Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July 1st: You May Now Stop Innovating

First, thanks to everyone who helped out with New England Innovation Month in June...

We started the grassroots project as a way to reboot the conversation, moving it away from the lousy economy and toward the things we can control: new ideas and new ventures and new connections. There were about 25 events on the official calendar, and those I went to were really well-attended and had great energy.

What was especially cool was to have two Left Coast publications take note of what we were doing out here in the colonies: VentureBeat and the San Jose Mercury News, which ran a piece headlined 'Boston tech scene on the rebound.'

I am *sure* this is only the beginning of some great new thinking about how to turbo-charge innovation around our region...

...And there are already some great signs that good things will continue in July:

- The Secretary of Housing & Economic Development in Massachusetts, Greg Bialecki, has just launched his blog with a great "Declaration of Innovation."

- TechStars Boston is going strong, and will present a whole crop of new companies to investors in early September.

- There's been some really constructive talk around how we can connect students to cool companies in our region.

- There are some great events happening in July and August, including WebInno, PodCamp Boston, Mass Innovation Night (hoping to finally get to that next week), CloudCamp, and a Forrester Tweetup (expecting to see Tweeter-in-Chief George Colony there, who purports to be a CEO who understands social technologies)...

Again, big thanks to all of you who supported this idea and came out to the events.

(And yes, I'm joking with the headline of this post. Please continue your innovating -- though feel free to take a short vacation in July or August.)

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Looking for a Designer

Know a graphic designer who'd like to work on a small, high-profile, community-oriented pro bono project, geared to turbo-charging innovation in New England? Send 'em my way.

This will involve a smidge of logo and Web design. (This is a project that needs to happen in the next two weeks, so if it's after May 15th, don't send 'em my way.) Comment here or drop me an e-mail (sk - at - scottkirsner dot com).

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Redefining New England's Brand Image

Last Sunday's column was headlined "Let's Redefine New England's Brand Image."

It was based on a blog post here from earlier in December, which has sparked lots of great discussion and debate.

Sunday's video featured Jamie Tedford of Brand Networks talking about sending the message that New England is a petri dish of innovation.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

What Does 'New England' Mean in the New Global Economy?

Here’s a quick city-association game for you.

When I say Hollywood, what industry comes to mind?

If I say Silicon Valley, could you name a couple companies based there?

Nashville conjures up country music chords, and Seattle connotes e-commerce, coffee roasting, and monopolistic makers of operating systems.

So here’s an experiment to try the next time you meet someone at a party in San Francisco, or sit next to a non-New Englander on a flight from O’Hare.

Ask them what their associations are when you say “New England” or “Massachusetts.”

I think you’ll be surprised how often you get responses like “the Boston Tea Party,” “the Revolution,” “covered bridges,” “Ben & Jerry’s,” “the Red Sox,” “history,” or “Kerry, Kennedy and Dukakis.” (I know – I’ve been trying this for the past year or so.)

This leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that what we have here is a failure to communicate. While denizens of the six New England states may be aware how much goes on here – from developing new drugs to deploying advanced robots to designing new videogames – the rest of the planet is pretty clueless.

I think that our great opportunity for 2009, as the world figures out how to emerge from its fiscal funk, is to come up with a strategy for telling our story. This is a hotbed of innovation, and we need the smartest people everywhere to know that. The smartest students already come here to get educated, but we need the smartest entrepreneurs to come here to set up shop; the smartest investors to set up branch offices; and the smartest big-company execs to establish manufacturing, R&D, or sales and marketing presences.

This is not a project for government. They don’t have the money, and we don’t have the time to wait for the six New England states to figure out how to coordinate a joint economic development initiative. (The end result, anyhow, would probably just be a press release.)

This is also probably not a project that our trade associations can lead; each of them has their own priorities, and limited staffs and budgets. (But we can urge them to get on board once we’ve got a plan.)

Instead, this is a project for people who work in the innovation industries around New England. I think we need to stop thinking about how to pitch Portsmouth, Portland, Burlington, North Adams, Cambridge, or Providence as a globally-relevant business hub – and instead come up with a strategy for positioning the entire region as a beacon of innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Revolutionary ideas since 1776” might be a nice slogan.

But more than a signle slogan, I think we need a raft of ideas (most of which would be free or cheap to execute) about better branding New England and explaining what we do here.

A few I’d toss out, just to get your creative juices flowing:

- A series of YouTube videos profiling New England entrepreneurs, live Webcasts with pioneering academic researchers, or iTunes podcast interviews with angel investors and VCs.

- A small logo that New England businesses would add to their Web sites, linked to a page offering information about the innovation economy here, and the particular sector they’re part of.

- A Google map showcasing all of the robotics companies here…medical device companies…cleantech start-ups…venture capital firms.

- A page of “talking points” for execs and entrepreneurs, offering high-level info about all the different innovation industries in the region, and a few salient stats about company creation, venture capital activity, patents issued per capita, etc.

- A Flickr photoset of company headquarters, labs, academic institutions, etc.

- A Facebook group or Google calendar to keep people apprised of major conferences, seminars, trade shows, and industry events in the region.

2009 is going to be a “rebuilding” year for every state, every industry, the global economy as a whole. Everyone is going to be trying to figure out where new growth can come from.

I think that creates an incredible chance for those of us in New England to talk about what we do, make our case, brand our region, and as a result, attract people, partnerships, and business from far and wide.

This post is only intended to get us thinking together about the opportunity: spreading the message globally about what our region is about. If I were forced to encapsulate it, I’d say, “New England is where scientific breakthroughs and big ideas turn into start-ups, big companies, and entirely new industries.”

But I know you’ll serve up some better ways to say it… and great strategies for communicating it.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Let's Stop New England from Going Gray

If we wanted to focus on one thing that would ensure New England's long-term competitiveness, I think it ought to be retaining young people. They're impatient ... creative ... and they challenge the status quo in ways that can be really revolutionary in start-ups and big companies alike.

Yesterday's column in the Globe focused on a disturbing trend, illustrated by this graphic:

Every company thinks about young people when they have an entry-level, low-paying job or internship position to fill. And that's OK. But entrepreneurs, executives, and investors need to come up with more creative ways to get onto campuses and explain what they do ... and bring students into their offices, even if they're not currently hiring or filling internships.

I've been nudging the New England Venture Capital Association to create an event that would connect students and recent grads with the VC community...and suggesting to our biggest companies that they should host "open houses" where students and others could come to their offices to learn about an issue that's important to the host company. (Like Google hosting MySQL camp and many other informal gatherings on its Mountain View campus.) What about a Boston Scientific open house focused on next-gen implantable devices, or an EMC open house on cloud computing?

I know there are a million even better ideas for integrating young people into our region's innovation economy -- making New England act more like Velcro, and less like a revolving door for the hundreds of thousands of students who come here to get educated.

(Note: the original article that inspired this column, "Demographic Demise" by University of New Hampshire economist Ross Gittell, is here in PDF form.)

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

How Many of the Fastest-Growing Companies in America are in New England?

Here's a map that's fun to play with: it shows which of the 200 fastest-growing companies in the US are based here in New England, according to Inc. Magazine. (Thanks to Barb Heffner for the link.)

I didn't have time to count, but according to this blog post from the Globe, 24 of the top 500 Inc. companies are in Massachusetts.

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