Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Connecting Students with Cool Companies: Your Ideas?

One project I'd like to get rolling this coming academic year is a way to enable students from Boston-area schools to visit interesting companies in the area.

The basic idea is that a visit would consist of a tour of the company, a sit-down with the CEO or founder to explain what the company does, some snacks/lunch, and a Q&A session. The objective would be simply to expose students to local entrepreneurs and executives and the companies they run, not necessarily to get students jobs or internships (though if the company was hiring or looking for interns, they could certainly let the students know that.) A visit might last 90 minutes in total.

I'd want to start with some of the area's cooler companies -- those that wouldn't put the typical sleep-deprived undergrad to sleep (no offense if your company makes some really awesome expense account software.) I'd also want to start with companies that are accessible by public transportation, to make sure we have a really strong showing at the first few.

My list would include companies like Zipcar, Harmonix Music Systems, Genzyme, Biogen Idec, Heartland Robotics, Vecna Robotics, Conduit Labs, Brightcove, Ambient Devices, E Ink, HubSpot, Brickyard VFX, IDEO Cambridge, Vlingo, Akamai, Google Cambridge, A123 Systems, Microsoft NERD, EnerNOC, Cape Wind, and Viximo.

Who ought to be added to the list? And what should this be called? "Innovation Field Trips"? "Innovation Open Houses"? "The Innovation Lunch Series"?

It's the sort of thing that might require an underwriter or sugar daddy to make it happen (lining up companies to participate...ensuring that students find out about the events and actually show up...and that companies make the visits valuable), so I'm open to ideas on that, too.

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On Deck for Wednesday: LogMeIn IPO

The Globe has this story about the pending IPO of Woburn-based LogMeIn, a company that makes remote access software for PCs (and also sells a popular iPhone app.) This would be the third venture-backed firm to go out in 2009, following OpenTable and SolarWinds.

Big winners if the company succeeds in raising $100m+ from the public market? Prism VentureWorks and Polaris Venture Partners, two Boston-area VC firms that have been out in the market trying to raise their next funds. Woody Benson represents Prism on the LogMeIn board, and Dave Barrett represents Polaris. And of course, many LogMeIn employees will do well, including CEO Michael Simon.

I mentioned LogMeIn in a Globe column last month about iPhone apps.

Seeking Alpha has this piece analyzing the offering.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Photos, Audio, Video from "What's Next in Tech"

The "What's Next in Tech" event that I moderated at BU on Thursday was a lot of fun... as was the impromptu after-party at Eastern Standard.

Some links related to the event, which featured a panel of VCs and a panel of entrepreneurs riffing on what's next for our region:

- Blog post from participant Stephen Sherlock

(The next event-related project I'm working on is Future Forward 09, in November. But that will be preceded by a series of breakfast workshops on topics like demystifying term sheets... designing software with purpose... and generating awareness in a social media driven world.)

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$8 Million More of 'Under the Mattress' Money for CloudSwitch

Here's an item that'll spark some jealousy in any entrepreneur who finds it tough raising venture capital in the current climate: CloudSwitch has raised a second round of $8 million in venture capital funding, led by new investor Commonwealth Capital Ventures. This follows a first round of $7.4 million that was first reported here on Innovation Economy in January.

I spoke to founder and VP/products Ellen Rubin late on Friday, as the company was moving into new office space in Burlington. (The funding news was under embargo until this morning.) The company now has 18 people, including new CEO John McEleney (formerly CEO at SolidWorks), co-founder and CTO John Considine (formerly of Sun and Pirus), chief architect Fred Oliveira (who formerly worked on EMC's Atmos cloud offering), VP of product management George Moberly (ex of EMC and BladeLogic), and VP of engineering Sean Henry (formerly of RSA.)

"We weren't really actively looking for money," Rubin said. "But there was a fair amount of pre-emptive interest at attractive valuations. Having John McEleney join was the catalyst. He's pretty well-regarded, and had a phenomenal track record at SolidWorks. He knew the Atlas and Matrix guys [who led CloudSwitch's first round], and has known the guys at Commonwealth for a long time." Eliot Katzman is the partner at Commonwealth who will join CloudSwitch's board; Matrix and Atlas participated in the new round. CloudSwitch's objective is to help make the low costs and flexibility of cloud computing services safe for enterprise use.

