Friday, August 14, 2009

Know Any College Students in Boston?

Here's the new Facebook Group for the Innovation Open House Series. It provides an opportunity for currently-enrolled students around the Boston area to visit cool companies. We're going to do a pilot group of six to nine open houses this coming academic year.

To read more about the idea behind IOH, check out these prior blog posts:

- Let's Organize Some Innovation Open Houses

- Connecting Students With Cool Companies: Your Ideas?

We'll use the Facebook group to communicate with students about upcoming open houses, solicit their feedback and ideas, and also keep companies that would like to host open houses in the loop.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Let's Organize Some Innovation Open Houses for Students ... Are You In?

If you're interested in how we can connect the smart students who come to Massachusetts to get educated with the cool companies that exist here, and perhaps even help them lay the foundation for cool companies of their own, I want your help. More on that at the bottom of this e-mail.

I'd like to try an experiment during the upcoming academic year. Here's the rough outline, though it should definitely be refined:

1. Let's line up at least six (and possibly more) Innovation Open Houses at cool local companies.

2. The goal of an Innovation Open House (and that's merely a place-holder name) is to give students currently enrolled at any local school a chance to visit cool local companies.

3. An Innovation House would last about 90 minutes. It might consist of a lunch or snack in a conference room, a talk from the CEO or a company founder about what the company does, a Q&A session with the students, and a tour of the office. It could take place at lunch time, in the afternoon, or at the end of the day on a weekday (but probably not during the student-unfriendly morning hours.)

4. An Innovation Open House should be able to accommodate at least 15 (and ideally more) students. Students would RSVP to hold their spot in advance; there'd need to be some dis-incentive for students who didn't show up.

5. Companies could use IOH's for their own devious purposes: they might pitch their internship program, entry level jobs, use the visiting students as a focus group, ask them to play with a demo product, or present a challenge the company is currently dealing with.

6. Students could use IOH's for their own devious purposes: they might ask about job or internship opportunities, or ask questions related to their research/coursework.

7. But the goal of an IOH is simply to expose students to the company, what it does, how it got started, etc. There's no obligation on the part of the company to do anything aside from spending 90 minutes with a group of students. And there's no obligation on the part of the students to do anything aside from spending 90 minutes at a company. (But students will be encouraged to continue the conversation among themselves at a nearby coffee shop/inexpensive restaurant to build connections.)

8. Snacks, lunch, or beverages should be supplied by the company -- or paid for by a generous sponsor of the IOH series.

9. IOH's should be very low-effort to organize, low-effort for companies to participate in, and low-effort for students to RSVP for and come to. (Though if they prove popular it may be necessary to ask students to "compete" a bit to get in.)

10. After the 2009-2010 academic year, we should evaluate how well IOHs are working, and think about ways that they might be "open sourced" so that other cities in New England could replicate them (OK, and the rest of the world, too).

If you want to help make this happen, drop me a note at sk - at sign -, and let me know if you're available for a 5:30 - 8 PM brainstorming session in Cambridge on Aug 3, 4, 5, 6, or 10. (I need to hear from you by July 13th.) This will be a very distributed effort, ideally, that doesn't turn into a giant time sink for anybody. My goal is to simply have one meeting now to design the series, do everything else by e-mail or conference call, and meet again next summer to review. Please do not come if you just want to lob ideas and are not available to be hands-on when it comes to actually running these.

Among the questions we'll address: what companies would be most interesting to students... how will students RSVP... how do we reach out to get a good mix of students... can students attend more than one of the events in the series...should we include companies that aren't accessible via public transportation. Another question, more for the long-term, is how do we track the impact of this effort, and the careers of the people who've participated. (Perhaps a Facebook or LinkedIn group?)

I'm open to students, entrepreneurs, profs, VCs, anyone being involved in making this happen. If you are willing to help, you'll be considered one of the Esteemed Most Trustworthy Trustees of the IOH Series, which should do wonders for your résumé.

Please forward this blog post to anyone you think may be interested...and of course, feel free to comment if you have feedback/ideas/criticism/words of warning...

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Connecting Students with Cool Companies: Your Ideas?

One project I'd like to get rolling this coming academic year is a way to enable students from Boston-area schools to visit interesting companies in the area.

The basic idea is that a visit would consist of a tour of the company, a sit-down with the CEO or founder to explain what the company does, some snacks/lunch, and a Q&A session. The objective would be simply to expose students to local entrepreneurs and executives and the companies they run, not necessarily to get students jobs or internships (though if the company was hiring or looking for interns, they could certainly let the students know that.) A visit might last 90 minutes in total.

I'd want to start with some of the area's cooler companies -- those that wouldn't put the typical sleep-deprived undergrad to sleep (no offense if your company makes some really awesome expense account software.) I'd also want to start with companies that are accessible by public transportation, to make sure we have a really strong showing at the first few.

My list would include companies like Zipcar, Harmonix Music Systems, Genzyme, Biogen Idec, Heartland Robotics, Vecna Robotics, Conduit Labs, Brightcove, Ambient Devices, E Ink, HubSpot, Brickyard VFX, IDEO Cambridge, Vlingo, Akamai, Google Cambridge, A123 Systems, Microsoft NERD, EnerNOC, Cape Wind, and Viximo.

