Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Crimson Hexagon: Tracking Online Conversations

Checked in this morning with Mike Troiano, a former ad agency and tech company exec who linked up with Crimson Hexagon back in April as an advisor -- mainly to help the company secure new funding. Crimson Hexagon, based on technology developed at Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Social Science, is a Cambridge start-up that digs into all kinds of online conversations to figure out what people are saying about a given product or service. The company got going in 2007, has been funded by angel investors and angel groups, and officially launched last fall.

Lots of companies, Troiano says, are good at searching for keywords (like "Ben & Jerry's") across the Web and assessing how much buzz a given brand is getting. Crimson Hexagon, he says, has "the ability to find patterns in the dots of online conversation, across blogs, Twitter, bulletin boards, and forums. It's not just about the volume of buzz, but what people are saying." An example: the firm recently explored the positive and negative reactions on Twitter to Microsoft's Bing search site.

As for a new round of funding, Troiano told me to expect an announcement from Crimson Hexagon within a few weeks. It likely will come from angels, rather than VC firms. "I've never seen a [fundraising] market like this," Troiano said. "VCs are protecting their cash to allocate it to current portfolio companies." (Though Troiano admits that some VCs may simply think that Crimson Hexagon is still too young a company for them to fund.) "If we got paid by the meeting, we'd be sitting pretty," he quipped, referring to investors' willingness to take a meeting -- even if they're not doing much active investing.

Another company in the "social media monitoring" space, New York-based Techrigy, was just acquired today for an undisclosed sum. That could bode well for Crimson Hexagon.

Crimson Hexagon is part of what I think of as the "metrics and measurement" cluster here in Massachusetts -- a cluster that includes firms like Visible Measures (video measurement), Compete (Web traffic), and Localytics, a mobile measurement company that's now participating in the TechStars Boston summer program.

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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, 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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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Angels Alighting at New Cambridge Co-Working Space?

Bill Warner (founder of Avid Technology, Wildfire, and one of the godfathers who is bringing TechStars to Boston this summer) tells me he's working out of the new C3 co-working space at Cambridge Innovation Center. His mission: to attract three or four other local angel investors to the space, and create a little angel investing cluster there.

Know someone who might be interested? He's @billwarner on Twitter.

In other angel news, Colorado entrepreneur and investor David Cohen announces that he has put together a small $2.5 million fund to invest in very early-stage start-ups (with some money from Warner). Cohen writes on his blog: "While this new fund will choose the best available investments nationally, we believe that some of those will naturally include companies exiting TechStars."

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Colorado-based TechStars Will Launch a Boston Program This Summer

Less than a month after Paul Graham announced that Y Combinator won't be running its summer start-up cultivation program in Cambridge, we learn that TechStars will fill that vacuum.

TechStars was founded by MIT alum Brad Feld, who also started his first company, a software consultancy, here.

TechStars is a bit younger than Y Combinator, having spooled up in 2007. But a dozen of the twenty companies that have been through TechStars thus far have received angel or venture funding, and two have been acquired. TechStars invests up to $18,000 in each company, offers lots of guidance and mentorship, and organizes a pitch session for prospective investors at the end of the summer.

It was one of those investors, Bill Warner, who helped bring TechStars to Boston. Warner put some money into Eventvue, and visited Colorado to chat with Feld last December. At the time, Warner didn't realize that YC would be eliminating its Cambridge summer program. He writes via e-mail, "...with YC already in place in Boston, and with the 2009 season already coming up, it didn't make sense to push for this year. [But] once YC decided to focus on Silicon Valley, [we] really ramped up our discussions."

They don't have a venue yet for the summer program, but applications are due by March 21st. Managing the program will be Shawn Broderick, CEO of TrustPlus, who worked with Feld earlier in his career.

Among the mentors for the new Boston program are Microsoft's Don Dodge, Lead Dog Ventures founder John Landry, iRobot CEO Colin Angle, Harmonix co-founder Eran Egozy, Nabeel Hyatt of Conduit Labs, and software exec Chris Heidelberger. The investors who'll be getting TechStars Boston off the ground include Feld and Warner, as well as Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital.

According to TechCrunch's report on the news, TechStars says that their "expansion into Boston has been in the works for about six months now, so Y Combinator’s decision didn’t play a role."

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