"This is one of those funny situations," Rubin told me. "We'd just raised the A, and we weren't going to be looking for more money until well into 2010. This is just money to have, so we can focus on getting the product out the door. You just put it in the bank and let it sit there."

Nice situation to be in...

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Oneforty is First Company in TechStars Boston to Get Seed Funding

TechStars' first-ever summer program for entrepreneurs in Boston started on May 26th. Fifteen days later, on June 10th, the first team got funding. That must be some kind of land speed record.

The funded company is Oneforty, founded by Boston Twitter maven Laura 'Pistachio' Fitton. Fitton, who has 35,000 followers on Twitter, is also the author of 'Twitter for Dummies,' just published. (Makes me wonder if someone has already written 'Twitter for Sophisticates.' Is it really that complex?) Fitton also runs Pistachio Consulting, based in Brighton, Ma.

Investors describe the new company's goal as creating an "app store for Twitter," bringing together in one place all the free and paid apps designed to enhance Twitter's value and utility. Fitton herself isn't wild about the phrase "app store for Twitter," instead describing the company as "a Twitter ecosystem play" that intends to "help people make sense of the Twitter ecosystem, and find, rate and share apps." Fitton noted that she'd started talking with potential investors before the TechStars program began.

Several angel investors have put less than $250,000 into the company, I'm told. They include Jeff Bennett of NameMedia (formerly of Lycos) and John Landry of Lead Dog Ventures (formerly of Lotus). Oneforty is still a bit virtual. Fitton is out in San Francisco developing the site with Pivotal Labs. She has two full-time employees starting next week at the TechStars office in Cambridge, and several others working on the project as contractors.

"I invested very much in [Laura], and her network and her enthusiasm, which is really quite contagious," Landry says. "She believes that Twitter is an infrastructure. She's on a mission, and she will figure out how to make this pay off."

Nice start for TechStars Boston, which wraps up in late August.

(In the video below, shot at SXSW in March, Fitton dodges some questions about Oneforty...starting at about the one-minute mark.)

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Helen Greiner's Droid Works Wins First Gov't Grant for Flying Bots

Helen Greiner's stealthy new start-up, The Droid Works, has said almost nothing about what they're up to, except that they're working in the field of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles.) So far, Greiner has been funding the Framingham-based company herself, so there aren't any VCs to blab about what they're working on. And the company is small -- just a handful of engineers, including one superstar HP veteran who helped develop the inkjet printer -- so employee leaks are unlikely. All this makes a curious journalist sad.

But when I saw Greiner last night at 'What's Next in Tech,' she mentioned that the company had just landed its first government grant through the SBIR program (Small Business Innovation Research.) I did some searching, and discovered that the company is receiving almost $100,000 to develop flying bots that can operate indoors and out. The description of the work is fascinating, so I'll share it here -- and also mention that Greiner's last company, iRobot, was initially funded not by VCs but by government grants from agencies like NASA.

    An Indoor/Outdoor Robotic Air Vehicle for Emergency Response

    This Small Business Innovation Research Phase I research project will develop underlying technologies that will enable Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV) to navigate inside houses and buildings. This technology, applied to emergency response situations, will save the lives of police officers, victims, and suspects. Emergency response teams have been slow to adopt unmanned systems to aid in hostage situations, search and rescue, fire fighting, and armed standoffs. The impediment is the capabilities of the available unmanned system. Available ground robots are halted by rough terrain, large steps, and closed doors. Current UAVs can only be used outdoors. If UAVs could also take on indoor applications, they would surpass the capabilities of the ground robots as UAVs can traverse over any terrain, over any step, and enter and exit a building through any opening (including high windows). The technologies needed to enable for small UAVS to perform indoor missions are: indoor flight control and safety around people, which are the areas of the research proposed.

    This project will prevent the loss of life in dangerous situations by reducing emergency response teams' exposure to lethal situations, by increasing the amount of situational information available to emergency response teams, by reducing the level of anxiety of besieged suspects, and by allowing remote inspection of places and things that are harmful to humans.

And if you want a window into some of Greiner's current thinking about bots and artificial intelligence, she wrote a piece this month for Forbes titled 'Who Needs Humanoids?'

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Audio: EMC CTO Jeff Nick on the Company's Tech Priorities

EMC's chief technology officer, Jeff Nick, was on the opening panel at the XSITE 2009 conference at Boston University this morning. We sat down for a few minutes to chat about the tech themes currently on his radar screen (virtualization and the "private cloud" among them), and also what's up with EMC's consumer division, Decho (which includes Pi Corp. and Mozy.)

