Tuesday, July 14, 2009

TED Comes to Boston: Are You on the List?

A group of folks at Fidelity Investments are organizing a satellite edition of the famed TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Boston this month. TEDxBOSTON happens July 28th at Fidelity's conference center near South Station.

The idea of TEDx is that it's a TED-like gathering focused on high-quality speakers, but it's independently organized by local "friends of TED." TEDx is just a half-day long, while TED, held in California, runs for four days. And unlike the main TED event, which costs $6000 to attend (you must apply and be accepted), TEDx is free.

Sean Belka is the catalyst behind bringing TEDx to town; he's a senior vice president at Fidelity Investments who runs the Fidelity Center for Applied Technologies, where the financial services giant explores new ripples in tech. A regular attendee at TED, he tells me that "when they announced TEDx this past February, I was inspired by the TED mission of spreading ideas, since my role here is innovation. I basically thought that Boston would be a great venue, given all of the great ideas happening in Boston." Assisting Belka with TEDxBoston are Danielle Duplin, another Fidelity exec, and Matt Saiia, a one-time consultant at Fidelity who is now CEO at Collective Next.

Speaking at the event will be folks like Boston Philharmonic conductor Benjamin Zander, Harvard chemist George Whitesides, and jazz educator Philippe Crettien. They'll also show a couple videos recorded at the "mother ship" TED, featuring people like Pattie Maes from MIT's Media Lab and Bennington College president Elizabeth Coleman.

"We haven't done a lot of promotion of TEDx," Belka says. They've reached out to past TED attendees in the Boston area, and also invited some other "people we thought would find this of interest." But word started to leak out about TEDxBoston on Twitter last week.

The event will top out at about 250 people. They're still accepting invitation requests on the site, and Belka told me today (Tuesday) that they "haven't yet gotten to a point where we've had to make hard choices," implying that the event isn't yet completely full.

While Fidelity is providing the venue, they're not an official sponsor of the event; Belka says the only sponsors, really, will be food and beverage companies that will be supplying refreshments.

And if one TEDx isn't enough for this town, it looks like a second TEDx -- this one in Cambridge -- is in the works for this fall.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Kiva Co-Founder in Portsmouth, May 5th

I'll be moderating an event next month with Jessica Jackley-Flannery. She's a co-founder of Kiva, the person-to-person micro-lending Web site that enables people to lend directly to entrepreneurs in the developing world. By 2010, Kiva expects to have facilitated $100 million worth of loans.

If you're interested in micro-lending and social entrepreneurship, this *free* event will likely be up your alley.

It runs May 5th, 5:30 to 7 PM at the Portsmouth (NH) Public Library, with a mixer afterward at the Portsmouth Brewery.

If you plan to attend, you need to RSVP to meagan@borealisventures.com.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Flybridge Makes It Easier & Cheaper for Students to Network and Learn

I hope this isn't seen as just a Flybridge initiative.... but the Boston VC firm has launched "Stay in MA," a program that offers students a free or cheap way to attend industry events and conferences. The VC firm is creating a $5000 scholarship fund as a test; students can get up to $100 per event to attend the events they're interested in and get plugged in to the innovation economy. That's excellent.

Here's the official Web site and here's the Xconomy coverage.

Students: start your engines, and take advantage of this!

Update: Unfortunately, most of the associations participating in this initiative don't actually seem to want to let students know about it. It'd be a no-brainer to list on their Web sites and event pages that students can get 'scholarships' to attend. None are doing that yet, though at least MassNetComms has posted the press release.

Also, it's interesting that two of the biggest trade associations around, MassTLC and Mass Biotech Council, aren't participating. Maybe getting students involved is not part of their mission?

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Breakfast Event This Friday for Consumer-Oriented Tech Entrepreneurs

I'm helping to organize, along with Tim Rowe of the Cambridge Innovation Center, a breakfast this Friday for consumer-oriented tech entrepreneurs. We have two slots we're holding for student entrepreneurs, and one for a "grown-up." ;)

E-mail me with a short description of what you're up to if you'd like to join us. Breakfast will include 18 people from a mix of cool companies.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Boston's Biggest Trade Associations Flunk the Student Test

Let me be clear: I really hate students.

They don't really add anything to our local economy, except for sometimes when they start companies upon graduation (like Microsoft, Akamai, Facebook, iRobot, MicroCHIPs, Harmonix Music Systems, Brontes Technologies, etc. etc.)

They also don't really help local companies by joining them... with all their youthful energy and fresh ideas.

That is why I agree with all of the major trade associations that it is not a good idea to get students involved, or make it easy for them to participate in events.

What would be the benefit? It's not like students would ever start a company that might pay the annual membership fees to belong to one of these associations, or work for a company that might join.

OK, enough sarcasm for one post.

To me, the biggest way to make Boston more competitive and innovative right now is to do a better job connecting students with our innovation economy. Which is why it pains me that our trade associations and networking groups make it so hard for students to get involved.

Here's my assessment of how our local organizations are doing on this front. The most informal groups (those that don't tend to charge membership fees) rank high. Oddly, the groups that charge the most for annual membership fees also seem not to care much about developing new members for the future. I'd say that bodes poorly for their long-term health.

How'd I grade these groups? I looked at the remaining 2008 events on their Web sites and evaluated how easy/affordable it would be for an undergrad or grad student to attend, and whether they offered memberships to students. I plan to turn this report card into a Globe column soon, and I plan to talk to some of these organizations about why they are so impenetrable to students... it will be interesting to see if any of them change their stance at all between now and then.

