Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Worth reading: 'How Town Hurts Gown'

Former Boston city councilor Tom Keane had an interesting piece in Sunday's Globe magazine that sounds some alarm bells. We've always assumed that our education industry has no choice but to stay here: Harvard has been in Cambridge for centuries, and it always will be.

But Keane writes:

    ...We're proud of our longstanding reputation as America's premier college town, but, in fact, only 16 of the top 125 schools in the country are located in New England, according to US News & World Report. The rest fiercely compete against us not only on the basis of class size, lab space, and faculty, but also on amenities such as dorms. Today's students are no longer satisfied with crowded quads and grungy bathrooms down the hall. Quality of life matters, and prevented from building, Boston schools have a tough time delivering.

    Equally problematic is competition from overseas. Foreign students once flocked to New England; now their numbers are down. Some are going to colleges elsewhere in the States. Others are staying home and attending newly built schools there. Our own schools are now building elsewhere as well. Emerson opened a campus in LA. MIT is building in Abu Dhabi, Harvard Medical will soon be in Dubai, and the University of Massachusetts is cutting a deal to offer courses in China. If the students aren't coming to Boston, the schools may as well go to them.

    Then there's distance learning. Most colleges now offer online courses; community colleges, in fact, report that online enrollment is growing more than five times faster than on-campus enrollment. Eventually, students and schools will figure out that much of their learning can be done without leaving home.

Definitely worth a read.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Starting this Weekend: Cambridge Science Festival

We're really lucky to have something like the Cambridge Science Festival in our town, organized by the great MIT Museum. It starts tomorrow, and runs through May 4th. Great activities for kids, teens, and adults, on topics like biotech, brewing beer, alternative energy, solar flares, climate change, women in science, and sustainable chocolate. (Sustainable chocolate?)

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How Do We Better Connect Students to Boston's Innovation Economy?

I joined a group of people for an informal dinner discussion last night, the topic of which was: “What can we do to better connect Boston’s student population with the entrepreneurial sector in town?”

The dinner participants included three student entrepreneurs; two venture capitalists (representing Sigma Partners and Spark Capital); profs and career services folks from Babson, Boston College, Boston University, and Tufts; one person from an industry association (Tom Hopcroft of Mass TLC) and one from an angel investing group (James Geshwiler from CommonAngels); and several entrepreneurs.

It was an interesting mix of perspectives. Everyone felt that we can do a better job of exposing students to entrepreneurial companies here, and helping them build the skills and connections they’ll need to eventually start their own business. Some of my notes from the discussion are below (they’re not comprehensive), but let me try to summarize what I heard as some of the key constructive recommendations for addressing the issue:

    1. Our local industry groups, trade associations and conferences ought to offer student rates, even if they limit the number of students that can attend a particular event. Many do, but they don’t always make that clear.

    2. Students and universities are eager to have more entrepreneurs and venture capitalists visit their campus to talk about what they do. They’re especially interested in hearing from companies with summer internship or job possibilities. I know entrepreneurs and VCs are very busy, but would it be too much to ask to have them do this once a year, or once a semester – at their alma mater or another local school?

    3. It seems odd that Boston area students travel out to Silicon Valley for “Tech Treks,” where they visit the leading lights of Silicon Valley, yet there are very few opportunities for them to visit companies in their backyard, like EMC, Akamai, Genzyme, Zipcar, and Harmonix (creator of the “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” games.) Why isn’t there a weekly series of lunches, on Fridays say, that would run throughout the academic year, and invite a group of b-school students (and even a few motivated undergrads) to visit our most innovative local companies? If demand increased, this could be something that multiple companies do each Friday throughout the school year.

    And what about the VCs? I wonder why there isn’t an “open house” once a year up on “Mount Money” in Waltham, where most Massachusetts VCs have an office, that welcomes students and offers an overview of each firm’s portfolio companies.

    4. We need more events organized jointly by the students or faculty of several different schools. It’s nice that some schools have entrepreneurship conferences, or business plan competitions, but working together seems like it could accomplish much more. It was encouraging to hear that the BC and Harvard entrepreneurship clubs are beginning to work together on some initiatives.

    5. We need to do a better job of marketing/communicating to students the high-growth industries that are rooted here, from robotics to cleantech to videogames to life sciences. This could be through a combination of on-campus events, advertising in student newspapers, or creating online resources especially for students. This hasn’t been a traditional area of focus of our trade associations – aside from organizing the occasional recruiting fair.