The 13-minute long MP3 is here, or you can just click play below.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

CloudCamp Coming to Cambridge, July 29th

Smart people like Judith Hurwitz, John Treadway, and Mike Werner are organizing the first local CloudCamp at Microsoft NERD on July 29th. It's an unconference, and it's free. Already an interesting bunch of people signed up to participate...

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Should We Make Non-Compete Agreements Illegal in Masssachusetts?

I say yes, in Sunday's Globe column, though as always, I'm curious to hear what you think.

If you want to change the status quo, here are a couple sites to know about:

There were so many great comments that couldn't fit in the story, but just one for the blog from Jeff Anderson, CEO of Quick Hit (and former CEO of Turbine, another local games company mentioned in the column).

"The biggest problem we have as a start-up is attracting and retaining talent. If someone wants to relocate to Massachusetts, they need to feel like if this job doesn't work out, they can find another job. But if non-competes are de rigeur, if not only reduces the number of companies that you have in any given space, like games, but it forces those people to leave." Anderson adds that he has received two or three dozen job applications from talented people working for other games companies in Massachusetts, but says that it would be problematic to hire them because of their non-competes.

"When you think about all the other problems that start-ups have to deal with, from capital and vision to competition, and all the pieces that have to be properly aligned, non-competes just add to that."

Of course, like most companies in Massachusetts, even though Anderson is philosophically against non-competes, he asks employees to sign one, even though he says it is as narrowly-defined as possible.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Catching Up: Convergence, #NEINNO, What's Next in Tech

- The sixth edition of Convergence: The Life Sciences Leaders Forum (an event I help organize) happened last week. Oddly, attendance was up from 2008. Not sure how to explain that. Featured speakers included Genzyme CEO Henri Termeer, Sirtris founder Christoph Westphal, Harvard Pilgrim CEO Charlie Baker, Beth Israel CEO Paul Levy, and cutting edge researchers David Altshuler from the Broad and David Eisenberg from Harvard. Xconomy had some coverage, as did Mass High Tech, and there was a pretty healthy stream of tweets, too.

(Termeer's appearance was followed by a great Sunday Globe story by Stephen Heuser, and then some unfortunate company news on Tuesday, as Genzyme was forced to shut down its Allston plant for decontamination.)

For the first time, we're sharing audio from the event. You can either download the MP3s for later listening, or just click play.

    - Christoph Westphal / Henri Termeer session on "The Past, Present & Future of Genzyme." (MP3 file.)

    - Alnylam CEO John Maraganore moderates a panel of executives from GlaxoSmithKline, Biogen Idec, Novartis, and Merck on "The New Logic of Partnerships, Licensing Deals, and Collaborations." (MP3 file.)

    - Stromedix CEO Michael Gilman talks to David Altshuler of the Broad Institute and David Eisenberg of Harvard Medical School's Osher Research Center about their research. (MP3 file.)

    - Jeffrey Krasner interviews Beth Israel Deaconess CEO Paul Levy and Harvard Pilgrim CEO Charlie Baker about the future of the healthcare system. (MP3 file.)

- I've been psyched to see how many people have been tweeting about New England Innovation Month using the tag #neinno. This coming week wraps things up, so do help spread the word -- and try to get out to an event. (We just added a free event called PitchPub to the calendar.)

- For my part, I'll be dropping by XSITE 2009 and EurekaFest on Wednesday and Friday, and moderating/emceeing things at What's Next in Tech on Thursday evening -- which looks like it is attracting a great group of participants (listed on the registration page all the way at the bottom.)

- I'm also adding the Social Media Breakfast series to the list of regular gatherings (at right)... although I find it impossible to figure out from their site when the next one will be held (!)

(In the photo is Genzyme CEO Henri Termeer being interviewed by Sirtris Pharmaceuticals founder Christoph Westphal, at Convergence 2009.)

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Monday, June 15, 2009

VC Larry Cheng on the Facebook Investment That Didn't Happen

Larry Cheng, a partner at Fidelity Ventures, serves up a blog post well worth reading today, about the early days of Facebook -- and his initial 2004 meeting with Facebook's two founders at Henrietta's Table in Cambridge.