Who ought to be added to the list? And what should this be called? "Innovation Field Trips"? "Innovation Open Houses"? "The Innovation Lunch Series"?

It's the sort of thing that might require an underwriter or sugar daddy to make it happen (lining up companies to participate...ensuring that students find out about the events and actually show up...and that companies make the visits valuable), so I'm open to ideas on that, too.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Todd Hixon on Strengthening the Innovation Economy in Mass.

Todd Hixon of New Atlantic Ventures just posted this great slide presentation which looks at Massachusetts' innovation economy relative to California's, and asks how we can do better. Well worth a look.

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Check Your Calendar: It's Now Innovation Month in New England

June 1st: That could only mean the start of Innovation Month in New England.

Check out all the tweets on the topic... (and if you tweet or blog about Innovation Month, use the tag #neinno.)

Mass High Tech and Xconomy have also written stories.

And my Globe column yesterday also dealt with how we might leverage Innovation Month to defibrillate the economy. (That's a word, right?)

Here's the opening:

    If you want to understand real economic pain - and how it is alleviated - you have to rewind the tape a little more than two centuries.

    Most people remember that when George Washington and his Continental Army drove the British from Boston in 1776, it was one of the first victories of the Revolution. It was also the start of "the most significant depression in Boston's history," says Bob Krim, executive director of the Boston History & Innovation Collaborative. "Eighty-five percent of the population left," and because of the war, the merchants of the city could no longer trade with Britain or the West Indies. The foundation of the city's industry crumbled overnight.

    But within a decade, Boston had discovered a new business opportunity - shipping otter skins from the Pacific Northwest to China and importing products like silk and tea - and figured out how to dominate it. "Trade with China had been barred by the British, and it was such a long trip, no one thought it would be worth it," Krim says. "But these merchants had some seed capital, and they took the incredible risk of figuring out what could be sold in China."

    Creating new industries is what we've done in these parts to deal with economic disruptions for more than 200 years. From textile mills to nanotubes, mutual funds to medical devices, the people of New England know, deep in our DNA, how to come up with the new ideas, products, and businesses that make economic rebounds possible.

(Thanks to Metropolis Creative for the great logo... more available here.)

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

June is Innovation Month in New England: What Should We Do to Make An Impact?

Why declare that June 2009 is Innovation Month in New England?

My take: innovation -- new products, new companies, new ideas, new investment themes -- is what will enable our region to recover from the recession. Innovation has always been an inherent strength in these parts, but we can and should do better.

So here's my challenge to you...

What we've done so far is set up a Web site to list just a few of the innovation-oriented events taking place in New England in June. It'd be great if you could come to at least one of them to contribute to this concentrated, month-long conversation about innovation, and also help spread the word through your network. (Maybe you'll also let people know which events you plan to attend... I'll be at the IT Collaborative Dialogue on June 10th, Convergence on June 11-13, the MassNetComms Innovators Summit on June 17th, What's Next in Tech on the 25th, and possibly more.)

What else should we do to kick-start things in June ... to get people talking, connecting, collaborating, and thinking in new ways about how we launch and grow innovative ventures here in New England? To spotlight important research and development initiatives? To make students more aware of opportunities in the innovation economy here?

I'm eager to hear your ideas, big and small ... especially ones that are cheap/free, don't require much coordination, and can at least be started or announced in June. I may use a few of these in a column soon, so if you'd like, include your real name and affiliation in the comments.

(Oh, and if you blog or Tweet about Innovation Month, or post notes from any of the events that are part of it, please use the tag #neinno.)

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Creating an Entrepreneur's Clubhouse in Kendall Square

Kendall Square is one of the densest collections of smart people, start-up companies, larger tech and biotech firms, and research labs in the country. Pick any square mile of Silicon Valley and I doubt you'd find such a heterogeneous hive of activity.

But one thing Kendall Square lacks is a hang-out geared expressly to entrepreneurs, innovators, and investors. (I've been harping on this topic for eight years now.) Yes, if you work in the Cambridge Innovation Center, the kitchen areas there are nice gathering spots. Yes, if you go to MIT or know how to find it, the Muddy Charles Pub is a fine place to have a pint. Sure, during a busy lunch hour, you're likely to see plenty of people you know at Legal's or Emma's or Black Sheep or the Starbucks in the Marriott or the Au Bon Pain, or maybe standing in line at one of the square's many lunch trucks.

But if you want to hang with other people starting companies, swap ideas, meet some new folks, do a laptop demo, or work for a few hours, there's no place specifically built for that. Where's the clubhouse for entrepreneurs?

Tim Rowe, founder of the Cambridge Innovation Center and a partner at New Atlantic Ventures, is working to create one. The working name is "The Venture Café," and he has just set up a Facebook group to solicit your ideas for a name, location, and the features that would make it a success.

Tim's definition of the project: "This project seeks to create a large-format, fun 'hangout' place in Kendall Square, open early til very late, where the innovation and entrepreneurship community can come together." See this discussion page for more info, or to contribute your ideas.

"In terms of financing it," Rowe writes, "we're hoping to have this jointly owned by a broad cross section of entrepreneurs and others active in the innovation community. Hopefully, this can be 'owned by all' rather than becoming the province of a select few." Rowe has already been having some productive talks with a few initial investors.