Participants Rob Go from Spark Capital and Gregg Favalora of Actuality Medical have already posted their thoughts about the dinner, beating me to the punch.

My rough notes follow:

    - Companies ought to list internship opportunities on their sites. (Career services people at Boston-area universities: are there specific sites that you recommend to students, or see them using, that companies should also post to?)

    - Cindy Klein Marmer from Babson said she uses the BBJ’s list of the top 100 fastest-growing companies to suggest places students might want to work or intern. I published a list of fifty “cool” companies recently. It’d be nice to create a “list of lists” somewhere that career services folks, and students, could peruse. Don McLagan mentioned that MITX has a list of its member companies, all involved in digital media and technology. Other trade associations, like Mass Biotech, also have good member directories.

    - Pamela Goldberg of Tufts mentioned that she brought a table of Tufts students to a recent BBJ event honoring the 100 fastest-growing companies. That was the first time Tufts had done that, and she thought it was a success.

    - One issue at the federal level that has people concerned is the availability of visas for foreign students, so they can stick around once they’ve finished their studies. Paul McManus from BU said that 47 percent of BU’s grad students are in the country on a visa, and most can’t stay to work here afterward.

    - Entrepreneurial companies need someone to start today, CommonAngels’ James Geshwiler pointed out. They don’t have long-term hiring plans where they can recruit on campus in the fall for someone who’ll join them next June.

    - One issue is that students aren’t inclined to leave campus very often for activities. Pamela from Tufts said her approach to is to bring entrepreneurs to campus for group lunches with students.

    - Christine Griffin from BC talked about a recent visit to Silicon Valley. “There are no obvious hang-outs here,” she said, that compare to University Ave. in Palo Alto, where you might bump into Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Ross Mayfield of Socialtext.

    - She proposed a great idea, which is to pool resources among schools and create a “collaborative seminar” that would involve studying local companies and then visiting them. She’s working with some Harvard students on this project, and the idea is that students from a few local schools would each set up two or three company visits, sharing the burden.

    - Paul McManus noted that faculty involvement in that kind of project is important, because it gives things continuity as students move on.

    - At many schools, it’s not clear who the faculty point person is who could connect an entrepreneur to the most promising students – either for jobs or internships. Actuality Medical’s Gregg Favalora said that each school ought to have a “node” … an individual who is well-connected to the entrepreneurial and VC world, and also has a great sense of which students are hunting for jobs, internships, or even seed funding for a start-up idea. Running a blog would make it clear to the rest of the world who that person (or those people) are at a school.

    - James talked about “the power of role models.” Celebrity entrepreneurs, like Zuckerberg, encourage others to try to make their ideas work. “We have the anti-celebrity mentality in New England,” he said. It was jokingly suggested that I start an East Coast version of Valleywag.

    - Roger Krakoff of Sigma noted that Y Combinator is doing great work helping to cultivate early-stage start-ups. But he said that New York and Atlanta are much more focused than Boston right now on spinning up excitement about their tech scenes. He mentioned Tech Meetup in New York, which happens once a month. “New York is far more vibrant right now,” he said.

    - Among the events in Boston compared to Tech Meetup were WebInno, OpenCoffee, Mobile Mondays, Biotech Tuesdays, and Tech Tuesdays, the new monthly event organized by software pioneer and all-around nice guy Dan Bricklin. Most are free to go to, and open to students. Krakoff spoke very highly of events organized by TiE, including their entrepreneur forum coming up in May. A student membership is $25.

    - Hopcroft mentioned that students get half-off the member rate on MassTLC’s breakfast events, which makes the price $20.

    - Favalora told a very funny story about TellMe Networks recruiting at Stanford by storming computer labs at midnight and handing out free pizzas. This was during the dot-com boom.

    - Jessica Athas of The Martini Workout, a fitness entrepreneur, said that entrepreneurs from outside the tech world can sometimes feel excluded, since so many of the networking and educational events that happen here are geared to tech and biotech.

    - Paul McManus said we ought to expose liberal arts students to entrepreneurship, too – not just engineers. Pierre Omidyar, eBay’s founder and a Tufts alum, wasn’t a programmer.