Cheng writes:

    Mark [Zuckerberg] and Eduardo [Saverin] had a complementary aspect to their partnership. Mark struck me as the alpha male. He had a profound confidence about him that exceeded his youth. He exuded killer instinct. He was not shy about sharing his aspirations of dominating the college market. He was also the technical visionary behind the scenes. Eduardo was polite and unassuming. He could have been your college roommate. He was jovial, relational, and likeable. He seemed to be the fast follower. He was also apparently the business mind. While both exuded a certain naivete, they were both convinced that they were going to change the world. They were right.

As far as I can tell, Cheng was the first VC in Boston to talk to the founders of Facebook while they were still at Harvard, and the firm he was at at the time, Battery Ventures, may have been the only Boston area firm to have had a chance to invest in Facebook. I wrote about what happened in September, 2007.

But the biggest unanswered questions remain unanswered by Cheng's blog post: why exactly didn't Battery invest in Facebook? And if they had invested, would Facebook have stayed in Massachusetts -- or was Zuckerberg determined to build his company in the Valley?

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Where the Jobs Are: Insights from Recruiters

For my most recent Boston Globe column, I spoke with recruiters to ask them where they're seeing demand these days. But I also wanted to provide some bonus material here that couldn't fit in the column.

The premise:

    To gather some information that might be useful to those of you in the job market - or who worry you may be soon - I've been talking to local recruiters who focus on the innovation economy, specializing in sectors like technology, life sciences, and energy. I asked them about specific jobs and industry clusters where they've been seeing demand lately - as well as jobs and industry clusters where demand has died off. I also asked about what differentiates candidates who get snapped up quickly from those who spend months mailing off resumes.

A few recruiters sent along their thoughts via e-mail, and I wanted to share that with you here.

Jim Sullivan, chief executive of JCSI, wrote:

    ...Based on our client base I can tell you very quickly that the biotech, medical, defense/aerospace, and energy related sectors are stable in terms of recruiting and that finance, insurance, and associated fields are down. That’s to be expected since the financial industry is going through a lot of change right now. We have numerous candidates from the financial sector that are having a harder time landing positions, especially if they were in upper management before. There are also fewer top level HR positions going around.

    Based on our research into different industries, we’ve noticed a lot of new positions opening up in the areas related to social media and Web 2.0, telemedicine, risk management, electronic medical records, and C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) for defense. Of course, if you visit sites like www.alternativeenergy.com you’ll see that there are a lot of “Green” jobs posted out there as well. We’ll probably see quite a few of those coming to MA because of federal funding...

David Hayes, CEO of HireMinds, wrote:

    ...As is often the case in a down market, those who are the "do-ers" vs. the managers or the entry level talent are in highest demand. Companies have trimmed the fat, and in many cases have laid off some of the more highly compensated management level talent in favor of hiring folks who can execute. On the technology side, developers (specifically mid level Java and C# developers) are still in super high demand. In addition, people with expertise in open source technologies like LAMP continue to be highly sought after. Two skill sets that have seen a particularly high drop in demand are project management and business analysis. Companies are looking to hire people with really technical, hands-on skills, and are finding other creative ways to deal with project management and analysis needs.

    Demand for marketing skills such as search marketing and other sorts of "demand/lead generation" expertise have continued to rise. The more you can help a company to increase their sales lead pipeline, the more likely your skill set is sought after. We are not seeing nearly as much need for the traditional software marketing communications generalist. On the creative side, demand remains very soft - especially for "off-line" creatives. The largest demand we are seeing these days is for creatives who can move easily between offline and digital projects - essentially "Swiss army knife" creatives. Demand for certain creative skills that were white hot a year or more ago, like FLASH designers, have cooled off considerably, as firms increasingly use the more search engine friendly Javascript technology.

    From an industry perspective, healthcare is hot while financial services is not. Highly compensated executive assistants from financial services firms are having a hard time finding work, while more moderately priced administrative assistants with healthcare expertise are highly sought after.

    The biotech/pharmaceutical industry has also seen a seismic shift with regard to the in-demand skill sets. When VC money was flowing, it was early stage R&D talent that was in highest demand. These days, with VC dollars in short supply, companies are looking more to bring their lead products to market than to develop new products. Thus, skill sets such as quality, regulatory, clinical, process development, process chemistry, and manufacturing are hottest. R&D talent is still needed, but typically supply exceeds demand.