    A+. Mobile Monday Boston organizes panels and networking events at least once a month, which cost nothing to attend. An October meeting focused specifically on bringing together student groups from local schools with successful mobile entrepreneurs. The goal? "...[E]xpose local students to the professional opportunities available in Boston's mobile industry."

    A+. Web Innovators Group organizes monthly demo nights at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge. They're free to attend, and while drinks are served, there's no problem for under-21-types to get in.

    A+. OpenCoffee Club Boston: An informal gathering of entrepreneurs every Wednesday morning in Cambridge. Free to everyone.

    A. TIE Boston: Student memberships cost $25, and that brings down the rate to attend most events to $10 or $20. Some events are free for members. Non-member rates for students are posted for all events, and tend to run only a bit more than that. Going to the annual TieCON East conference, though, is a bit pricey even for student members: $175. What TIE (The IndUS Entrepreneurs) does better than most associations is make it obvious that students are welcome to be part of the group... and not just Indian students!

    A. Harvard Business School students organize several events throughout the year... including the Cyberposium in November. The cost to attend as a student is $20 to $30.

    A. MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge. Student membership costs $20 and offers free admission to some events, $10 to $35 admission to many others.

    A. Xconomy has just begun offering a limited number of student passes to their events, at $35. The next one up is focused on Energy Innovation.

    A-. The biggest event at Babson College is the Babson Forum on Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Cheap for Babson students ($35), but $45 for other students.

    A-. MIT holds an annual conference on venture capital in December, along with other events throughout the year. The VC conference is $55 for students outside the MIT community, and $40 for MIT-ers.

    A-. Search Engine Marketing New England offers a $95 annual student membership, which provides free admission to all of the group's meetings.

    B+ The Renewable Energy Business Network organizes free schmooze-fests... but they're at bars, so unfriendly to the under-21 crowd.

    B+. Boston Post Mortem puts on a monthly event for folks in the vidgame industry. It's free, but held at a bar... (Update: Darius Kazemi of Post Mortem mentions that anyone over 18 can get into the pub where the event is held. But the group's Web site should let people know that.)

    B. Biotech Tuesday: Students aren't eligible to join the networking group, but can attend its cocktail parties for $17.

    B-. The Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange (MITX) has a $25/year student membership. That's great, but the typical event costs between $35 and $50 for members. The annual MITX Awards ceremony, coming up later this month, is $95.

    C. The Mass Biotech Council is holding a career fair in November. It's free, and open to anyone with two years of life sciences experience or at least a two-year degree in a life sciences-related field. In December, the council holds its annual investor's conference, which has a $300 rate for academically-affiliated attendees. Three other November events are open only to member companies and their employees. Universities can become a member of the council for $2500 in annual dues. I called the office, and found that students at those universities can attend member events for free, but that policy isn't outlined on the Web site.

    D. Mass Technology Leadership Council has no memberships available for students, and all of its November events cost $80 for non-members to attend. I happen to know that one of the council's monthly events, Tech Tuesday, is free for students to attend, but I couldn't find any clear info on that event's registration page that explained that. Also, it's held in a bar, which rules out most undergrads from attending.

    D. The Mass Network Communications Council has two events in November. They cost $65 and $80 for non-members. Universities and colleges can apply to become members for $1000, which presumably would enable students and faculty to attend events at the member rate ($45 and $50 for the November events)... which is still a bit high for an undergrad or grad student. There's also no list on the Web site of which universities, if any, are members. I called up the head of the council to ask what the scoop was, and he said that they often allow a few interested students to attend events for free. It's a great policy, but shouldn't it be explained somewhere on the Web site?

    D. The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce charges $90 or more for non-members to attend its events. While many universities (Harvard, MIT, BU) are members, it is not clear whether students at those schools could take advantage of member rates (which still average $50). I called them up and found out that students can take advantage of those member rates if they go to a school that's a Chamber member, but it shouldn't take a phone call.

    D. The Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council has a membership category for academic institutions. If you call them up, you learn that students at those institutions can take advantage of the member rate (but that isn't explained on the Web site.) Students who don't go to those member schools would pay the non-member rate of $85 to $250 to participate in council events.

    D. New England Clean Energy Council offers no student memberships. Universities pay $500. The council's November event, a "green tie gala," costs $330 for individual non-members to attend.

I'm not going to give a grade to the events I'm involved with locally. It's very hard for students to go to the Nantucket Conference without paying the pricey registration fee, although there have been a few editions where we've invited high-schoolers to participate. We usually set aside a small number (somewhere between 2 and 4) of passes to Future Forward to current students. And at the Convergence Forum in June, we sometimes set aside a few "scholarship" passes, usually for grad students and post-docs working on an entrepreneurial venture. I'm also trying to weave a few students into a breakfast series for entrepreneurs that I'm organizing.

If you feel that it's important to pave the way for students to get involved with our innovation economy here in New England, and you're a member of any of these groups that don't score so well, would you help agitate for change?

Often, it's only a case of making it more obvious on the organization's Web sites that students are welcome, and explaining how they can participate.

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Friday, October 31, 2008

MIT VC Conference: December 6th

The MIT Venture Capital club just opened up registration for the 11th annual MIT Venture Capital Conference. It happens on December 6th, and while registration costs $245 for early birds, there's also an entrepreneur showcase in the evening that's free for anyone to attend.

I'll be there, moderating the closing session with Harmonix Music Systems co-founder Eran Egozy. And I'm going to try to arrive early to see Dan Primack's opening session with Paul Maeder and David Fialkow, from Highland Capital Partners and General Catalyst.

More on the event:

    ...Every year, the conference brings together over 400 venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders to discuss current opportunities and challenges in Venture Capital investing.

