Thursday, March 12, 2009

How Many Bostonians Were at the White House Last Friday? Raise Your Hands, Please

I haven't seen the complete list of people invited to the White House last Friday for a summit of young business leaders, but the group included Twitter founder Evan Williams, Donald Trump scion Ivanka Trump, ex-Google exec Chris Sacca (who was a big Obama fundraiser), and Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. There were 25 entrepreneurs invited, all under the age of 35.

The only Bostonian I know who was there was Greg Selkoe, founder of Karmaloop, an ultrahip online apparel retailer. (The Obama t-shirt in the image is just one item you can buy from the site.)

Others on the invite list: Michael Chasen, CEO of; James Gutierrez, CEO of Progresso Financiero; Catherine Levine, COO of Daily Candy; marketer Josh Spear; Jake Nickell of Threadless; Blake Mycoskie, Founder of Tom's Shoes.

Selkoe's PR rep e-mails to add that the young leaders met with officials from the Office of Public Liaison, Intergovernmental Relations, National Economic Council, Office of Energy and Climate Change, Domestic Policy Council, and New Media. "They were briefed by each of these government agencies on the Obama administration's new policies, plans for progress, and steps being taken toward economic recovery," she writes. "The White House expressed to them their desire to enlist the help of the young and the next generation of business leaders in helping contribute ideas and support for economic recovery and to help spread the word about their administration's desire to be open to new ideas, accessible, and transparent."

Interestingly, Selkoe was quoted in the NY Times this morning, defending artist Shepard Fairey (the guy behind the Obama "Hope" poster), who is facing several vandalism charges for allegedly plastering his artwork all over town.

Karmaloop is the official online outlet for Fairey merch... and yes, that Obama shirt in the picture is one of his creations...

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Student Brainstorming

What are some of the ways we can better connect graduating students with the innovation economy here in New England? That's the topic of today's Globe column, and I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

From the column:

    The greatest renewable natural resource we've got in New England is smart young people. Hundreds of thousands of them are getting educated in our region right now; in Massachusetts alone, about 75,000 will earn degrees come May. And once springtime approaches, most graduates will return home or seek their fortunes elsewhere - often in Silicon Valley.

    A study commissioned by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce last month found that over the next five years, Massachusetts will have the lowest rate of population growth of any state, when you're looking specifically at people 25 years old or older who've earned at least a bachelor's degree. Joining us on the laggards list are neighboring states Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maine.

    "Our problem in New England is that the ripe entrepreneur-age kids are leaving in droves," says [Angelo] Santinelli, a consultant and ex-venture capitalist who also teaches entrepreneurship at Babson College in Wellesley. "Our biggest export is brains."

Here's a video clip of a recent chat I had with venture capitalist and entrepreneur Bob Metcalfe on the topic.

And an earlier blog post here graded Boston's networking groups and trade associations based on how welcoming they are of students.

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Student Entrepreneurs: Schmoozing Opportunity, Next Friday

I'm looking for two student entrepreneurs, ideally focused on developing a product or service for consumers.

Here's what you get: a chance to schmooze with successful entrepreneurs next Friday morning (Nov 7th), and get a tour of an interesting company.

Here's what you need to do:

1. Have a car (or Zipcar, or a car you can borrow/rent/steal), and be able to get to Bedford, MA by 8 AM next Friday, and stay until 10 AM.

2. Be operating or planning a consumer-oriented product or service.

3. Be a currently-enrolled student.

4. E-mail me with a quick note about your company or business plan or area of interest. I'll contact you by Monday if you're chosen.

Feel free to share this opportunity with others...

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

E Ink & Esquire

Had breakfast on Friday at Henrietta's with a really interesting bunch of tech company founders....including Wendy Caswell from Zink, Antonio Rodriguez from Tabblo (now an exec at HP), Gregg Favalora from Actuality, Nabeel Hyatt from Conduit Labs, and Sim Simeonov from Polaris/Plinky.