    More generally, we have definitely seen the job market for marketing, technology, science, and administrative personnel stabilize. Based upon demand for our services, we are headed out of the recession rather than into it. While the job market remains less robust than at this time last year, there are many rays of sunshine poking through the grey clouds of economic gloom...

    The people who are getting jobs in today's market are those who are approaching every step of the search process mindfully. Just because you may have gotten every job you applied for previously doesn't mean that you should take for granted that it will continue to happen. Rather than simply tracking how many resumes you send out, send out fewer resumes and focus instead on how many touch points you can make into the firm you are interested in joining. Social media is an absolute essential in today's market. If your LinkedIN profile isn't at least as robust as your resume, you risk being overlooked by top recruiters.

    Hiring managers have many choices today, and competition is fierce for the best jobs. Those who actually get the jobs are those who manage to convince the hiring authority that they are truly passionate about the job. They do this by sending well written resumes and cover letters, leveraging social media like facebook and LinkedIN to get multiple touch points into a firm, preparing for interviews and practicing interview responses (especially to behavioral interview questions), and by demonstrating a level of energy and passion that says "I can do it, and I WANT to do it"

    Bottom line: you must sell yourself like never before, and not rest on past accomplishments.

    Other generalizations: Those who are focused on things like pay, benefits, title, and the like generally don't make it to final rounds. Those who are focused on selling themselves and why an organization should hire them do.

    I can generally spot someone who is sure to land a job vs. one who is not. The one who lands a job is crisp in all things that s/he says and does, and has a plan. The one who doesn't is generally "shell shocked" by his/her situation, and not sure how to proceed...

Pearl Freier of Cambridge BioPartners wrote:

    I think we’re looking at 2010, maybe even early 2011, before we see substantial increases in hiring across the board in life sciences.

    Here’s a somewhat long explanation of why 2010 or 2011, in case it’s helpful:

    It doesn’t look like there will be another large pharma moving to Boston area in 2009 (Novartis in 2002/2003 made a huge difference here during the last downtown), and instead there are acquisitions like GSK/Sirtris and Bristol Myers Squibb/Adnexus from last year (and we may see more of these this year in Boston biotech)- and what’s great it’s that they keep the acquired biotech going as a separate biotech divison and they continue to invest in the growth of that company- but they keep those companies small, and will continue to do so- Sirtris- has a little over 60 employees- maybe they will grow to 70 or 75 by end of year. Not sure about Adnexus.

    For larger biotech companies, it’s depending on the public markets and the FDA- then it would be “OK” for companies to budget more (and the recruitment budget that goes with it) for increased hiring in 2010. In most of these companies, except for maybe Merck in Boston, the budget isn’t there to increase positions from the amount of positions that had been allocated in 2008. Cubist may be another one.

    It’s such a risky industry-regardless of the economy- Alkermes and CombinatoRx failures in the clinic were not related to the economy.

    The amount of hiring was overhyped in 2007 and 2008, when in New England the bulk of the hiring was happening at a handful of larger companies, and with the smaller companies there was a public perception or assumption that they must be hiring aggressively if they raised $40 or $50 million. A lot of recruitment advertising was done, job fairs etc, but most of these companies didn’t exceed 30 employees, more likely 10 to 20 employees.

    A year ago at this time, The Mass Biotech Council would have 800 to 900 openings on their website at a given time (representing membership of 500 to 600 companies). Today it’s 500 listings.

    ...On the early stage side, I suspect for the rest of the year there is going to be more “cleaning house” to cut costs and conserve cash, and there will be VC funds that aren’t going to be able to raise new funds, essentially going under by 2010 , while more companies will run out of money and close. It takes a while for these companies to close- they tend to linger on, slow death.

    It exciting to see deals and company financings continue through funds like Third Rock, Polaris Ventures, and MPM Capital- exciting companies they are starting/investing in- significant job creation if companies can advance is 4 to 10 yrs out- and small number of jobs created in the interim.

One data point that didn't make it into the column is that when jobs disappear, the recruiters' workload drops. Most said their activity levels were down 20 to 30 percent. And that's what they're willing to tell a reporter!

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Five Great Ideas from Today's IT Collaborative Event

There was a whole lot of tweeting going on this morning at the Massachusetts IT Collaborative event at Microsoft's NERD Center in Kendall Square... and the energy level at the event was really high.

