet):

    1. Rob Frasca has been replaced as CEO at virtual goods company Viximo by Dayna Grayson from North Bridge, who will serve as acting CEO. North Bridge is one of the company's investors.

    2. Long-time SolidWorks CEO John McEleney is taking over as CEO at stealthy start-up CloudSwitch from founder Ellen Rubin, who is staying on in a key executive role.

    3. At custom jewelry site Paragon Lake, they're bringing in former BrassRing CEO Deb Besemer as CEO, and moving founder Matt Lauzon over to COO.

Here's a recent post from Lauzon on "Hiring the Right CEO."

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Are these guys the new 'Mad Men'?

Sunday's Globe column touches on the writers, consultants, and conference organizers based here in Boston who are helping to define a new approach to marketing.

    Lots of different terminology is being tossed around to try to describe the shift, from social media to content marketing to social marketing to inbound marketing. The word "social" implies that the personal connections between individuals who can help spread your message to others are increasingly important. "Content marketing" alludes to creating content that people choose to spend time with, whether it's a list of tips for maintaining a beautiful lawn or a funny video, like the "Will It Blend?" series created by the Utah blender maker Blendtec. "Inbound marketing," coined by the Cambridge-based software company HubSpot, implies that a company has a prominent presence online and is delivering value to customers so they'll come find it, rather than simply broadcasting "outbound" messages and hoping for the best.

This new marketing mafia includes companies like Brand Networks, Hubspot and BzzAgent, and people like C.C. Chapman, Chris Brogan, Paul Gillin, and David Meerman Scott. (I'm sure I've left key players out here, so feel free to add a comment...)

(Mashable took a look recently at Boston's social media scene, from a slightly different perspective.)

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Four New Movie Facilities Planning to Open in Massachusetts

My most recent Globe column discusses four separate projects to build movie production facilities -- some big, some small -- in Massachusetts.

Last year, thirteen movies made at least partially in the state spent more than $350 million here. With new production facilities to support more indoor shooting, those numbers could grow. There are currently about 25 new soundstages in the works...

From the piece:

    Movie-making in Massachusetts was jump-started by a tax credit former Governor Mitt Romney signed into law in 2005. It gives production companies a 25 percent tax credit on any spending they do in the state. This month, Kevin Costner and Ben Affleck have been shooting "The Company Men" in Boston, and scouts have reportedly been seeking locations for the sequel to "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." (Much of the original was filmed at the Burlington Mall.) In 2008, 13 movies spent a total of $359 million in the state.

    But the major constraint to luring more movie dollars to Massachusetts is the lack of sound stages: large indoor spaces where sets can be built. (Sound stages also usually have office space nearby for the production team and postproduction facilities for editing, special effects, and other finishing work.)

    Today, film crews that need indoor space often wind up using hockey rinks, raw warehouses, and vacant office buildings.

    "One of the things that holds us back in New England is the weather," says Nick Paleologos, executive director of the Massachusetts Film Office. "To the extent that we're able to provide the industry with state-of-the-art facilities that can be used year-round, the level of production here would ramp up another notch."

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

'Social Marketing' Guru Larry Weber Joins Twitter

It's a big day in the Twitter-verse... social marketing guru Larry Weber has posted his fifth Tweet today, having joined the service in mid-April. Larry runs the W2 Group, founded Weber PR, and is the author of "Marketing to the Social Web." Sixty-two followers so far.

This must mean Twitter is going to be important one day soon...

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My New Book on How Artists Can Make a Living in the Digital Age

Just one short and unabashedly self-promotional post about my new book, Fans, Friends & Followers: Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age.

It focuses on how artists -- from filmmakers to musicians to comedians to novelists -- can cultivate a fan base online and create a business model that supports their work. The thesis is that to be a success, you no longer need to pray to be "discovered" by a movie studio, record label, art dealer, or publisher.

Saith Chris Anderson, editor of Wired and author of The Long Tail:

    “Making a living in the Long Tail means taking matters into your own hands, crafting a marketing strategy that’s just right for you and your work. This book compiles the stories of those who’ve done it best. You’ll get ideas from every one of them. Inspiring and incredibly useful — Kirsner has assembled a playbook for the social media age.”