    This year, the conference theme is Reinventing Venture Capital. A Keynote Panel of founding partners from leading venture capital firms will open the conference with a discussion of evolving strategies of the venture capital community and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the dynamically changing industrial, financial, and economic conditions around the world.

    Dr. Jamshed J. Irani, Director of Tata Sons, one of India’s oldest, largest, and most respected business conglomerates, will deliver lunch keynote address. The conference will close with a fireside chat with Eran Egozy, CTO and Co-Founder of Harmonix, a MIT Media Lab startup which created Rock Band and Guitar Hero.

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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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Monday, October 6, 2008

Internet Policy and the Next Presidential Administration

Google's Rich Miner pointed me to this event coming up on Thursday evening at the Berkman Center. The title is "The Uncertain Internet: Core Net Values for the [TBD] Administration."

Here's the descrip:

    Now is a critical moment for defining and reinforcing the best features of our communications platforms. What do we value about the internet and what should be the focus of the next administration? This event will be a discussion exploring the Net’s benefits and its increasing vulnerabilities. How do we maintain the network we know, and anticipate the network it is becoming? What issues emerge in the era of "cloud computing" and the mobile internet? How do we ensure broadband for everyone? What can be done to promote open networks and open devices? Join us for a wide-ranging discussion with leaders from the legal, technical, and political fields.

    The panel will include:

    - Jonathan Zittrain (Professor, Harvard Law School)
    - Susan Crawford (Professor, University of Michigan Law School)
    - Rich Miner (Mobile Platforms, Google; co-Founder of Android)
    - Alec Ross (Tech Policy Advisor to Barack Obama)

(Wonder why no McCain representation?)

It's free and open to the public.

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Thursday, October 2, 2008

My Notes from Today's Innovation Unconference

Today, the MassTLC took a giant step toward reinventing itself...reframing the value proposition of a trade association...and reinvigorating the culture of innovation in Massachusetts. It happened at a new event that the MassTLC team and trustee Bill Warner put together called the Innovation Unconference. (Bill is the founder of Avid Technology and Wildfire, and a mentor to lots of local entrepreneurs.)

Why was this such a big deal? The event offered a pretty close to perfect "trade"... Seasoned entrepreneurs and investors were invited to come and share their insights about building successful companies, and newer entrepreneurs were invited to share the challenges they're dealing with. The former group got to hear about (and ideally assist) a new generation of companies, and the latter group got some guidance and powerful new connections.

And it was hugely important to the culture -- the entire focus of the day was creating a new wave of important, successful, innovative companies here.

Some notes from the event are below. The one thing that'd be nice to see at next year's edition is more execs from the more established companies here -- I'm thinking EMC, Raytheon, Akamai, Nuance, PTC, Progress Software, Evergreen Solar, etc.

Bill W. kicked things off by opining that bad times are the best times to start a company. He said he started Avid in September 1987, a month before the stock market crash of that year. "This is a time of great opportunity," he said. "This is not a pep talk. This is reality." One quip: In bad times, people do the things their spouses wouldn't let them do in good times, Bill said.

Then, the entire group converged on a few stacks of paper, and wrote their ideas for sessions in magic marker. The ideas were announced on a mike, and then posted on the wall in various time slots. Everyone went to the sessions they thought looked most interesting.

I got recruited to a session that Tim Rowe of Cambridge Innovation Center proposed on fostering more innovation in Massachusetts. Tim began by noting that we're still the #2 region in the US, as far as venture funding of tech, but other regions are growing faster while we're remaining stagnant. I drew a picture of a magnet and suggested that Silicon Valley is a giant magnet for people who want to do inventive stuff in tech. We're a magnet for people who want to get a great education. How do we get more of those people to stick around?

My suggestion was that we need to do a better job of exposing students to entrepreneurs -- with talks on campus, and visits to local companies. We need them to mix and mingle with VCs. We need to support their start-up ideas and helped them get plugged in to the innovation economy.

Recruiter Jeff Leopold said we have a dearth of experienced executives here.

I think Phil Weilerstein said that people here "behave like New Englanders. It's hard to get past their reticence." Someone suggested that we need more hot tubs to foster the free exchange of ideas. Someone else suggested personality transplants.

Someone observed that it's a plus and a minus that in Silicon Valley, you always run into people who work in tech.

I suggested that one of the advantages in Massachusetts & New England is the heterogeneousness - the mix of software, Internet, biotech, med devices, robotics, cleantech, etc. What if we redefined the terms of what we're doing... that we're the world's hub of innovation, the R&D capital, the idea accelerator...not simply a nifty little cluster of tech, or biotech, or cleantech.

Tim spent the last section asking people for specific ideas. What could we do to improve the competitiveness of the region?

Lee Hower from Point Judith Capital said that he knows some senior-level execs in the Valley who are from this region, but are nervous about coming back to New England: are there consumer Internet companies to work for; if I start one, can I hire the right people to join it; if my start-up doesn’t succeed, are there other places that I could land?

Bill McLaughlin of Lois Paul and Partners asked, How do you get biotech and tech together in an integrated way – like perhaps having a MeetUp or an event in Boston.

Jean Hammond of Golden Seeds said we may need to import investors who aren’t afraid of consumer investments.

We should highlight the networking groups that exist, and perhaps consolidate some of them to give them more influence and power, said Laura (?)

Lee Hower said we need big, stand-alone tech companies that are started here, and built here, and become big public companies. We need to encourage big thinking across the ecosystem – investors, entrepreneurs, and young people.

Margaret Olson from Plum said we should be "more rah rah about what we’ve got."