We talked about a lot of stuff, but one thing everyone was interested in (well, at least Gregg and I) was how we can get our hands on a copy of the October issue of 'Esquire,' which will have a front cover and inside cover featuring E Ink displays.

E Ink CEO Russ Wilcox said he's even having trouble getting his hands on a hundred or so of the magazines for his employees. (Not all of the copies of the October issue will have the E Ink displays affixed to them.) Subscribers won't get them... they'll be at newsstands only. (Perhaps mailing the mags posed too big a risk of damage.) Russ said he didn't know which newsstands will get them, so there's no use camping out at Out of Town News in Harvard Square.

Though you could get lucky...

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Let's Brainstorm About How to Stop the Student Exodus

Sunday's Globe column focused on why Massachusetts needs more initiatives to retain the students who come here to get smarter. From the piece:

    Convincing more newly minted grads to build their careers here isn't just about helping Massachusetts add more taxpayers and end a pathetic streak of losing population in the 25-to-34 age bracket. It's about bringing new ideas and energy to our established business giants (think Raytheon, Fidelity, and Biogen Idec) and supporting young entrepreneurs who want to start businesses of their own.

    The West Coast, unfortunately, has done a much better job of taking new entrepreneurs seriously over the past two decades. Google, Yahoo, and Facebook were all founded by sharp-but-unproven whippersnappers. Here, iRobot Corp. is the only significantly sized company to have been started and run by recent grads.

I offered up seven ideas, free for the taking (or the adapting), which I think could move the needle. But I'm sure there are at least 70 other good ones.

I've been getting lots of e-mail about yesterday's column ... some of it explaining that Massachusetts high cost of living drives students away (um, have you ever tried to rent an apartment in Palo Alto?) ... some of it explaining that the state's anti-business attitude does it ... some blaming too much traffic. But what if we stopping trying to find things to blame and simply started reaching out to students, helping get them connected to the business community?

Here's the video that accompanies the column -- an interview with Harvard student Travis May about his company,, and student entrepreneurship in general:

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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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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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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Some Notes on Boston's Future

I met with some folks this week at Boston's City Hall to riff on some of the themes I've been writing about (most notably, what Boston can do to keep young people here... starting companies and going to work for our most innovative businesses), and also hear what the Boston Redevelopment Authority is up to.

A few notes from that conversation...

1. Boston could do a better job at being a lighthouse... sending the message that this is where you come to learn and to start businesses in life sciences...cleantech...robotics...Web 2.0 services...or anything else that's innovative. We need to communicate what's here more clearly with the rest of the world.

2. We need to help students who come here to learn to get connected with the business community: successful entrepreneurs and investors who're open to backing young people. (Or do we want the Sergey Brins, Mark Zuckerbergs, and Bill Gateses of the present to start their companies elsewhere?) One idea would be two separate annual events that would be open and free for any undergrad or grad students: say, one in the fall where they could meet, hear from, and schmooze with entrepreneurs...and another in the spring where they could do the same with VCs. (I had a conversation on that topic later in the week with Don McLagan of, who is exploring for the trade group MITX ways to build better bridges between students and tech companies.)

3. One resource that'd be helpful to young entrepreneurs (and everyone - let's be honest) would be a wiki that served as a sort of "Entrepreneurs Guide to Boston," offering info about VC firms, networking events, shared office spaces, etc.

4. The BRA folks mentioned that they have a gigantic old building in Charlestown that's in search of a new purpose: the Ropewalk. What if, we brainstormed, five or six universities got together to turn it into a collaborative space for start-up companies founded by students or profs? Wouldn't it be cool to collect start-ups from Babson, Bentley, BU, BC, etc. in one place, and see what happened?

Here's a video that shows what the Ropewalk was like in its heyday:

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Why Student Entrepreneurs Matter

I dropped by a meeting of the Harvard College Entrepreneurship Forum yesterday evening to give my "stump speech" about New England's Innovation Economy.