    - Krakoff suggested we might need to create an event (“this big, combustible event” were his exact words) that brings together entrepreneurs with budding entrepreneurs, ideally from many different schools: Tufts/BU/Babson/Bentley/etc.

    - “Let’s make the community responsible for the problem,” Krakoff suggested. “Boston needs to promote itself better.”

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fred Hapgood's Calendar of Sci/Tech Lectures in Boston

This selective calendar of science, engineering, and tech lectures in Boston is really excellent... just discovering it, courtesy of Joost Bonsen's blog. It is maintained by long-time science and technology journalist Fred Hapgood.

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Summer Programs for Entrepreneurs in the Boston Area

I'm only aware of two summer programs here in the Boston area for entrepreneurs who want to spend the warmest months of the year penned up indoors, working to get a company off the ground.

One is run by Y Combinator in Cambridge. Unfortunately, the deadline for submissions was yesterday. They've helped launch companies like Reddit, Loopt, Justin.TV, and I'm In Like With You. YC invests $15,000 in a company with two team members, in return for usually about 6 percent of the equity in the company. "The goal is usually to give you enough money to build an impressive prototype or version 1, which you can then use to get further funding," they say.

The other is run by Highland Capital Partners in Lexington. It's called Summer@Highland, and applications are being accepted through April 22. Unlike Y Combinator, though, this one is open only to current graduate and undergrad students (as well as folks who graduated between December 2007 and the present.) But only one member of the team has to meet that criterion. Teams get office space either in Lexington or Menlo Park, CA.

And here's an important element: "...if a team goes on to raise venture capital within 180 days from the end of the program, then Highland [must] be provided the option to co-invest in up to 50% of the total financing round."

If you know of other summer programs in Boston/Mass./New England whose goal is to help entrepreneurs get companies off the ground, post 'em in the comments.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

What to Do This Weekend With Your Kids, Woz, Bob Metcalfe, and Blue Man Group

On Friday or Saturday, take them to the FIRST regional robotics competition in Boston. (Other regionals around the country are listed here.)

If you haven't seen a FIRST robotics competition (created originally by MIT prof Woodie Flowers and inventor Dean Kamen), it'll blow your mind...and perhaps cause your offspring to become obsessed.

From the press release:

    BOSTON– March 26, 2008 – Over 1,000 area high school students will be competing in Boston’s largest robotics competition this week. The Boston FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition will take place at Boston University’s Agganis Arena Friday through Saturday, March 28-29, 2008. The event is free and open to the public.

    Blue Man Group, the multimedia entertainment phenomenon, will perform during the opening ceremony for the competition’s final matches: Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 12:45PM. This special live appearance will showcase Blue Man Group’s signature music and excitement.

    Over fifty teams spent six weeks designing and building robots to accomplish specific tasks outlined in this year’s game, “FIRST Overdrive.” The teams will compete for honors that recognize robot design excellence, competitive play, sportsmanship and high-impact partnerships between schools, businesses and communities.

    The Boston FIRST Regional (http://www.bostonfirst.org) brings together student teams from across the region in an atmosphere that is described as “rock concert meets the Super Bowl mixed with science and technology.”

    Students competing in the competition will be able to interact with a number of the nation’s leading technology pioneers. This year’s judges include Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, iRobot co-founder Colin Angle and Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe of Polaris Ventures.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Top 50 Schools for Entrepreneurs: Who's on the List from Boston?

Entrepreneur Magazine has published its annual list of the Top 25 graduate and undergrad schools for entrepreneurs.

The big news is that Wellesley's Babson College has jumped from #10 to #1 on the list of undergrad programs, and from #22 to #2 on the list of graduate programs. (Babson is the only local school on that list, so I'll only publish the undergrad list here, which includes a second Boston-area school.)

    Top 25 Undergrad Programs for Entrepreneurship

    Babson College
    University of Houston
    Drexel University
    The University of Arizona
    University of Dayton
    Chapman University
    DePaul University
    Temple University
    University of North Dakota
    Loyola Marymount University
    Wichita State University
    Syracuse University
    University of Notre Dame
    University of Maryland
    University of Oklahoma
    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
    Xavier University
    The University of Alabama
    University of Southern California
    Ball State University
    The University of Iowa
    Brigham Young University
    Baylor University
    Northeastern University
    The Ohio State University

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