Alex Benik from Battery Ventures said we should focus more on students. He also said that there is a culture of the entrepreneur as celebrity in Silicon Valley, which is a good thing.

Michael Greeley from Flybridge suggested that we ought to create micro-ecosystems around star entrepreneurs, connecting them with VC firms and encouraging them to form lots of companies with up and coming researchers and entrepreneurs. He mentioned Bob Metcalfe at Polaris, Bill Warner, or Boston Scientific co-founder John Abele as examples. Flybridge, he said, has a relationship with Michae Cima and Bob Langer of MIT, and has funded several start-ups out of their labs.

Someone asked, why wouldn’t multi-million-dollar school endowment funds do some seed-stage investing... in promising start-ups founded by their alums?

Joyce Plotkin from MassTLC said that "public-private partnership doesn’t exist in this state." The Boston Foundation has said that we "lack the colabroative gene," and that's a problem. Branding and marketing are something we could do better.

After Tim's session wrapped, I offered a session on working with bloggers and media, with co-conspirators Bill McLaughlin, Patrick Rafter, Adam Zand, and Doug Banks. I didn't take notes... but will look for some folks who blogger or Twittered it and link to them later. I'll also try to post the few slides that I showed.

During lunch I met with two groups of entrepreneurs working on killer stuff, and we talked about how to move their ideas forward and generate buzz. Mostly, I think they enjoyed hearing from one another and swapping ideas.

My favorite session of the afternoon was led by Bob Metcalfe, founder of 3Com, former columnist and publisher at InfoWorld, and now a partner at Polaris. His session, simply, was about selling.

"Engineers have no respect for salesmen," Bob said. "Selling is every bit as complicated as designing ASICs."

Bob laid out the four phases that many companies go through with regard to selling.

First is the waiting phase: we’ve built a better mousetrap, so let's wait until someone discovers our product.

The next phase is arguing: you go out of the office and argue with people, trying to convince them that they should buy your product. It's much better than waiting, and you do sell more. But you’ll often win the argument and still not get the order, Bob said.

Next is the "suffer fools gladly" phase: the prospects are idiots, but you just bite your lip when they say something stupid. This strategy works, but most salespeople get stuck there. They disrespect their customers, and that leads to failures, like overpromising and underdelivering.

The fourth (and I presume most-evolved) phase is listening: you have respect for the customers, since they know more about what they need than you do. You ask them questions. You try to address their needs.

Bob offered some other great advice and jokes.

Some insight about approaching venture capitalists that he heard when he was an entrepreneur: "If you want money, ask for advice, and if you want advice, ask for money."

Novice salespeople are afraid of the "no"….but when people say no, you can ask them why and then work on those reasons.

Bob then offered a secret to selling that he said none of us had heard elsewhere.

How do you establish credibility? By keeping little promises. People you're selling to always wonder, will the product work like he says? Will I get the benefits? One way to do that is a pattern of keeping promises.

If you say, I’ll be there at 5:00, don’t come late, or you’ve begun to teach them that you don’t keep promises. If you say you’re going to finish on time, you finish on time. (Bob promised he'd finish his presentation by his allotted time, and he did - with time to spare.) If you say, I’ll send you my brochure tomorrow, that's a little promise, so keep it. Eventually, you say, my products will work, and they'll make your life wonderful, and people believe you.

I found this funny: Don't allow people to eat or sit down in your trade show both, Bob advised. The space is too expensive for people to do things other than connect with prospective customers.

Some other thoughts on the conference...

The mix of people was great -- and there was a nice sense of urgency from it being a one-day event... I might not see these folks for a while. And the venue was perfect for schmoozing and also offered lots of different-sized rooms for the sessions; the event was held at the Sun Microsystems campus in Burlington. Moderator Kaliya Hamlin did a killer job of explaining the concept of an unconference to everybody there. (I'd been to one or two before, but had never tried to run a session...)

If you were at the event and have comments... or want to include a link to other blog entries, twitter streams, videos, etc., please do so below in the comments.

Update: Here's some coverage of the event from Friday morning's Boston Globe.

[ Disclosure: I was peripherally involved in the planning of the event, in that I listened to Bill Warner talk about it once or twice and offered some feedback that he immediately disregarded. ;) ]

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Entrepreneurs: Need Some Expert Advice for Your Start-Up?

Bill Warner, founder of Avid Technology, called this morning with some disappointing news.

Bill asked me to be an "expert" at next month's Innovation UnConference, being organized by MassTLC. He told me that I would be the smartest expert there by far, offering entrepreneurs sage advice about how to work with the media. That was flattering.

But now, Bill has lined up a lot of much smarter people to consult with the entrepreneurs who attend the event. People like Howard Anderson, George Hatsopoulos, Rich Miner from Google, VisiCalc co-founder Dan Bricklin, Vanu Bose, 3Com founder Bob Metcalfe, Russ Wilcox from E Ink, Reed Sturtevant from Microsoft, and James Geshwiler from CommonAngels.

I'm humbled. Looks like it'll be a cool event.

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

How Can You Tell if Your VC is Jewish?

...I'll leave it to you to invent the punch-line to that joke. ("Serves bagels and lox at your celebratory closing brunch," maybe?)

The fall speakers series at the Vilna Shul is starting up this week, on Tuesday.

I'll be chatting with Ed Roberts, founder of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center, and one of our region's top experts on investing, innovation, and entrepreneurship. His most recent book is "Innovation Matters." We'll take audience questions about raising money, starting and growing companies, and the challenges of entrepreneurship.

The event is free...and you definitely don't have to be Jewish to attend, though the venue is a Jewish cultural center on Beacon Hill (who knew?) There are snacks and networking before and after the program. Event runs from 6 to 8 PM.