But the most interesting parts of the evening were two things that happened once I was finished...

1. The room was full of student entrepreneurs not just from Harvard, but also from BC, WPI, MIT, and BU. It felt like there was something really powerful about students from different schools getting a chance to meet and talk about their start-up ideas with one another...especially students from schools that don't have, say, MIT's endless parade of entrepreneurship-related events and competitions.

2. I asked students about some of the issues or frustrations they encounter in trying to connect with entrepreneurs and investors from the "real world" (IE, post-collegiate people). To me, getting students plugged into the innovation economy here is Job #1 if we want to be able to hire the smartest people in our region and fund the most important new businesses.

Here are some issues they raised (and some that occurred to me as I listened to the students talk):

    - The costs to go to most events put on by Boston's technology networking groups (MITX, MassTLC, Mass Network Communications Council, etc.) are too high. Why don't these organizations have a $10 or $20 student rate for all of their events, even if they limit the number of tickets sold at that price to five or ten?

    - Why are there "tech treks" in Silicon Valley, where students can go and visit the hot Valley companies, but no similar tech treks in Boston? I've not heard business school students talking about their visits to Akamai, EMC, Genzyme, Boston Scientific, iRobot, etc. (Am I totally wrong about this?)

    - Where can students go to meet investors? (Yes, I suggested events like the MIT and HBS venture capital conferences, and MIT's $100K competition)

    - Where is there a list of cool start-ups to know about, intern with, and possibly work for? (I may take this one on at some point)

    - Some Harvard students have created a Web site called, which aims to connect student entrepreneurs with one another. (I heard last night that one of the founders is currently out in California, looking to raise money.)

    - Why isn't there one big event every academic year, or one a semester, that brings student entrepreneurs from all of the area's schools together...both to meet each other and to connect with entrepreneurs, executives, and investors from the New England business community?

My big obsession right now is what Boston and New England can do to capture more of the energy and intelligence of the students who come here to get an education. I am convinced this is the simplest way to invest in the future health of our innovation economy. We don't need to retain 100 percent of all students, of course... but retaining 5 or 10 percent more, whether they're starting their own businesses or working for others, would have a huge impact on the economy here.

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Friday, November 9, 2007

Future Forward 07: Some rough notes

I have to confess that I did not take copious notes during Future Forward yesterday, a conference I help organize, but I did shoot some video, which I'll post here soon. (Update: video is below.)

But there were some great questions raised, some really insightful comments, and lots of interchange between the speakers and the tightly-packed audience.

The big question in the opening panel, which featured CIOs and CEOs, was whether it makes sense to be the "first one in the pool" when it comes to deploying new technology, or to be a fast follower. Bill Wray from Citizens Bank said his budget doesn't allow him to experiment in too many places, so he tries the latter strategy. George Orlov from Forrester Research said he's creating a sort of sandbox, so that his employees (technology analysts) can play with new technologies they are writing about. Ken Chaisson from Legal Seafoods talked about how some of the company's servers gravitate to new technologies, and that others follow when they see that the first group of servers is turning tables faster and earning more tips.

CEOs Paul Sagan (Akamai) and Art Coviello (former CEO of RSA Security, now a division president within EMC) were up next. Sagan talked about Akamai's near-death experience after the dot-com bubble burst, which required letting go hundreds of employees and getting out of high-priced leases. He also talked about how the company had to focus - quickly - on what he called "permanent economy" customers. I asked whether the start-ups in the room represented the "transient economy." "Too soon to tell," Sagan quipped.

The question of whether the enforcement of non-compete agreements hampers entrepreneurship in Massachusetts came up. Sagan said cheekily that we should lobby California to institute non-competes, rather than eradicating them here. Attorney Gabor Garai from Foley and Lardner, in the audience, seemed to think that they're a real problem. When Art Coviello got on stage, the first thing I asked him was his position. EMC/RSA, of course, likes to hold on to its best employees, and Coviello said non-competes help them do that.