I do try to spell out some of the "new rules" of attracting an audience, collaborating and communicating with fans in new ways, and distributing and promoting products like books, CDs, and DVDs. Among the creative pioneers featured in the book are Damian Kulash of the band OK Go; singer-songwriters Jill Sobule and Jonathan Coulton; the animators behind JibJab and Homestar Runner; multimedia artist and vlogger Ze Frank; documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald and novelists Brunonia Barry and Lisa Genova. (Those last two live here in Massachusetts.)

Any help spreading the word among the creative types in your network would be much appreciated. The book is available as a paperback, PDF e-book, and in Kindle format.

From Kendall Whitehouse at the Wharton School of Business:

    “The flood of content and the proliferation of distribution channels make it increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd... For creative artists, Fans, Friends & Followers provides insightful case studies and valuable techniques for growing an audience and finding ways to make a sustainable business from artistic expression.”


Friday, April 17, 2009

The Impact of Non-Competes: Event Next Tuesday at Harvard

The Kennedy School's David Luberoff e-mailed today to let me know about an event coming up on Tuesday, April 21st, on "Using Non-Compete Laws to Spur Economic Development in Massachusetts." Judging from the description, the focus actually seems to be about "getting rid of non-compete laws as a way of spurring economic development."

State Rep. Will Brownsberger, who has introduced legislation to nix non-competes in Massachusetts, will be there, as will Lee Fleming and Matt Marx of the Harvard Business School, Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital, and Robert Fisher from Foley Hoag.

Here's the descrip:

    Massachusetts, like many states, allows firms in knowledge-intensive fields to limit their employees' ability to take jobs with other firms. These "non-compete" restrictions help firms because they limit the disclosure of trade secrets, honor customer confidentiality, and prevent competitors from appropriating employees' specialized skills and knowledge. But new analyses based on a "natural experiment" in Michigan suggest that the restrictions should be reconsidered because they can stymie individual innovation, which in turn may hamper regional economic development.

Details here.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Gloomy Outlook at Mass Biotech Council's Annual Meeting

Kind of a depressing way to start the day…

The Mass Biotech Council’s Annual Meeting began with an overview of the group’s newly-issued strategic report, which observes that biotech in the Bay State is likely to undergo a serious shake-out in 2009. According to analysis by Deloitte and L.E.K. Consulting, half of all public biotech companies in the state could run out of cash before the end of this year, and one-third to one-half of all private companies will be out trying to raise money in 2009.

By the end of the day, things hadn’t gotten much sunnier. A panel on the economic outlook for the next year seemed to conclude that things will get worse, not better, for most life sciences companies over the coming year.

“If you have cash flow, are close to cash flow, or are cash flow positive,” the outlook isn’t so terrible, said Jonathan Fleming, managing general partner at Oxford Bioscience Partners. What’s happening right now, Fleming said, is kind of like a forest fire. A lot of things will burn, but that creates opportunities for new breakthroughs, he said.

MIT Sloan School economist Ernie Berndt suggested that companies working on diagnostics and vaccines will likely feel more wind at their backs than others. But Berndt noted that while disease foundations (like the Gates Foundation or the Michael J. Fox Foundation) have been ardent supporters of drug development over the past few years, that funding seems to be slowing in the current economic climate.

There was a smidgen of good news from the panelists. Berndt said that the pathway to bringing follow-on biologics to market “is going to be much more difficult than predicted.” Fleming said Africa is an interesting market for vaccine development, mainly because the US government has been so supportive with its financial backing. Berndt said that as big pharmaceutical companies are increasingly dedicating their resources to developing blockbuster drugs, opportunities exist for small companies to come up with “niche-busters” for more focused groups of patients.

“You guys are painting a rosier picture of today, and a more negative picture of a year from now,” said moderator Bob Buderi. “The President has been saying the opposite.”

Things could be worse, quipped Frank Hatheway, Nasdaq’s chief economist: at least you’re not in real estate, or a community banker in Michigan. Not sure that made people feel much better…

The day wrapped up with a quick visit from Governor Deval Patrick, who tried to jawbone the despondent agglomeration into hiring union contruction workers for any expansion projects they might be planning. “One out of every five people claiming unemployment benefits are from the building trades,” the governor said. They see a billion dollars of public funding going into the life sciences field, and yet “they don’t feel they get a fair shot at jobs on your projects,” he said. “I ask you as a partner, a friend, and your governor, to give union workers a fair chance to compete.”