This series is organized by Doug Levin, founder (and until recently, CEO) of Black Duck Software.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Working in Video? Mark Your Calendar for Sept. 9th

Will Richmond of the analyst firm/publication VideoNuze is putting together a cocktail party for anyone working on Internet video. It's September 9th, in Downtown Crossing. I'm going to try to stop by...

You can RSVP here.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Snapshots from a VC Summer Shindig

Flybridge Capital Partners (formerly IDG Ventures Boston) held the fifth edition of their annual 'Catch the Wave' shindig this past weekend. Most of the attendees are entrepreneurs, and the gathering happens in Kennebunkport, Maine.

The big event is the Saturday night costume party. This year's theme was 'Rockstravaganza,' and some of the costumes were great. Photos are here.

Below is the Flybridge team dressed as the Village People....and a pair of guests as the Blues Brothers.... and a most excellent Amy Winehouse.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Photos from the recent Founders Club Schmooze-Fest

Some photos from the recent Founders Club party in Boston have surfaced on Flickr. The shindig was held at the Ritz-Carlton home of Marina Hatsopoulos, founding CEO of Z Corp. I wrote about the gathering here.

In the pic at right is Acme Packet CEO Andy Ory and Mick Mountz, CEO of Kiva Systems.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Founders Club Comes to Boston

It's cool that Boston will soon be home to a chapter of the Founders Club, a tech networking group that originated in New York. The first gathering happens next month, at a private residence downtown. It's invite-only... and among the organizers are:

- Ric Fulop, A123 Systems
- Marina Hatsopoulos, Z Corp.
- Jeffrey Binder, Broadbus
- Ted Morgan, Skyhook Wireless
- Joe Chung, ATG
- Scott Friend, Profitlogic
- Dan Roth, Voice Signal
- Mick Mountz, Kiva Systems

Dina Kaplan of blip.tv, one of the founders of the New York chapter, will be there, too.

While the New York chapter is very much oriented toward Web 2.0 and digital media, it looks like the Boston branch will be a diverse mix of hardware, wireless, software, energy, and even robotics companies. Founders Club Boston, the invitation explains, is "a group of entrepreneurs promoting the start-up spirit in Boston." No Web site yet.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Interviewing Craig Newmark at TieCon East

The nice folks at TIE have invited me to conduct an on-stage interview next Friday with Craig Newmark of Craigslist, at their big annual conclave.

I hope you can make it...and if you want to post some questions here for Craig, I'll consider them for inclusion in our chat.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Gathering for Student Entrepreneurs, This Saturday at MIT

MIT senior Albert Park is putting together an event called Underground 2008 this Saturday, May 3rd. All student entrepreneurs are welcome. As Albert explains it, the goals are:

    INSPIRE: Hear the latest and greatest on how your fellow entrepreneurs are changing the world.

    CONNECT: Quiz successful entrepreneurs, investors, and each other for some new perspectives on entrepreneurship.

    CREATE: Befriend your college's entrepreneurs and learn about what resources are available for you.

Students from MIT, Harvard, Babson, Olin, BC, Tufts, and BU are expected to attend -- but everyone is welcome. Dharmesh Shah, founder of HubSpot, will give the opening keynote. That'll be followed by panels on "Student Successes," "Alumni Entrepreneurs," and "Investors in the Hot Seat."

It starts at noon on Saturday. There's a Facebook group, but no Web site for the event. You can RSVP (with your name and college) to apark_87@mit.edu - and sooner is better. In addition to Albert, Underground 2008 is being organized by:

    Harvard College Entrepreneurship Forum
    MIT Science and Engineering Business Club

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Don Dodge's links to Boston start-up events and resources

Microsoft's Don Dodge -- who seems strangely omnipresent on both coasts (I run into him a lot in Boston and in Silicon Valley) -- has a swell post on start-up events and resources for Boston entrepreneurs today.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

About the Nantucket Conference

Just a quick post to clear something up...

...I was chatting with an entrepreneur at Dan Bricklin's new Tech Tuesday gathering in Waltham, and the topic of the Nantucket Conference came up. This person was under the impression that the conference is some sort of secret society... that, basically, you need to be kidnapped in the middle of the night in order to get there.

The goal with Nantucket, when a bunch of us started it in 1999, was pretty simple: to create an event that would bring together company founders, investors, and tech execs at larger companies to talk about what was going on in New England and make some new connections. (Part of the motivation was: why should all the really good tech conferences be in California and Arizona?)

A lot of people do get invited to the conference by members of our advisory board (which I think leads to the "secret society" impression), but anyone can request an invitation.

There are *always* spots for founders and CEOs of start-ups, whether they're venture backed, boot-strapped, angel funded, or whatever. Another chunk of the audience is made up of VCs and angel investors. There is a sprinkling of CIOs and CTOs from larger companies, and a handful of journalists. But just about the only service providers (PR people, attorneys, recruiters, etc.) who participate are there as representatives of the underwriters of the conference.

Most of the agenda for 2008 (May 1st through 3rd) is now online. Speakers this year include founders and CEOs of iRobot, Harmonix, EqualLogic, International Data Group, EnerNOC, Captivate Network, Airvana, IDEO, Maven Networks, and Karmaloop.

That's about enough plugging...

(Disclosure: I'm on the conference's advisory board.)

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Event for College and Grad School Entrepreneurs, This Thursday at Harvard

The Harvard College Entrepreneurship Forum invited me to give a talk this Thursday evening, and I'm inviting you (assuming you're in a college or grad school) to come...for free.