Next, Dan Primack ran a very high-energy panel about VCs, IPOs, and M&A. He started by exploring corporate venture investing ... and particularly the fickle nature of it. Corporations open and close venture groups as the economy changes, and one of the VCs on the panel, Maria Cirino, said that in her previous life as an entrepreneur, one corporate venture arm replaced the person who sat on Maria's board three times in four years. The panel also touched on the problem of big funds (Battery was named) trying to do everything from early-stage deals to buy-outs. There was quite a lot of skepticism about that, but no one from Battery or General Catalyst was present to defend the big boys.

Giles McNamee brought up a very salient piece of data - only one or two percent of companies ever make it to an IPO, so it's quite natural that entrepreneurs consider and explore the M&A route.

After a nice long lunch, we came back to hear from the delightful and insightful artist John Maeda, who works at the Media Lab. I've long been a fan of John's work, but this was the first chance I'd had to see him speak. (TED has a video of a shorter talk he gave about his book 'The Laws of Simplicity,' but yesterday John got a full hour.)

Next, George Colony and Fidelity exec Charlie Brenner sparred on stage about the future of IT. Colony is trying to change the term to BT (business technology), since he says IT people should no longer be talking about information-related metrics (how many records are in a database, or how many queries they handle every day), but rather business metrics, like how much they've increased the average order size on the Web site.

Colony blasted the news media, mentioning the NY Times in particular, for "pumping up Google like they pumped up Amazon in 1997." The degree of hype, he said, is "very irresponsible." Colony was very skeptical that Google can revolutionize the cell phone business, since its new Android strategy will require carriers to work against their natural interests.

The last session, as tradition dictates, is a murderer's row of entrepreneurs, showing new products they're working on. Mark Thirman of AirPrint Networks had a pretty nifty demo, of a small printer that can spool out lottery tickets, movie tickets, or little maps; it communicates via Bluetooth with your cell phone. And Mike Phillips showed off Vlingo's speech recognition technology, which speeds up data entry on cell phones.

One VC in the audience made a telling comment. He asked a question of Vertica CEO Ralph Breslauer, dismissing the rest of the panel as "not real companies" (I'm paraphrasing). Everyone else was a consumer-oriented play, and some have slightly hazy business models. Are Boston area VCs just a wee bit prejudiced toward heavy-duty enterprise tech? Hmmm....

One thing we've started doing is allowing the audience to "invest" play money into the start-up company that they like the best.... as a joke, we put General Georges Doriot on the face of the bills (Doriot was the founder of the first venture capital firm, ARD, and a prof at Harvard Business School.) During the cocktail hour, one of the FF attendees, Tom Hagan, told me that he'd actually been in a pitch meeting with Doriot, early in his entrepreneurial career. Pretty cool ending to the day...

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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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Monday, September 10, 2007

Let's Fix What's Not Working

Usually, when I do fireside chat conversations at events, I'm the interviewer. Yesterday, at the Vilna Shul on Beacon Hill, I was the interviewee and Doug Levin, CEO of Black Duck Software, was flinging the questions.

One thing he focused on, given the subject matter of yesterday morning's column ("Why Facebook Went West") was the differences between the tech economies here and in Silicon Valley.

I know that there's a feeling that we should stop obsessing about this... every time I make an East-West comparison in print or on this blog, I get e-mails and comments. To which I say, if you're not #1, and you've got a competitive spirit, it's natural to think about what you can be doing better.

Two people who were in the audience yesterday, David Aronoff of IDG Ventures and Chris Herot of Zingdom, posted some thoughts about the issue. (Dan Bricklin also has a post and a podcast recording of the event.)