Count me as a supporter.

(Note: The Venture Café is also the title of a great book about entrepreneurship by ex-Bostonian Teresa Esser, presently in exile in Milwaukee.)

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

What's Next in Tech? Discuss the Growth Opportunities, on June 25th

I'm moderating an event on June 25th called "What's Next in Tech: Exploring the Growth Opportunities of 2009 and Beyond."

The idea is to provide a picture of the tech clusters that are going to drive the next waves of growth here in Massachusetts, from cloud computing to robotics to videogames to energy efficiency to social media. Speakers include venture capitalist Bijan Sabet from Spark Capital, iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner, Brian Halligan of HubSpot, and Tim Healy, who runs the publicly-traded EnerNOC. (Note: The early registration rate ends on May 15th -- tomorrow.)

One goal leading up to the event is to start some blog conversation about the high-potential areas in tech right now... a discussion we'll obviously continue at the event on June 25th. (Boston University's Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship & Commercialization is hosting it.)

Bloggers like Don Dodge, Pito Salas, Larry Cheng, Doug Levin, Tom Summit, Gregg Favalora, Furqan Nazeeri, Chris Herot, and the folks at Mobile Monday Boston have already published their lists of "what's next in tech." If you decide to create one, post a link to it in the comments here.

Here's the list of tech areas I'm following most closely (in no particular order...and excluding here all things outside of pure tech, such as life sciences, med devices, energy):

    - Healthcare IT and electronic medical records
    - Digital video (esp. getting Internet video onto the TV)
    - New analytics companies (in the vein of, Visible Measures, Localytics, etc.)
    - Mobile apps
    - Robotics
    - Video games
    - Intersection of IT and energy efficiency/management
    - New forms of media/reporting/content creation
    - Online payment and micropayment
    - Better management/prioritization of e-mail
    - Cloud computing and SaaS (wrong to group those two together?)
    - Social media and marketing (wrote about this pretty recently)
    - Ways of connecting bands (and other creative artists) with their fans (a la Sonicbids)
    - Enhancing e-commerce (a la Paragon Lake, which does custom jewelry)
    - New ways of interfacing with computers (touch, speech, thought, etc.)

I could go on, but that's a start...

(The hashtag for the "What's Next in Tech" event is #whatsnext09. Feel free, of course, to Tweet about it... and hope to see you there!)

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Brainstorming: How Do We Better Communicate New England's Innovative Mojo?

We had a great 2.5 hour brainstorming session last night at the offices of Flybridge Capital Partners in the Back Bay, focused on this question: how do we better communicate New England's innovative, creative, entrepreneurial spirit to the rest of the world?

The folks who participated are listed all the way at the bottom of this post. I would've invited more, but we wanted a small-ish group in order to give everyone a chance to participate, and wanted to represent various fields (like energy, life sciences, digital media, etc.)

Here are some of my notes on what we covered. I'd love your comments and ideas.

You can also download the audio of the entire conversation (MP3), or just click play below (it runs about 1:45).

1. The challenge

We don't do a good enough job communicating to the rest of the world the innovative stuff -- and important problem-solving -- that takes place here in New England. We also tend to communicate in a fragmented way as divergent fiefdoms (IE, Providence and Portsmouth and Western Mass. all work on their own strategies) and as verticals (healthcare data and cleantech and defense all work on their own strategies), rather than thinking about communicating about the entire region, and all of our industries. In a competitive global economy, maybe we need to think as a region, not just cities and states.

2. The audience

I suggested that the primary audiences for this communication are:

- Students who come here to get an education, and often leave
- Entrepreneurs in other places who may come here to build businesses in a given field
- Large companies (IE, Google and Novartis) who may feel its important to set up a satellite facility here

Other folks said that there are other audiences, like

- People who already live here, but may not understand the innovation industries
- People who work in one innovation industry, but don't have a good sense of the others
- Alumni: people who once lived here, but have moved away (Dave McLaughlin of Boston World Partnerships used a nifty espionage term for these folks: he likes to say we have "assets" in other locations)

3. The approach

I suggested that we focus mostly on things that are inexpensive (or free) to do, and don't require too much coordination. I told the participants that I didn't want to create six working groups that would each meet once a quarter to figure out what to do. I said my bias was more toward things that we could accomplish in six months to a year, rather than longer-term initiatives... and toward things that would be open to anyone's participation, rather than limited to a chosen group. (We then talked about some of the worthy initiatives that already exist, from Boston World Partnerships to MITX's efforts to connect students with digital media employers to the city of Boston's "One in 3" program.)

4. What's here

We talked a bit about the various industries based here, and the ways we are innovative... from medical devices to defense to transportation to film and the arts to clean energy to social and policy innovation. Saul Kaplan from Rhode Island suggested that instead of listing industries, we should talk about problems that we are trying to solve -- for instance, providing better and more affordable healthcare, dealing with climate change, etc.

5. The common attributes / what we're good at

We spent a nice chunk of time talking about the things that are common across all of the innovation we do:

This area is an "academic Hollywood" that attracts bright students and profs. (Some preferred the term "intellectual Hollywood.")

We punch above our weight... we're a small region that has a big impact on the world.

We're scrappy.