My talk explores a bit of the history of innovation in Boston, talks about some of the cool companies and new industries germinating here, and then discusses what I view as one of the big challenges for Boston in 2008 and beyond: getting people plugged into the innovation economy here, once they finish college or grad school. We need to do more to help them start companies, or work for interesting and innovative companies that offer really great opportunities for growth.

I'll try to offer all the advice I know about getting connected to venture capitalists and other entrepreneurs here in Boston. And I'll ask you for your thoughts on what more we could do as a community. So it'll be a fun, interactive discussion -- and aside from hearing me yammer, it'll be a chance to meet with other entrepreneurs.

Here's the scoop:

    Thursday, March 13th at 5 PM
    Harvard University, Sever Hall, Room 103 (click for a map)
    Easy walk from the Harvard Square T Station

You don't need to RSVP... just show up. If you have questions, post them as a comment or e-mail me.

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Why Networking Isn't Like Dating

I usually go to at least one networking event a week... to speak, moderate a panel, or simply schmooze and troll for story ideas.

Inevitably, I meet a few people at each gathering who are unemployed, and have decided to start networking because they need a new job.

Could anything be tougher than making new professional connections while being known, first and foremost, as someone who is desperate for his next gig?

My advice to all of you who are gainfully employed is: don't procrastinate. Building a healthy, broad network ensures that you know about job opportunities at big companies and small. It ensures that you have options, whether a layoff is looming or not.

Employees and execs at big companies are the worst when it comes to building their external networks. My theory: they have so many people to suck up to inside their company that they don't have time to meet anyone outside it.

I'd suggest that a good goal is to go to one networking event a month. Rotate among different groups. If you're a biotech person, go to the occasional healthcare or medical device event. If you're a software person, go to the occasional cleantech event. You get the drift.

Set a goal of having five substantial conversations, or introducing yourself to three of the speakers from the evening's panel. And if you need to understand the mechanics of working the crowd, you'd do well to read one of Diane Darling's books or listen to one of her audio recordings.

Too many people believe that networking while you have a job is like dating while you're married.

It's not.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Two Events on the Radar Screen...

Next Tuesday is an evening dedicated to Internet video, organized by MITX and featuring panelists from WGBH, Brightcove, Boston.tv, Polaris Ventures, and Digitas.

And next Wednesday is a "demo night" at Cambridge Innovation Center, focused on companies creating new kinds of information display technology. More info here, but you'll need to e-mail me for the top secret code to register. (As of yesterday, there are five spots left.)

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Catching up: Sunday's column, Tuesday's panel, Tonight's talk

- Last Sunday, I wrote about Cinital, a start-up that moved from Cambridge to Hollywood to try to improve the way TV shows and movies use "green screen" technology. From that piece:

    Ordinarily, it's hard to tell what live actors will look like once these digital backgrounds are laid in; that work, called "compositing," is usually done afterward by visual effects specialists. But the concept behind Mack's company is to mix the actors and the backgrounds in real time, so the director can see what the final shot will look like by glancing at a high-definition monitor - and reduce or eliminate the costs of all that laborious, after-the-fact compositing.

    Mack's Cinital system could be used on as many as 20 TV productions and a handful of feature films this year, says Sam Nicholson, chief executive of Stargate Digital, a South Pasadena, Calif., visual-effects firm that bought the first system. One of the first projects to which Cinital contributed is NBC's new made-for-TV movie "Knight Rider," which airs next month.

Here's the video:

- Tuesday we had a discussion about venture capital in 2007 and 2008 at the Vilna Shul on Beacon Hill, organized by Doug Levin (who writes about it on his blog.) While no one was optimistic about where the economy is going this year, all three felt confident that going long -- investing in start-ups over five or six or seven years -- is still a good strategy. Larry Bohn said that his firm has placed some big bets in video, and doesn't see General Catalyst doing much more in that space, but he did predict the end of Microsoft's domination of the software world (Bill Gates retires, and everything goes to hell.) Jonathan Seelig from Globespan seemed very interested in how all of the "data utility" services we get at home, like voice, Internet, and TV, will be bundled and managed and marketed going forward. I think one of our audience members recorded the event, and I'll link to it once it's up. (Update: Chris Herot has some notes.)

- Tonight I'm giving a talk about the past, present, and future of the innovation economy here in New England -- and some of the challenges we should all be working on. While it's sponsored by the HBS Association of Boston, you don't have to be an HBS alum to go. (Just register as "Other Alum Guest.")

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Two upcoming events in Boston

On Tuesday, January 8th, I'll be moderating a discussion with three local VCs, titled, "Looking Back on 2007; Looking Forward to 2008." My victims will be:

    - Larry Bohn of General Catalyst
    - Jonathan Seelig of Globespan Capital Partners
    - Alan Spoon of Polaris Venture Partners

It's free. More info here. Doug Levin of Black Duck Software is the organizer.

And on Thursday, Jan 10th, I'll be giving a talk to the Harvard Business School Association of Boston. This'll be a new version of a talk I've given twice, about the history and future of the innovation economy in New England -- and what we can do to ensure that it stays healthy. (Non-HBS alums are welcome...just register as "Other Alum Guest.")

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Last Night's "Thinking Big" Party: How Do We Build a New Generation of Really Big Companies in Massachusetts?

I've been interested for a while in the question of how we can build a new generation of "pillar" companies in Massachusetts...companies like EMC, Lotus, DEC, Akamai, Genzyme, and Boston Scientific.

Last night, a group of folks put together a cocktail party to talk about the issue.