One thing that was kind of depressing to me was listening to people like Steven Vinter of Google, Andy Ory of Acme Packet, and Emily Green of the Yankee Group try to sum up what had been discussed over a few hours in just five minutes when Gov. Patrick showed up to "listen." Vinter also showed an egregiously bad slide that tried to, I think, illustrate all the interconnects between various IT clusters in Massachusetts -- but it was one of those slides with an encyclopedia's worth of text on it, bubbles connected to bubbles, arrows everywhere. Rube Goldberg would have been proud, and I suspect it sent the message that the IT industry isn't so sharp when it comes to simplicity or clarity of message.

But there were lots of great ideas in circulation. Here are five that really resonated with me, and a quote I liked:

1. Michael Greeley of Flybridge Capital suggested that CEOs of larger, more successful companies ought to have "office hours" for younger, up-and-coming CEOs, much like college profs do. That could be a nice, low-commitment way of mentoring ... perhaps letting them commit one or two hours a month when they wouldn't have to leave their building. Many people at today's event focused on the issue of mentorship as a key to cultivating a new crop of big, important, sustainable companies here.

2. We need to make federal visa policy an important issue that everyone here in Massachusetts is engaged with. Part of what we do in the state is to make young people smarter. Why do we then allow them to be shipped back home, especially if they'd rather be working (or starting great companies) here? Akamai CEO Paul Sagan paraphrased Thomas Friedman, who has suggested that we staple a green card to every advanced degree we give out in the US.

3. Sagan also mentioned that you can walk or drive through Kendall Square and never know it is one of our region's hubs of innovation. (Perhaps even a denser concentration of smart people, research labs, and cool companies than anywhere in Silicon Valley.) But there are no signs to let you know what's there. If you drive down Highway 101 in California, in contrast, you see all kinds of evidence of the tech economy: Oracle, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, etc. The photo above is the blank sign at the front door to Google's Cambridge office, which perhaps 10,000 people pass by every day.

4. Connecting with students is a big challenge. Let's say you run a trade group and you want to make your annual conference open to students... or you want to organize an open house at your company to attract great students for a summer internship. There's no easy way to communicate with the student bodies of the hundreds of great schools around Massachusetts. I wonder how tough it would be to create a wiki that lists the contacts at every school's career office, and perhaps the e-mail addresses of the students who run the entrepreneurship/tech/business club on campus, and a few profs interested in helping be liaisons to industry. This wiki might also list tech companies willing to send speakers onto campuses for classes or club meetings, along with the relevant contact.

5. Tod Loofbourrow, founder of Authoria, had a great take during the session on communication... something that came up in last month's brainstorming session on how we can better communicate the innovative stuff that happens in our corner of the world. He said that pioneering work is being done here on healthcare IT, and making the healthcare more efficient, and that we should commit to saving the U.S. X number of dollars and X number of lives with our innovations. That got us all talking about how Massachusetts is focused not on tech-for-the-sake-of-tech, but technology that solves real problems... whether in healthcare, energy, business, or other spheres. That strikes me as really good positioning.

Finally, I liked Andy Ory's comment that we're still haunted by the ghost of Rout 128 past...and the ghost of California present...but what we really should be focused on is the ghost of Massachusetts' future.

What'd you hear that you liked? Did you post about the event? Feel free to add something in the comments...

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Gov. Patrick on Non-Compete Agreements in Massachusetts

I had the chance to chat with Governor Deval Patrick for a few minutes today at Microsoft's NERD Center, toward the end of the Innovate MassTech meeting (aka the IT Collaborative Study Group Meeting.) So I asked him about non-competes.

Paul Sagan, the CEO of Akamai, had just said on stage that he is in favor of keeping non-compete agreements legal and enforceable in Massachusetts, and that he'd seen no data that says that non-competes have any effect on making us less competitive. (The best data I've seen comes from this excellent paper written by three folks at Harvard Business School.) Another CEO told me he liked the fact that employees were more loyal (or less mobile) than in California, so you didn't have to worry about constant turnover here.

Yet at the event, I also spoke with a number of people who'd either been prevented from hiring someone they wanted to hire because of Massachusetts' stance on non-competes, or who knew first-hand of someone who'd been prevented from moving from one company to another.