We connect across silos to solve problems.

We constantly reinvent and rebound -- the region always comes back after economic dips.

Contrary to the popular Brahmin perception, Dave McLaughlin of Boston World Partnerships noted that Boston is one of the most youthful cities in the country. (Second only to Austin, I think...)

Education is the root of everything that we do. I suggested that we're good at taking academic research, adding money and entrepreneurial expertise, and building companies that matter to the world.

Saul Kaplan suggested that we're focused not just on inputs to innovation (new research, patents, start-ups, and VC), but the outputs, too: having an impact on big problems in the world.

We're good at exploring the intersections and convergences of different-but-related fields.

Jamie Tedford of Brand Networks made the case that we (innovators) are the best salespeople for the region. (Me: Maybe we just need to be more coordinated or more clear about what we're selling.)

6. What we might do

Get more students to go to networking events/conferences. I mentioned the StayinMA program that Flybridge started, which provides scholarships to students to cover the registration fees.

Collect all of the studies about the economic impact of N.E. innovation in one place

A site/blog that serves as the "Daily Candy" of N.E. innovation

I suggested a one-page "talking points" sheet that people could download so they'd have a picture of what happens here, and be able to speak about it broadly ... for instance, if you sit next to someone from Iowa on a plane. Nick d'Arbloff of the New England Clean Energy Council talked about illustrating the impact of innovation here with charts, images, and graphs. (Maybe an iPhone app?)

More mentorship from successful execs/entrepreneurs

A wiki to collect info about various groups/associations/funding sources/companies connected to innovation here. A directory of innovation, someone termed it, or a "wikipedia of New England innovation."

We should have salons to connect students/young people with established entrepreneurs/innovators. (Bob Metcalfe does these occasionally at his Back Bay home.)

We might distribute Flipcams to people to go out and build a library of entrepreneur/innovator interviews. (Perhaps students at b-schools?) Another video-related project, which I think Don McLagan said he and MITX are working on, involves encouraging students to produce short videos about their first year at their first job at a company here in Massachusetts, for consumption by other students.

Doug Levin talked about creating an "oasis online geared to students."

I suggested that we need to create more ways for students to visit companies... one thought is picking a Friday every month when several companies around the region might host a lunch for students, where they could hear about what the company is working on, meet the CEO or key execs, and get a tour. Kind of a "tech trek" that would run the entire school year, not just for a week during spring break. (Which is when many b-school students head out west to visit innovative companies.)

Think about things that can leverage the unemployed, and their time. Steve Wardell mentioned that he relied on unemployed folks to help run a big event he put on in February, about healthcare IT...and I mentioned a local entrepreneur who has been thinking about ways to encourage unemployed folks to team up to try to develop start-up ideas. (Not sure if he's ready to talk about it yet...)

Homecoming Weekend: Encourage towns around the region to invite their natives back on one specific weekend, like July 4th or some time around Xmas... and spotlight companies hiring and things happening in those towns. (Newburyport apparently has a homecoming weekend like this.)

On the train ride back to Cambridge, Steve Wardell suggested that we need to get more innovators blogging, at little companies and big ones. "We need to create 1000 Scobles," he said, referring to the famous ex-Microsoft blogger. "We should encourage more people here to use social media, to get away from the perception that Yankees are insular and clubby and only talk amongst ourselves."

7. Next steps

I'm working on a small project to declare that June is "Innovation Month in New England," with a few collaborators. There are an incredible number of innovation-related events happening next month across the region, and we're going to spotlight a few and try to encourage people to attend at least one, if they agree with us that innovation and entrepreneurship are what will help the economy rebound. We'll start using the tag #neinno for reporting on those events, and see if that catches on for Tweets and blog posts and photos about innovation in the region.

I think/hope that other folks who participated last night will develop some of the ideas they feel most strongly about -- and if they do, I'll point you to those projects from this blog.

(Update: Here's a post about the discussion from Saul Kaplan, the delegate from Rhode Island.)



Fresh Tilled Soil


(formerly Comerica Bank, Mass Biotech Council)

Flybridge Capital Partners

Conn. Tech Council

Boston Redevelopment Authority

KMC Partners

NE Clean Energy Council

Mass. Technology Leadership Council

Business Innovation Factory

Kel & Partners

Boston Globe / Innovation Economy

Boston History & Innovation Collaborative


Entrepreneur & NE Clean Energy Council Fellow

Forrester Research

Boston World Partnerships

Entrepreneur (formerly

Mass. Innovation & Technology Exchange

NH Technology Council

Scott Lyon

Long River Ventures / Venture Well

Brand Networks

HIL Forum

Flybridge Capital Partners

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Looking for a Designer

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

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

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Brainstorming About Better Branding, with the Boston History & Innovation Collaborative

I went to a trustees' meeting of the Boston History & Innovation Collaborative early this morning, at the invitation of executive director Bob Krim. There were some really great people in the room, like Janice Bourque (who used to run the Mass Biotech Council and is now at Comerica Bank), Globe columnist and author Ellen Goodman, and Bink Garrison of Vertex Pharmaceuticals. It was held at the Boston Convention and Expo Center, and Jim Rooney, who runs the joint, was in attendance, too.