As I see it, there are five things that aren't working:

    1. Our big companies locally don't seem to spawn enough start-ups.
    2. Boston doesn't yet have a truly vibrant blogosphere that can help bring attention to new products/companies
    3. Investors here can have blinders on when it comes to consumer-focused technologies, or anything that seems wacky at first (let's start a Web site that provides free hosting for videos, and has no business model, and let's call it YouTube)
    4. Graduating students (or drop-outs like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg) sometimes don't feel like there's enough of a vibrant community here that will support their ideas/start-ups
    5. We don't have any big consumer device or consumer Internet companies locally.

Problem #1 will get solved, in part, if we get rid of non-compete agreements in Massachusetts. Let's make it as easy as possible for a smart person with a great idea to leave EMC, Analog Devices, Akamai, or Nuance and start a new company.

Problem #2 is getting solved -- slowly. But I'd challenge more entrepreneurs, VCs, and big company executives to start blogging (even if it's just once a week) about what you're interested in, cool companies you've seen, or new products you're playing with. In the Valley, one thing that can give new companies momentum is bloggers talking about, experimenting with, and evaluating their new sites or products. I don't think Flickr or Twitter would've been successful were it not for blogger support.

Problem #3 is hard to solve. We do have some VC firms and angel investors making risky bets. If they blogged about their riskiest deals, their most out-there bets, I think that'd be a positive thing (and it'd help with Problem #2). So I'm giving VCs permission to crow about the edgiest stuff they're doing. This does not mean explaining to us why your new enterprise software company is really a Web 2.0 company in disguise.

Problem #4 is getting solved; Chris, in his post, lists a bunch of new events that have been started in the past year or two, most of which are extremely open to anyone who wants to come. But there's more we could do. So two challenges to you:

    1. If your company benefits from having a vibrant innovation economy in our region, you ought to host (or co-host/sponsor/support) at least one event a year that is open to anybody, and will help foster connections and conversations about innovation. It might be a gathering about how the Internet is changing PR (which I suggested last week to my friends at Schwartz PR) or an unconference about video or a breakfast panel about reputation systems in e-commerce. But it needs to be open and free. Think about the BU student or recent MIT grad who is starting a company that you'd like to do business with at some point, and make it possible for them to attend. Publicize the event on sites like Mark's Guide or Upcoming.

    2. Established entrepreneurs, investors, attorneys, PR folks need to make themselves accessible to younger, less-established entrepreneurs. This might mean giving talks at local universities...judging business plan competitions...attending conferences on campus. This next generation of entrepreneurs needs your help, and the benefit of your connections.

Problem #5 will get solved if we work on Problems #1-#4.

So let's start working, shall we?

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Monday, August 27, 2007

'Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days'

Just finished reading Jessica Livingston's 'Founders at Work' over the weekend. It's a compilation of interviews with enterpreneurs -- many of them from the Boston area.

So few books are published that deal with building companies here...and Jessica gets into the nitty-gritty: relationships with co-founders, negotiations with VCs, competing with bigger players.

The Boston entrepreneurs interviewed in the book include:

    - Dan Bricklin, Software Arts (VisiCalc spreadsheet)
    - Mitchell Kapor, Lotus Development Corp.
    - Ray Ozzie, Groove Networks (Ray is now chief software architect of Microsoft)
    - Paul Graham, Viaweb (Graham went on to start Y Combinator, the early stage venture firm in Cambridge, where Livingston works)
    - Philip Greenspun, ArsDigita (now a blogger and flight instructor)
    - Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor
    - Ron Gruner, Alliant Computer Systems and
    - James Currier, Tickle (Tickle was founded in Boston as Emode, and then moved out to San Francisco before being acquired by
    - Bob Davis, Lycos (now a VC at Highland Capital Partners in Lexington)

Amazingly, there's a blurb on the back cover from Bill Kaiser of the venture firm Greylock Partners, which was involved in a very public battle with ArsDigita founder Philip Greenspun (it's recounted in Greenspun's chapter, in piquant detail)

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