Gov. Patrick ended with what I thought was a nice phrase: “Innovation is our edge” in Massachusetts. Sectors like biotech, cleantech, health care, high tech, and smart manufacturing “will be our path out of this recession and into a strong and secure economic future.”

That, at least, offered an upbeat segue into the cocktail hour.

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The Latest Globe Column: What Happened to Cyberkinetics

My most recent Boston Globe column dives in to the story of Cyberkinetics, a really promising Brown University spin-out that ceased operations earlier this year. Here's the opening:

    Tim Surgenor decided to take the job running a small start-up company when he saw the rhesus monkeys playing video games at a Brown University lab.

    The monkeys could not only use a joystick to play a pinball-like game, but also control the action on the screen just by thinking. An array of electrodes affixed to their brains eavesdropped on a cluster of about 30 neurons and instantly interpreted what the monkeys intended to do. It was perhaps the most sophisticated interface between a living brain and a computer yet developed.

    "I thought that it was an incredible technology that really needed to be moved forward," recalls Surgenor, who had been an executive at Haemonetics Corp. and Genzyme Corp.

    In 2003, Surgenor became chief executive of Cyberkinetics Inc., helping the company raise more than $40 million, go public, and shepherd the technology he'd seen into human testing. Just last month, he finished shutting down the company, selling off the last of its assets to another local neurotechnology company for $350,000.

    What happened in the intervening six years offers a glimpse of how challenging it can be even for a well-funded start-up to bring a breakthrough technology to market - especially in the regulated world of medical devices.

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Kiva Co-Founder in Portsmouth, May 5th

I'll be moderating an event next month with Jessica Jackley-Flannery. She's a co-founder of Kiva, the person-to-person micro-lending Web site that enables people to lend directly to entrepreneurs in the developing world. By 2010, Kiva expects to have facilitated $100 million worth of loans.

If you're interested in micro-lending and social entrepreneurship, this *free* event will likely be up your alley.

It runs May 5th, 5:30 to 7 PM at the Portsmouth (NH) Public Library, with a mixer afterward at the Portsmouth Brewery.

If you plan to attend, you need to RSVP to

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Next Tuesday: HealthCamp Boston

HealthCamp Boston happens next Tuesday, April 21st at Microsoft's NERD Center in Cambridge. The $25 admission price covers the cost of food and beverages.

Boston is emerging as a center of e-health thinking (and doing), and this gathering will address "the use of Social Networks, Open Standards and the latest Internet and Mobile Technologies in the transformation of Health Care," according to its organizers.

This is an unconference-style event, so everyone who comes has a chance to present. Among the topics being suggested so far:

    - physician-consumer engagement/interaction using Health Clouds (GHealth, HealthVault, etc) for care continuity.

    - mobile phone use for healthcare and wellness.

    - improving integration of the 911 system and emergency responders with a much more technically sophisticated healthcare delivery system.

    - identifying lessons learned in open source communities, e.g. the drupal community, and exploring how they might be applied to healthcare, particularly EHRs.

    - real, value adding uses of twitter in healthcare.

    - Privacy law -- HIPAA and Son-of-HIPAA (in the HITECH Act) -- and its effect on social media in health care

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Blog Rally: Brainstorming About the Globe's Future

I'm really encouraged that so many people are willing to share their ideas about the future of the Boston Globe: what can be done to ensure the paper keeps publishing (in some form), strengthens its connection with readers, and continually improves its reporting.


Westphal on the Life Sciences Innovation Paradox

I had a chance to sit down for a few minutes with entrepreneur and ex-VC Christoph Westphal at the Biotech Business Development Conference he organized today at the Charles Hotel. Mostly, we spoke about Westphal's assessment of the current environment for life sciences in Boston.

We're in the midst, he said, of "an unusual and profound downturn" in which big companies will get smaller, and some small companies will disappear.

On the VC industry: "They haven't done a good job of returning capital over the last ten years." Why? Too much focus on what's perceived as safe: specialty pharma, "retreads," and in-licensing. When venture capitalists do well, he suggested, it's by investing in innovative stuff -- and here, as examples, he offered up three companies he has been involved in starting (Momenta, Alnylam, and Sirtris). "People do pay for disruptive technology," he said.

But the paradox of today's climate, Westphal suggests, is that while big pharma companies seem to be saying they're still willing to pay for innovation -- drugs that are truly differentiated -- there seems less willingness of the part of investors to take risks on "big vision" companies. "There's less money available, and more contingencies on taking that money," Westphal said. The hurdles to getting money are much higher today than any time in the past ten years, he believes.