The goal of the meeting was to do a bit of brainstorming about how Boston (and Massachusetts, and New England) can better spread the message about the innovative stuff that happens here, across all realms: technology, culture, finance, law, life sciences, etc.

(Greg Bialecki, the secretary of housing and economic development for Massachusetts, was supposed to open the meeting, but he was a last-minute no-show. Too bad.)

I gave a short talk in which I tried to address these issues:

    - Let's not think about branding. That sounds expensive, and like it should involve an ad agency that we hire to create a logo. Instead, let's think about how we *communicate* the message of what great, innovative work we do here... and that we welcome all kinds of people to be part of it.

    - Let's try to think about New England as a whole, rather than just about Boston... or Portsmouth, NH... or Burlington, VT. When compared to California, our entire region is still pretty small.

    - My "big picture" one-liner about what we do here is that "we bring breakthroughs out of the lab and into the marketplace."

    - Our communications initiatives should be free or cheap... distributed and not centrally coordinated... digital... and take advantage of lots of groups and individuals doing different things that they feel are important.

    - This stuff is important to do even in a downturn. Massachusetts and New England have a history of rebirth. (Just visit any old mill building that's now home to start-up companies.) We'll be back, and the US economy will be back. Even when the future seems bleak, people here are working on incredible new ideas.

    - We talk to ourselves too much, with economic impact studies and reports and press releases and trade association meetings. We don't talk enough to people who aren't already part of the Boston business world, or people who are just passing through (like students!)

    - That said, the two groups I think we should spend the most time communicating with are companies outside of the region that might want to have an R&D headquarters or US headquarters here (like Novartis or Microsoft in Cambridge), and the students who come here to get an education. How do we persuade the smartest students to stick around, start companies, and join fast-growing ventures or long-established entities here?

    - What are some of the free things we ought to think about as part of this communications campaign? I suggested YouTube profiles of New England entrepreneurs, perhaps produced by TV journalism students locally... Live Webcasts with the Nobel laureates and MacArthur "genius grant" winners in our region...a wiki that woud list all of the New England VC firms and angel investors, and their areas of focus...a Google calendar page with all of the important local conferences... and a page of talking points for executives to use when they talk about our region, including data points about innovation here, some of the history (telephone invented here, first e-mail sent here, first anesthetic tested here, first venture capital fund established here, etc.), and enough background about today's important companies so they could effectively "tell the story" about the area, not just their particular company.

Then we started brainstorming. My notes aren't comprehensive, but...

Bink said that Boston is "the garden." Ellen Goodman says that we are "the crossroads of the next big idea"... "where the next big idea incubates, becomes reality." Jacquie Kay said that we're all about collaboration. Someone (my notes don't say whom) suggested we are "the intellectual mountaintop for resources for the future." Sounds pretty Olympian!

Carlos Martinez-Vela from the John Adams Innovation Institute said that what is great about Boston is that it's not just tech. We have the Boston Symphony and Newbury Street... culture and style.

People seemed to like my idea about creating a one-page list of "talking points" for CEOs, so they could become informal ambassadors for the region as they travel around the globe.

I mentioned the success that One in 3 Boston, a campaign to encourage young professionals to stay in Boston, has had with its Facebook group. I suggested we ought to have one or more Facebook groups for people who care about innovation in the region. Perhaps one for the Boston History & Innovation Collaborative, in fact...

Bink suggested that the TED Conference disseminates new ideas really well through the short videos of presentations given there. I noted that Ideas Boston is a local event similar to TED, but that the videos don't seem to be readily available. Maybe there's some way someone can help with getting all of those up on YouTube? (Disclosure: I've been an informal advisor to Ideas Boston.)

Janice Bourque had a phenomenal idea about creating a focus group of college and grad school super-stars. She suggested we find all of the people who've won important awards and competitions recently (such as the MIT $100K business plan competition, for instance) and get them together in a room. Ask them: How do they want to be communicated with? What are the tools that they use? What do they know about the business community and culture here? What don't they know?

Janey Bishoff, who helped organize the meeting, put up some thought-provoking quotes around the room. One was, "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste."

I agree.

How will we gauge our success? What if you typed "innovation" into Google and some site related to this campaign of ours, or a New England company or academic institution, showed up? What if, when you asked someone on an airplane about their perceptions of New England, the word innovation was part of their reply (rather than just Red Sox, lobster, and Paul Revere)?

Here's an earlier blog post on this topic, with more than 30 comments on it. Feel free to add your ideas here... or there...

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dear Deval and Greg: You Are Missing the Point on Branding

Good to see Rob Weisman's piece in today's Globe about rebranding the tech sector in Massachusetts.

As readers of this blog know, this is a campaign that I have been trying to nudge forward for a few months. (A blog-based brainstorming session happened here in December 2008, and I wrote a column in the Globe on the topic later that month.)

But our fearless elected leaders, especially Greg Bialecki and Deval Patrick, are missing two very important points:

- Trying to brand the tech sector, and also trying to brand the life sciences sector, and oh yeah, we also have financial services, and education, and cleantech, is a pointless exercise. We're about innovation across all sectors... we are about coming up with new ideas that change the world, no matter what industry they're applied to, or whether they involve software, hardware, genomic data, engineered molecules, or medical devices.