It was an amazing crowd -- it felt like someone had summoned the 'Super Friends' to the Hall of Justice. George Hatsopoulos, founder of Thermo Electron, was there, as was Bill Warner, founder of Avid Technology, Carol Vallone, CEO of WebCT, Scott Griffith, CEO of Zipcar, Tim Healy, co-founder of EnerNOC, Rick Hess, CEO of Konarka Technologies, Aron Ain, CEO of Kronos, Jonathan Seelig, co-founder of Akamai, and Robert Coughlin, the new head of the Mass Biotech Council. At one point, Russ Wilcox of E Ink was showing off a new Amazon Kindle e-book reader, which uses a screen made by his company. Wendy Caswell, CEO of ZINK Imaging, was our host, and the firms KMC Partners, Goodwin Procter, and BSG Team Ventures helped underwrite the event.

Dan Bricklin has some photos and an audio recording of the discussion. Paul Maeder from Highland Capital Partners touched on some of the same issues he brought up at a lunch last month: "We have been selling the seed corn," is his assessment.

Here are some of my thoughts on the evening's "main event" -- a conversation that Maeder and Michael Greeley of IDG Ventures led, with my help and lots of input from the crowd.

First, the question of why pillar companies are important:

    1. They get big, employ lots of people, and tend to be supportive of their community (through philanthropy, supporting local schools, etc.)
    2. They tend to attract media and Wall Street attention, which lets the world know something important in their sector is happening where they are based. They also hold conferences for customers/users... think of the annual MacWorld conference in San Francisco as an example. All of this sends a message that a particular place is a center of gravity, which brings more people interested in that area -- and more small companies -- to that place.
    3. They tend to think like acquirers rather than acquirees.
    4. They tend to spin off smaller companies in their space. (But we need to get rid of non-compete agreements to foster this.)
    5. They serve as a source of experienced employees and executives to other companies in their space. (Again, we need to get rid of non-compete agreements to foster this.)
    6. They make it easier for companies in their space to recruit people to the area. Say a consumer tech company in Boston -- like Bose -- is trying to bring a marketer in from the West Coast. That person, should things not work out at Bose, will not have a lot of other wonderful choices of other employers here in the Boston area. Same is not true when a chip company like Intel tries to recruit people from anywhere in the world to move to Silicon Valley.
    7. They pay more taxes.

Now, as for what we can do...

    1. Entrepreneurs need to have a jones to build a big, important company. The typical New England VC will not push them to brush off acquisition offers and stay independent.

    2. Big companies get their start by discovering emerging sectors and opportunities. I don't think we're going to build an important, independent new PC company in Boston, or a networking equipment company, or even a medical device company. Boston Scientific got big because they saw the opportunity for less-invasive medical procedures before anyone else. Invent a cool new medical device today, and you're basically gonna get integrated into the product line of someone like a Boston Scientific or Medtronic before you have a chance to launch a second product.

    3. So that means we need to support entrepreneurs dedicated to building pillar companies in new, as-yet-undefined market sectors. (Avid, which helped establish the market for digital video editing, is a great example.) I think the media -- that's me -- plays a role, and I'm gonna do my best to focus on entrepreneurs working on these new frontiers. But angel investors and VCs also play a role (can they avoid the temptation to fund a serial entrepreneur doing his seventh enterprise software start-up, instead of a first-time entrepreneur who is breaking new ground?) And finally, entrepreneurs and executives who have built really big companies need to give back. This does not just mean donating to or speaking at their alma maters. They ought to be serving on boards, or as informal advisors, to a handful of interesting start-ups in or near their areas of expertise. Some do, but too many don't.

Dharmesh Shah, founder of HubSpot, offers a different perspective on his blog.

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Friday, November 2, 2007

Breakfast Next Wednesday at the Globe

The Globe is holding a breakfast next Wednesday, November 7th, titled "Building a Successful Small Business." It's a fun group of speakers, and you're invited:

    - Joe Burkett, CFO of Cafco Construction Management will give a short talk (Cafco was the Boston Chamber of Commerce's Small Business of the Year for 2007)

    Then we'll have a panel with Joe, plus:

    - Ian Lane Davis, CEO of the video game company Mad Doc Software (the Chamber's Entrepreneur of the Year), and

    - Rich Doyle, CEO of Harpoon Brewery

I'll be moderating the panel. We'll talk about some of the challenges each of these companies have confronted as they've grown.

Event starts at 8 AM and will wrap up by 9:45. To RSVP, just e-mail events@globe.com.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tech Blogs Event Last Night

The 'Tech Blogs' gathering last night at Cambridge Innovation Center was a lot of fun, and the food was really good (thanks go to Schwartz PR, Morse Barnes-Brown & Pendleton, and CHEN PR for picking up the tab.)

Dan Bricklin has posted a podcast and some photos from the event. (Dan was also kind enough to bring the sound system.)

The panelists were all really thoughtful, and there were a number of bloggers in the audience, like David Laubner from 93South, Mike Feinstein from The Fein Line, and David Cancel. Paul Gillin was there, and posted some notes.

One thing we did which I think kept it from being a traditional panel was to weave in comments, questions, and rebuttals from the audience throughout the night -- from the very first question. Chuck Tanowitz from Schwartz played Phil Donohue, running around with a wireless mic.

Don Dodge from Microsoft was very funny, telling a story of how he was nearly fired for criticizing Microsoft's attorneys on his blog...and I challenged Nabeel Hyatt to talk about a post that he headlined "Idiots at NY Times write about virtual goods and miss the entire industry." Is that a good way to make friends with journalists? (He said he e-mailed the writer of the NY Times piece, but never heard back.) Listen to the podcast...