I asked Gov. Patrick whether the non-compete issue had shown up on his radar screen, and he said it had -- he'd heard about it here in Massachusetts and on a recent trip to California. "I don't have a stake in the status quo," he said. He'd heard arguments from individuals who have been prevented from taking jobs because of non-competes, and also from executives who feel that keeping employees from jumping to other firms in their industry helps them stay competitive. "There's not a consensus view" of whether they're a positive or negative thing in Massachusetts, he said. I suggested that larger companies would love for non-competes continue to continue to be enforceable, while many small start-ups would like to get rid of them -- and that the bigger companies have more political throw weight. The governor didn't agree that things break down so neatly between big and small.

He seemed like he's still in listening mode, willing to be persuaded: "If there's consensus in the industry [as to whether they're a good or bad thing], I'm happy to support that."

And then he went off to be pounced upon by the rest of the media mob... (see pic above)

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Monday, June 8, 2009

A Few More Innovation Month Events ... And, Stealth Companies Revealed?

Just added a couple new events to the Innovation Month calendar, including Games for Health 2009 (June 11 -12) and a Transatlantic Pitching session at Swissnex, held in conjunction with TechStars Boston, on June 18th.

I'm also told by Mark Horan from MassNetComms (they have a big conference coming up on June 17th) that they'll be featuring six stealth companies on a 'Stealth Panel' moderated by Oscar Jazdowski from Silicon Valley Bank. Not sure how much will be revealed, but the companies are:

I'm also psyched that the events that have taken place so far in June have been plugging the concept of Innovation Month, and letting their attendees know about all the other events taking place.

I'll see you out and about...This week I'm attending the IT Collaborative Dialogue in Cambridge and The Convergence Forum in Newport, RI (which I help to organize.)

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Video of A2a's New Mediamesh Screen in Miami

Cool video from Boston-based A2a Media ... they've just installed a permanent "Mediamesh" display screen at the American Airlines Arena in Miami (not only is it my home-town, but my cousin works for the Miami Heat.)

I wrote about A2a last summer in the Globe.

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Audio Conversation: 'Bricklin on Technology'

Dan Bricklin is a software industry pioneer, best known as the co-creator of VisiCalc, who has a new book out called "Bricklin on Technology."

We talked last week about a few of the topics he addresses in the book, including how content will be monetized in the future, how creators (whether musicians, writers, or software developers) ought to deal with piracy, and how Dan is promoting and selling his new book (including on Twitter and YouTube). The MP3 is here, or you can just click 'Play' below. (It runs about 25 minutes.)

(Dan is also the host of Mass TLC's monthly Tech Tuesday event. There's one coming up on June 9th in Cambridge.)

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Todd Hixon on Strengthening the Innovation Economy in Mass.

Todd Hixon of New Atlantic Ventures just posted this great slide presentation which looks at Massachusetts' innovation economy relative to California's, and asks how we can do better. Well worth a look.

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Check Your Calendar: It's Now Innovation Month in New England

June 1st: That could only mean the start of Innovation Month in New England.

Check out all the tweets on the topic... (and if you tweet or blog about Innovation Month, use the tag #neinno.)

Mass High Tech and Xconomy have also written stories.

And my Globe column yesterday also dealt with how we might leverage Innovation Month to defibrillate the economy. (That's a word, right?)

Here's the opening:

    If you want to understand real economic pain - and how it is alleviated - you have to rewind the tape a little more than two centuries.

    Most people remember that when George Washington and his Continental Army drove the British from Boston in 1776, it was one of the first victories of the Revolution. It was also the start of "the most significant depression in Boston's history," says Bob Krim, executive director of the Boston History & Innovation Collaborative. "Eighty-five percent of the population left," and because of the war, the merchants of the city could no longer trade with Britain or the West Indies. The foundation of the city's industry crumbled overnight.

    But within a decade, Boston had discovered a new business opportunity - shipping otter skins from the Pacific Northwest to China and importing products like silk and tea - and figured out how to dominate it. "Trade with China had been barred by the British, and it was such a long trip, no one thought it would be worth it," Krim says. "But these merchants had some seed capital, and they took the incredible risk of figuring out what could be sold in China."

    Creating new industries is what we've done in these parts to deal with economic disruptions for more than 200 years. From textile mills to nanotubes, mutual funds to medical devices, the people of New England know, deep in our DNA, how to come up with the new ideas, products, and businesses that make economic rebounds possible.

(Thanks to Metropolis Creative for the great logo... more available here.)

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