- This ought not to be a Massachusetts solo project. We are part of a regional cluster that is called New England, and innovative stuff is happening from Burlington to Portland, from Providence to Northampton... (and even in Hartford!) If you believe that we're competing in a global economy, let's leverage everything we've got in the region.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Patrick and Bialecki Wake Up to the Need to Rebrand Mass.

I'm glad that Gov. Patrick and Greg Bialecki, the new secretary for housing and economic development, have been talking about the need to rebrand Massachusetts as part of their west coast swing this week.

This is a great step forward.... but I'd like to see a pan-New England branding effort get started, rather than pitching each state as an island unto itself.

Or am I being blind to the way state politics always work?

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Stop Studying Already!

Just what the Massachusetts tech economy needs to improve its competitive standing in the world: another study!

The IT Industry Study Group put out an important press release yesterday that says that they plan to produce an important report on how important the tech industry is to Massachusetts. That report, when it is finished, will no doubt be accompanied by yet another important press release.

Now, you know that I am a big cheerleader for innovation in Massachusetts, and the entire New England region.

But I think that rather than talking to ourselves... and our elected officials...and telling one another how important we are to the regional economy... we should actually be communicating with the rest of the world. We should be focusing on building our brand... and attracting investment and business activity (like Google's Cambridge office, or the giant Novartis presence in Central Square) from elsewhere. We should also be figuring out how to create a welcoming environment for all the students who come here to get an education, funneling them into start-ups and bigger companies here, or helping them launch ventures of their own.

Correct me if you think I'm wrong, but these studies serve no useful purpose that I can tell. (Here's a 2008 study on basically the same topic: how Massachusetts can remain competitive in the IT and defense sectors.)

Here's what this new very very very important study will focus on:

    The Institute will undertake in-depth research documenting the size and scope of activities of the major IT industry sectors in Massachusetts. It will analyze the extent to which the presence of IT firms contributes to the competitiveness of other Massachusetts industries. In addition, the report will explore opportunities for the local IT industry and investigate major obstacles to growth and expansion in Massachusetts. The $150,000 project is being underwritten by the consortium of private companies, in partnership with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s John Adams Innovation Institute.

Have fun, guys.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

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

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

When I say Hollywood, what industry comes to mind?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

NH Wants to Wine and Dine Ya

This press release from the New Hampshire Office of Economic Development struck me as funny, so I'll share the first couple paragraphs...

    Visiting Companies to Receive First Class Treatment
    NH Businesses Extend “Open Invitation” to MA Counterparts

    NASHUA, NH – The New Hampshire business community is making Massachusetts companies an offer they can’t refuse – a chauffeured limo ride and whirlwind tour complete with lunch, hockey tickets and an overnight hotel stay, all for the small price of exploring the business advantages offered by the Granite State.

    The New Hampshire Division of Economic Development’s Business Resource Center joined with a group of local businesses at the Radisson Hotel Nashua this morning to unveil the “Open Invitation” initiative, a new business recruitment program aimed at attracting Massachusetts firms to the state.

    As part of the initiative, a chauffeured limo provided by Capital City Limousine will drive a Massachusetts business prospect from the border to a special luncheon at a Common Man Restaurant location. After a discussion with a New Hampshire business recruiter, the prospect will be given an overview of New Hampshire’s business atmosphere before being led on a guided tour of available properties. Later, the company owner will have the opportunity to ski at Cannon Mountain or take in a Manchester Monarchs game before spending a restful evening at the Radisson Hotel Nashua.

    “The Open Invitation initiative is a tremendous partnership between the state and a group of dedicated private sector partners,” said New Hampshire Business Resource Center Director Roy Duddy. “At absolutely no cost to New Hampshire taxpayers, these businesses have presented us with a creative way to reach out to Massachusetts firms that are interested in expanding or relocating to our state. What better way to attract new companies and secure new jobs than to show New Hampshire’s at its finest?”

    ...New Hampshire Division of Economic Development Communications and Legislative Director Steve Boucher said that with the current economic downturn and need for creative business recruitment ideas, he feels that the time is right for the “Open Invitation.”

    “We have a tremendous value proposition to present to Massachusetts companies as well as businesses throughout the United States,” he said. “In addition to being named the ‘Most Livable State’ for the past five years, we have a tremendous tax advantage and a government that is completely business friendly. We’re a state that is proud to say that we welcome your business and will work hard to support you in any way possible.”

    Over the next week, the Business Resource Center will mail special “open invitation” letters to over 800 Massachusetts companies to complement radio ads being broadcast over Lowell-based WCAP. In addition, the Center has also announced the launch of “,” a Web site that details New Hampshire incentive programs, cultural amenities and a state-to-state cost comparison.....

Free skiing? The Manchester Monarchs? Man, they are *aggressive* about their economic development up there in the Granite State.

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Sunday, October 5, 2008

10 Clusters of Innovation in New England

Here's my premise: even in tough times, exciting stuff is happening (and jobs are being created) in certain pockets of the economy.

That's the focus of today's Globe column. It lists 10 clusters of innovation in our region, based on their size and potential for growth. Some are already pretty well-established, and others are still seedlings. The column elaborates a bit on each cluster.