I hope to do more free events like this, where we get together to talk about some aspect of the Innovation Economy in New England. Your ideas are welcome...

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Coming Up: Cool Events Around Boston

Some events that look good in the next week or so...

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Why Not Think Big?

I am really glad that people are continuing to have the conversation about what it will take to build a new generation of really big, really important companies in New England.

Last week, Atlas Venture held an event in Vermont called the New England Founding Entrepreneurs Summit on Technology. Speakers included Analog Devices CEO Jerry Fishman, Venture Hacks blogger Babak Nivi, Rich Chleboski from Evergreen Solar, and Michael Zane from Kryptonite Locks.

Xconomy founder Bob Buderi moderated a fireside chat with Fishman, and he also blogged about the discussions around what it'll take to create more Analogs (and EMCs and Akamais) here.

I'm glad Atlas is focusing on the issue; I helped organize a dinner last year on the same topic. But both the Atlas conference and our dinner on "Building Billion-Dollar Companies in the Bay State" (which featured the founders of Boston Scientific and Thermo Electron) were top-secret, invitation-only events.

I'm helping to put together a gathering for Wednesday, November 28th, in the evening, in downtown Boston. I'll be doing a fireside chat there with Michael Greeley of IDG Ventures, who also heads the New England Venture Capital Association, and Paul Maeder of Highland Capital Partners, who is on the board of the National Venture Capital Association.

There will be limited comparisons between Silicon Valley and New England - I promise. But we will discuss what the factors are that seem to compel New England companies to cash out, rather than keep on truckin'.

Our venue on the 28th is limited to 50 attendees. We're going to limit attendance to company founders/CEOs and investors (VCs, angels, etc.)

So while this event is theoretically open to anybody who is building or funding companies, we need to be selective. But please e-mail me if you think you ought to be there: kirsner at pobox.com. At the very least, I promise that we'll do an audio or video recording, and you'll hear about it when it is online.

And you don't need to be completely sold on the idea of building big, independent companies -- essential to the mix of attendees will be people who believe that a sweet acquisition price isn't necessarily a bad thing.

For some background, here's a piece I wrote in the Globe back in January, about growing oaks, not saplings.

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Tech Blogs: A Conversation at Cambridge Innovation Center, on 10/23

This event will fill up soon, so RSVP now if you'd like to come...Here's the description:

    Tech Blogs: How are Blogs Changing the Way Technology is Covered?

    Entrepreneurs, CEOs, VCs, journalists, and PR professionals are increasingly cranking out blogs, podcasts, and video dispatches. How does this change the way the tech sector gets covered? What does it mean for CEOs trying to get their stories out, PR firms trying to get coverage for their clients, VC firms touting their investments, journalists trying to cover important news, and customers tracking the market? (Not to mention the relationships between all of these players.)

    We'll bring together representatives from all four camps for a wide-ranging conversation (definitely *not* a panel) about the way blogs are changing the game in the tech world.

    Participants will include:

    - Don Dodge, Director of Business Development, Microsoft Emerging Business Team, and blogger, http://dondodge.typepad.com/

    - Jimmy Guterman, Editor of Release 2.0 and blogger, O'Reilly Radar

    - Barbara Heffner, partner at CHEN PR and blogger, http://clarklane.blogspot.com

    - Nabeel Hyatt, CEO at Conduit Labs and blogger, http://nabeel.typepad.com/

    - Scott Kirsner (that's me), Boston Globe "Innovation Economy" columnist and blogger, http://www.innoeco.com

    - Bijan Sabet, venture capitalist at Spark Capital and blogger, http://sabet.typepad.com/bijanblog/

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Talk Tomorrow Night at Boston-Israel Business Forum

I'm giving a talk Tuesday night, downtown, at a meeting of the Boston-Israel Business Forum.

It will not be about Middle East policy, but rather "Boston's Innovation Economy: Strengths and Challenges." The event runs from 7 to 9 PM, and there is a cover charge. But there will be a light nosh, too.

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Boston's First Tech Cocktail

I stopped by the first TECH cocktail gathering held in Boston tonight. It took place at the club Tequila Rain, in the shadow of Fenway Park.

It felt like a success .... a really friendly mix of venture capitalists (Jon Karlen from IDG Ventures, Mike Werner from Flagship, Tali Rapaport from Matrix, David Beisel from Venrock), B-school students, big company people (Don Dodge from Microsoft and some fellow from Teradyne), and Internet entrepreneurs (Evan Schumacher from Going.com, Jon Radoff from Guild Cafe, Stephen DiMarco from Compete.) David Tamés was there snapping pics, which I'm sure will be available somewhere, soon.

One of the first people I ran into was Kiki Mills, executive director of MITX... who said the scene reminded her of the "Cyberbrews" that MITX used to hold back in the dot-com era. Of course, back then, all the companies were building e-commerce sites.

The big difference is that now, everybody's building Facebook apps.

Sadly, I had to leave before the party broke up ... early morning flight tomorrow.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

This Thursday: Warring Web 2.0 Booze-Fests

David L. of 93South notes that this Thursday marks the start of the fall Web 2.0 schmoozing season in Boston: O'Reilly's Ignite, an evening of demos that it is holding for the second time here, coincides with the first Tech Cocktail Boston.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bringing Together Web 2.0ers in Boston

I'm really glad that Carolyn Johnson wrote this great piece in Saturday's Globe. It makes note of just how many different efforts there are to bring together the Web 2.0 community in Boston: communal workspaces like Betahouse in Central Square, as well as regular gatherings like TastyBytes, OpenCoffee, Web Innovators Grouip, and Tech Cocktail, which is taking place for the first time on September 6th.

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