But while the screen is incredibly fine right now, the few companies that can get funding will be able to attract great people, he said, encounter fewer competitors in the marketplace -- and presumably see a payday at some point down the road.

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From the Biotech Business Development Conference

The packed house of attendees at today's Biotech Business Development Conference in Cambridge would seem to be a sign of the industry's health. But everyone here seems to have a long list of worries. (The event is organized by Christoph Westphal, co-founder of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals and now also an exec with GlaxoSmithKline, which acquired Sirtris last spring.)

Biotech CEOs working on new drugs are worried about FOBS: follow-on biologics. The US could soon make it legal for companies to produce generic versions of biological drugs (the biotech industry prefers to call them "biosimilars.") That could cut the profit potential of the very expensive new molecules now in development. John Maraganore, CEO of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, said the industry needs to adopt "a science-based approach" to persuading legislators and the public that follow-on biologics ought to be tightly regulated, rigorously tested, and carefully evaluated by the FDA. In the past, Maraganore said, "we were obstructionists" about the very idea of follow-on biologics.

There's concern about new regulations that govern how biotech and pharma companies can discuss (or "detail") their products with doctors. "Detail times of 60 to 120 seconds is not much different from the UPS guy making a delivery," said David Pyott, CEO of Allergan. "The only difference is the drug rep is better paid, and sadly, better educated." Pyott predicted that drug companies will have to devote more resources to online education for physicians.

Privately-held biotech companies worry about losing negotiating leverage with bigger partners if it's perceived that they're running short on cash. Duncan Higgons of Archemix suggested that many big pharma companies have created their own lists of distressed little biotech companies, and are planning to do some "bottom-feeding" in this environment, buying them (or certain assets) at a discount. Having enough cash on hand to walk away from a deal is always a good thing, said Steve Bernitz of Concert Pharmaceuticals.

Publicly-traded companies feel like the markets aren't rewarding progress. David Meeker of Genzyme noted that the company has had three new drugs approved in the past three months, and yet the company's stock is down 30 percent.

Venture capitalists are finding it isn't so easy to raise that next fund. Jonathan Fleming of Oxford BioScience Partners told me his firm had put fund-raising "on pause" earlier this year, and described the fund-raising environment as "absolutely horrible." (But he said the firm would be out again talking to prospective limited partners "sooner rather than later.")

Investors and start-ups are worried about the focus on later-stage assets. How will new innovation be supported if everyone is focused only on getting products that are already in Phase III clinical trials across the goal line?

"There's a real failure of the capital markets to fund projects to the point where there's an ROI," said Craig Wheeler of Momenta. "If it continues, we could see real damage to the model that has supported innovation of the last twenty years."

Even Wyc Grousbeck, the Boston Celtics owner who'd previously been a healthcare investor at Highland Capital Partners, had a few problems to gripe about (despite sporting a glittery Celts' championship ring on his right hand), most notably injuries to Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett, two key team-members.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Is Microsoft Embracing Its Inner NERD?

It couldn't have been a mistake that the acronym for Microsoft's new outpost on the banks of the River Charles, the New England Research and Development Center, turns out to be NERD. (Could it?)

But there was some debate at last month's Foo Camp East gathering about whether Microsoft was really going to officially embrace the NERD name for the facility.

Legendary techie, blogger and entrepreneur Dan Bricklin argued that NERD, or "NERD Center," is the perfect branding. "NERD Center sounds like nerve center," Bricklin told me today. "Because it's so geeky, it will get them so much more publicity." But Bricklin says he didn't yet see any signs that Microsoft officially likes the nerd word. (When you search on Google or MSN for "Microsoft NERD," among the things you get are this Mass High Tech story and this danah boyd interview on a Microsoft company blog.)

While NERD isn't anywhere on the official Microsoft Cambridge Web site, and hasn't been part of the company's local recruitment advertising that's all over the T in Cambridge, managing director Reed Sturtevant let me know in an e-mail this morning that "we do refer to the facility affectionately as NERD, so we were just mock-complaining with Dan Bricklin when he was using that at Foo." (Sturtevant runs Microsoft Startup Labs, one of three tenants in the Cambridge facility.)