    1. Biotech and pharma
    2. Clean tech
    3. Robotics
    4. Cloud computing and virtualization
    5. Medical devices and diagnostics
    6. Video games
    7. Mobile communications
    8. E-Healthcare
    9. Web 2.0/Digital Media
    10. Consumer electronics

What'd I miss? Post a comment if you would...


Monday, June 16, 2008

Time to Get Serious About Reinvigorating the Mass. Tech Economy?

Mass Insight releases a report today, produced by McKinsey & Co., on how Massachusetts can remain a leader in the IT, communications, and defense industries.

(I wrote a short sidebar in the report, focusing on what we can do to build a bridge between college students and the innovation economy here.)

From the executive summary:

    Despite the success of the technology sector, there are troubling trends that need to be addressed for Massachusetts to maintain and enhance its leadership position in high-tech and defense. First is growth, which fell to 4.3 percent annually between 2001 and 2006, only one-third the rate of the previous 5 years. Moreover, virtually all the growth over the last 10 years was productivity-driven: since 2001, information technology, communications and defense companies in Massachusetts shed a net 64,000 jobs, about a 3.5 percent drop in sector employment and nearly double the rate of job loss across the overall U.S. ITCD sector. The largest losses have been among high-value-added workers, including engineers and managers, suggesting an erosion of the Commonwealth’s tech leadership.

    Indeed, more alarming than slowed growth is the state’s declining influence in the global high-tech sector. The time when Route 128 held an equivalent position to Silicon Valley in public perception is fading from memory. Through mergers, acquisitions and attrition, the roster of Fortune 1000 tech companies headquartered in Massachusetts has fallen from nine to six since 2002. In the same period, California saw a net gain of three, bringing its total to forty-two. Massachusetts has also fallen behind in the creation of new tech companies, with the relative number of company births declining from 11.4 percent of all ITCD establishments in 2002 to 9.9 percent in 2004. While California, New York and Washington have seen increases in high-tech venture investments since 2002, VC investment in Massachusetts has continued its drop from the dot-com bubble, particularly in early-stage companies.

The report has some suggestions for new strategies... some of which you may agree with (or not). Very much worth a read if you're interested in our state's continued competitiveness.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Competitiveness in the New Search Economy

A provocative post this morning from Jeff Bussgang at Flybridge: is our region deficient in search engine marketing and optimization talent?

The opening:

    Ask any consumer start-up what their biggest obstacle to growth is and it's likely you'll get a consistent but surprising answer: I simply can't find enough SEM/SEO talent. It's not a shortage of programmers that are hindering start-up growth (much of the coding talent is being provided by offshore developers anyway), but rather the talent pool hasn't adjusted quickly enough to support the new Search Economy.

Jeff also offers some thoughts on how we might remedy things...

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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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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Now, for some good news...

The Massachusetts economy grew at 3.6 percent during the first quarter, according to the Globe. From Robert Gavin's blog post:

    Massachusetts, after lagging behind the US through the economic recovery of the past few years, is weathering the recent national downturn because of the strength of its technology, science and healthcare sectors, according to UMass. State exports of technology and pharmaceutical products are strong and so is hiring in those sectors. Employment in professional, scientific and technical services, for example, grew nearly 4 percent over the past year, compared to less than 1 percent for the state as a whole, according to the state Department of Workforce Development.

Also, we didn't build a lot of spec housing in the last decade.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

AlwaysOn List of Top 100 Private Companies

AlwaysOn has an interesting list of 100 promising private companies based in the Northeast. They peg Boston-Power, a next-gen battery company, as the overall winner.

You'll note in the intro that they use the terms "Northeast" and "New England" interchangeably...something only an outsider to the region would do. The Northeast, as I view it, includes such hostile territory as New York, New Jersey, and possibly even Pennsylvania and Delaware. New England *never* includes those states. Connecticut is always up for grabs...

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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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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Does Facebook's Revenue Matter?

The Power, Drugs & Money conference at the Seaport Hotel has brought together an interesting mix of people ... Jim Gordon of Cape Wind is speaking now, and I just bumped into someone from the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Noubar Afeyan from Flagship Ventures in the hall.

The first morning panel focused on innovation in New England, and was moderated by Chris Gabrieli of Bessemer Venture Partners and the Massachusetts 20/20 Foundation. Panelists included Bob Buderi from Xconomy, Doug Banks from Mass High Tech, Bob Krim from the Boston History and Innovation Collaborative, and me.

Krim said that Boston has a good track record of gravitating to new ideas once old ones lose steam. (For a long time we fished for cod... then we focused on the telegraph and telephone... later, we invented minicomputers and e-mail.) Krim also has a nice term for the interactions that happen here between investors, entrepreneurs, tech users, and academic researchers. He calls it the "bump and connect."

Doug Banks had a nice turn of phrase when he said that developing technologies that produce cleaner power is "the noble pursuit of the day." I agree, even if some worry about it becoming a bubble.

We bashed Harvard a bit, which Gabrieli suggested looks down upon the process of commercializing new ideas. I mentioned Facebook at one point ... if Harvard had more VCs prowling the hall, or had more of an entrepreneurship infrastructure forging connections with the local innovation economy, would more than one local investor have seen the Facebook deal before the founder moved to California?

