Thursday, February 7, 2008

Does Facebook's Revenue Matter?

The Power, Drugs & Money conference at the Seaport Hotel has brought together an interesting mix of people ... Jim Gordon of Cape Wind is speaking now, and I just bumped into someone from the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Noubar Afeyan from Flagship Ventures in the hall.

The first morning panel focused on innovation in New England, and was moderated by Chris Gabrieli of Bessemer Venture Partners and the Massachusetts 20/20 Foundation. Panelists included Bob Buderi from Xconomy, Doug Banks from Mass High Tech, Bob Krim from the Boston History and Innovation Collaborative, and me.

Krim said that Boston has a good track record of gravitating to new ideas once old ones lose steam. (For a long time we fished for cod... then we focused on the telegraph and telephone... later, we invented minicomputers and e-mail.) Krim also has a nice term for the interactions that happen here between investors, entrepreneurs, tech users, and academic researchers. He calls it the "bump and connect."

Doug Banks had a nice turn of phrase when he said that developing technologies that produce cleaner power is "the noble pursuit of the day." I agree, even if some worry about it becoming a bubble.

We bashed Harvard a bit, which Gabrieli suggested looks down upon the process of commercializing new ideas. I mentioned Facebook at one point ... if Harvard had more VCs prowling the hall, or had more of an entrepreneurship infrastructure forging connections with the local innovation economy, would more than one local investor have seen the Facebook deal before the founder moved to California?

Banks said that Facebook doesn't have impressive revenues, and is probably overvalued. He mentioned that the #2 e-commerce vendor, after Amazon, is, headquartered right here in Massachusetts. I said to Doug afterwards, that's great, but how many smart young people are moving from Kansas to Massachusetts because they want a job with And how many smart young people are moving from Kansas to California because they want a job with Facebook, or one of the zillions of Facebook app developers out there?

Someone in the audience complained that as venture firms raise larger funds, they tend to be less interested in backing early-stage companies started by wet-behind-the-ears founders. I mentioned some of the new early-stage, smaller venture funds that have started up in the last year or two.

The opening keynote speaker was John Kao, author of 'Innovation Nation.' He offered a picture of what other countries, like Singapore and Finland, are doing to try to build hubs of innovation.

I see countries like those, and states like North Carolina and Michigan, playing offense: trying to attract smart people and fast-growing companies. Our job here (in the US, and in Massachusetts) is to play both offense and defense.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Combating Global Warming: Last night's MIT Enterprise Forum

Last night I was at a meeting of the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge that focused on "How Innovative Businesses are Combating Global Warming."

Ian Bowles, Massachusetts' secretary of the executive office of energy and environmental affairs, opened the evening with an update from the State House. Bowles talks so fast I am pretty sure his compensation package has a words-per-minute clause. Very smart guy. But he predicted that we won't see any federal action on a carbon tax or CO2 emissions trading, either of which could help mitigate global warming, until the next Presidential administration.

I moderated a panel with Emily Kreps from Goldman Sachs, Daniel Goldman from Great Point Energy, Phillip Boyle from Powerspan, and Professor Daniel Schrag from Harvard. Schrag led things off with a short and dismaying PowerPoint overview of the latest data and projections about climate change: Houston, we have a problem.

Goldman talked about how his company is transforming coal into natural gas, and sequestering the CO2. Boyle explained how Powerspan removes acid-rain-causing pollutants from power plant emissions, and can also sequester CO2. And Schrag explained some of the thinking related to "global dimming" -- figuring out ways to reflect sunlight before the earth's atmosphere absorbs the heat. He's concerned that some country might decide unilaterally to try a global dimming experiment, with dangerous effects, since we don't know enough about how climate works.

The panelists all agreed with Bowles that we're not likely to see any federal implementation of something like the Lieberman-Warner bill soon, which would cap emissions and reduce them over time.

I suggested that citizen action is what's needed, given that we have a little more than a year before our next President takes office. Initiatives like Hull Wind and the CalCars plug-in hybrid movement work. Why wait for Washington to get moving?

Afterward, I met a bunch of entrepreneurs working on swell stuff.... Michael Chen is trying to develop wind farms in China...Jon Strimling from was explaining the benefits of using biomass fuels to heat one's home...and Benjamin Brown runs the Web site MakeMeSustainable.

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