We'll see, though, whether it becomes any sort of official designation. [Update: the photo is a t-shirt that Sturtevant sent to me on 4.7 to show that there's at least some MSFT employee swag that acknowledges NERD.]

As an aside, one of the really *great* things about the NERD Center is that they've been open to hosting lots of tech community events there. That's a lead that other companies ought to follow...

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Software to divine your emotional responses

Sunday's Globe column profiles iMotions, a Danish company that has gotten funding from MIT honcho Ken Morse and PR guru Andy Miller, two local angel investors. They've got some space at the Cambridge Innovation Center, and will likely be expanding their local presence this year.

From the column:

    "More than 90 percent of purchases are based on emotional response, not rational thought," says iMotions chief executive Peter Hartzbech. "You want to be rationally convincing, yes, but you also need to be emotionally engaging."

    Unlike systems that require plastering sensors on the body to gauge changes in a person's heart rate, breathing, or perspiration, all iMotions asks is that you sit in front of a flat-screen computer monitor. The $30,000 monitor, made by another company, bounces a beam of near-infrared light off of your eyes. IMotions processes the input from the monitor to analyze two key factors: How often are you blinking, and what are your pupils doing?

    Essentially, pupil dilation and a faster-than normal blink rate can indicate that you're excited - iMotions prefers to use the terms "engaged" or "involved" - by what you're seeing. The company's pitch is that by showing a new product design, package, or advertisement to consumers earlier in the creative process, and tuning in to this kind of "precognitive" response, companies can figure out what will resonate with consumers more quickly and less expensively than with traditional research. (A sample group of about 30 peo ple is necessary for good statistical results, Hartzbech says.)

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Simeonov Peels Off from Polaris

Just a couple weeks after technologist-in-residence Charles Teague left General Catalyst to chase some entrepreneurial opportunities, Sim Simeonov, the technology partner at Polaris Venture Partners in Waltham, is doing the same. He'll continue to hold the title of "technology advisor" for the firm, but won't be in the office day-to-day.

(Interestingly, Teague and Simeonov worked together at Allaire Corp., back in the Web 1.0 days, but Simeonov says they're not collaborating right now.)

I'd been hearing that change was in the air for several months. Back in February, Simeonov confirmed what was happening in an e-mail, noting that he'd helped start four companies at Polaris (Archivas, 8th Ring, Veracode, and Plinky), but wanted to consistently receive equity in the companies he helped launch. (California-based Plinky, the newest start-up, is the only company where Simeonov has a stake. He serves as interim CTO there.)

Polaris' Web site hasn't yet been updated to reflect the change.

Simeonov's blog is here.

He's organizing an event later this month on cloud computing for the MIT Enterprise Forum. (And in the interest of disclosure, Simeonov is also on the board of advisors for the Nantucket Conference...along with me.)

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Your Golden Ticket to the Nantucket Conference

We've put together a pretty solid agenda for this May's Nantucket Conference, and the event is just about sold out. This is our tenth year doing the event (I've been on the advisory board since we started planning the first one, in 1999), and it seems like it'll be a great mix of fresh faces and veterans.

If you are a first-time entrepreneur and would like to attend the event, Highland Capital Partners is offering one pass to attend this year’s conference (April 30th - May 2nd) at no charge.

[ Update: Congrats to Chuck Goldman of Apperian, who won the pass. ]

To be considered for the complimentary conference pass, you must be a first time founder/CEO of a New England-based company. Also, you must be committed to attending at least two days of the conference if you are selected. In addition, Highland is asking all applicants to help bring their Summer@Highland program to the attention of a university-affiliated entrepreneur or start-up that could possibly benefit from participation in that program.

If selected, you’ll receive a complimentary ticket to attend the conference ($1,950 value). Note: you will be responsible for your own travel and lodging.

If you’d like to be considered for this opportunity, send a short blurb on your company (name, brief description, number of employees, URL) along with a paragraph on why you’d like to attend this year’s conference to The deadline for being considered for the complimentary Nantucket Conference ticket is Wednesday, April 8, 2009. Highland will notify the recipient by April 9th.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Babson's Start-Up Career Fair

Babson College is holding a Start-Up Career Fair April 15th (Tax Day!) on campus. If your start-up is hunting for undergrad or MBA students as interns, part-timers, full-timers, or to toil on short-term projects, here's where you can register to participate.

[ Note: Corrected date. ]

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