Banks said that Facebook doesn't have impressive revenues, and is probably overvalued. He mentioned that the #2 e-commerce vendor, after Amazon, is, headquartered right here in Massachusetts. I said to Doug afterwards, that's great, but how many smart young people are moving from Kansas to Massachusetts because they want a job with And how many smart young people are moving from Kansas to California because they want a job with Facebook, or one of the zillions of Facebook app developers out there?

Someone in the audience complained that as venture firms raise larger funds, they tend to be less interested in backing early-stage companies started by wet-behind-the-ears founders. I mentioned some of the new early-stage, smaller venture funds that have started up in the last year or two.

The opening keynote speaker was John Kao, author of 'Innovation Nation.' He offered a picture of what other countries, like Singapore and Finland, are doing to try to build hubs of innovation.

I see countries like those, and states like North Carolina and Michigan, playing offense: trying to attract smart people and fast-growing companies. Our job here (in the US, and in Massachusetts) is to play both offense and defense.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Focusing on the 21-year olds

This quote has been driving me batty all day, from a Globe story Rob Weisman wrote about MIT’s MBA field trips out to Silicon Valley:

    “Yes, I wish we could have more anchor companies," said Joyce Plotkin, president of the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council, a trade group for software and other tech businesses. "I think our culture does not value entrepreneurs the way the West Coast does. Historically, most of our companies are in the business-to-business market, and that's a tougher sell. To someone who's 21 years old, it looks more exciting to work at consumer- oriented companies."

I don’t think that Plotkin really believes that the culture here somehow values entrepreneurs less than the West Coast does. Yes, you do get a higher voltage of entrepreneurial energy on the West Coast, and successful entrepreneurs are deified out there… but I believe entrepreneurs are valued here.

Rather, the part of the quote that is bugging me is about the hypothetical 21-year old.

We do have a lot of 21-year olds graduating from college every June, and we don’t do a good enough job of plugging them into the regional innovation economy.

It’s not because we don’t have consumer-oriented companies (many of them start-ups) to work for. What about Harmonix, creator of “Guitar Hero,” or Bose, or iRobot, or Conduit Labs, or Nuance, one of the leaders of the speech recognition industry?

The problem is that we – and I include Plotkin’s group, the Mass. Technology Leadership Council, in this – don’t offer enough opportunities for:

    1. Colleges students to schmooze with local entrepreneurs and VCs, and visit tech and biotech company’s local HQs.

    2. Smaller tech companies to engage in on-campus recruiting.

In the same way that Valley companies like VMWare and Google welcome visiting MIT MBA students, are our hometown biggies, from EMC to Genzyme to Akamai, opening the doors to grad students and undergrads from local universities?

I've been saying it a lot at events - and I'll say it here for the record - "culture," another term Plotkin uses, is nothing but the way a group of individuals acts. If we want to change the culture here, and make it totally clear to recent grads that there are some pretty interesting opportunities in town for them, that's easy to do...

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Sunday's Globe column: Building new pillars in the Bay State

I'm saying it: we need a new generation of pillar companies here in Massachusetts, and the wider New England region.

Sunday's Globe column explores what we need to do to start thinking bigger. From the column:

    I understand the argument that big acquisitions, like September's $430 million deal to sell Waltham-based Adnexus Therapeutics to Bristol Myers-Squibb Co., return profits to venture capitalists they can in turn invest in new start-ups and allow newly wealthy entrepreneurs to go off and try something else - maybe even a riskier idea.

    But we also need to build the next generation of "pillar companies" here - companies like EMC Corp., Genzyme Corp., Boston Scientific Corp., Hologic Inc., and Nuance Communications Inc.

    These companies employ hundreds or thousands of people. They're acquirers, not acquirees. They lead industries, set the agenda, and attract the attention of media and Wall Street analysts. Smaller companies cluster around them.

    Right now, acknowledges Steve O'Leary, an investment banker with Jeffries Broadview, New England "is a net sellers market, as opposed to a net buyers market." O'Leary, who earns a living by selling tech companies, says, "I'd like to see more of a food chain, from the big companies on down."

I wrote about this topic back in January, as well, and moderated a salon called 'Thinking Big' late in November.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Good News / Bad News

Good news first.

The Entertainment Software Association says that the video game and computer industry in the Bay State grew 12.3 percent in 2006, quadruple the commonwealth's overall growth. They say that Mass. is the fifth-biggest employer of video game personnel... behind California, Washington, Texas, and New York. Average salary is $84,818.

Now, the bad news....a report from MassInc says that we're second-to-last in terms of creating new jobs. From the Globe's coverage of that report:

    Even if the nation avoids a recession, a recent forecast by the New England Economic Partnership projects the state won't recover the jobs until 2012 - 11 years after the 2001 peak. That would mark the first time since at least 1940 that the state has gone more than a decade without increasing payroll employment, said Andrew Sum, director of Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies and the lead author of the MassINC study.

    "We should be embarrassed," Sum said. "The governor, the Legislature have to get back in there and say, 'What are we going to do to create jobs in this state.' Somebody's got to advocate for jobs here."

    The erosion of manufacturing, long a ladder to the middle class, and the emergence of industries requiring specialized skills also threaten to create a "boutique economy" that rewards the highly educated and the skilled, but leaves behind broad swaths of the labor force, the study warned.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

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

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

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

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