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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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Stop Studying Already!

Just what the Massachusetts tech economy needs to improve its competitive standing in the world: another study!

The IT Industry Study Group put out an important press release yesterday that says that they plan to produce an important report on how important the tech industry is to Massachusetts. That report, when it is finished, will no doubt be accompanied by yet another important press release.

Now, you know that I am a big cheerleader for innovation in Massachusetts, and the entire New England region.

But I think that rather than talking to ourselves... and our elected officials...and telling one another how important we are to the regional economy... we should actually be communicating with the rest of the world. We should be focusing on building our brand... and attracting investment and business activity (like Google's Cambridge office, or the giant Novartis presence in Central Square) from elsewhere. We should also be figuring out how to create a welcoming environment for all the students who come here to get an education, funneling them into start-ups and bigger companies here, or helping them launch ventures of their own.

Correct me if you think I'm wrong, but these studies serve no useful purpose that I can tell. (Here's a 2008 study on basically the same topic: how Massachusetts can remain competitive in the IT and defense sectors.)

Here's what this new very very very important study will focus on:

    The Institute will undertake in-depth research documenting the size and scope of activities of the major IT industry sectors in Massachusetts. It will analyze the extent to which the presence of IT firms contributes to the competitiveness of other Massachusetts industries. In addition, the report will explore opportunities for the local IT industry and investigate major obstacles to growth and expansion in Massachusetts. The $150,000 project is being underwritten by the consortium of private companies, in partnership with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s John Adams Innovation Institute.

Have fun, guys.

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