Monday, April 6, 2009

Software to divine your emotional responses

Sunday's Globe column profiles iMotions, a Danish company that has gotten funding from MIT honcho Ken Morse and PR guru Andy Miller, two local angel investors. They've got some space at the Cambridge Innovation Center, and will likely be expanding their local presence this year.

From the column:

    "More than 90 percent of purchases are based on emotional response, not rational thought," says iMotions chief executive Peter Hartzbech. "You want to be rationally convincing, yes, but you also need to be emotionally engaging."

    Unlike systems that require plastering sensors on the body to gauge changes in a person's heart rate, breathing, or perspiration, all iMotions asks is that you sit in front of a flat-screen computer monitor. The $30,000 monitor, made by another company, bounces a beam of near-infrared light off of your eyes. IMotions processes the input from the monitor to analyze two key factors: How often are you blinking, and what are your pupils doing?

    Essentially, pupil dilation and a faster-than normal blink rate can indicate that you're excited - iMotions prefers to use the terms "engaged" or "involved" - by what you're seeing. The company's pitch is that by showing a new product design, package, or advertisement to consumers earlier in the creative process, and tuning in to this kind of "precognitive" response, companies can figure out what will resonate with consumers more quickly and less expensively than with traditional research. (A sample group of about 30 peo ple is necessary for good statistical results, Hartzbech says.)

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Babson's Start-Up Career Fair

Babson College is holding a Start-Up Career Fair April 15th (Tax Day!) on campus. If your start-up is hunting for undergrad or MBA students as interns, part-timers, full-timers, or to toil on short-term projects, here's where you can register to participate.

[ Note: Corrected date. ]

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Colorado-based TechStars Will Launch a Boston Program This Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Raising Capital in the Current Climate

Sunday's Globe column focused on raising money from VCs, banks, angel investors, and other sources.

Here's the opening:

    Finding money to start a company (or keep one going) is worry number one right now for entrepreneurs, whether they're designing robots, starting a restaurant, opening a clothing boutique, or developing cancer drugs. And with banks, angel investors, and venture capital firms clinging more tightly than ever to their bankrolls, that worry is occupying much more mental bandwidth.

The video features entrepreneur (and occasional angel investor) Bill Warner offering some fund-raising advice of his own:

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Start-Up Activity Continues at DEC's Old Mill

My most recent Globe column focuses on a hardware start-up, SiCortex, that is based in the Maynard mill complex that was once home to Digital Equipment.

From the piece:

    If you want to understand the phenomenal regenerative ability of Massachusetts' innovation economy, head for the hulking brick mill in Maynard, close by the Assabet River. Carpets were made there in the 1840s, until an economic downturn, sparked by bank failures, killed that company. A new textile firm at the mill made blankets and uniforms for the military during the Civil War. That business failed in 1898, and was replaced by American Wool Co., which shut down its production facility in Maynard in 1950.

    Starting in 1957, for more than three-and-a-half decades, the mill was Digital's world headquarters. In the 1990s, the career site made the mill its base. And more recently, it has been home to dozens of start-ups, including the video game company 38 Studios, founded by Curt Schilling, and SiCortex, founded by Leonard and two fellow Digital alums, Matt Reilly and John Mucci.

Here's the video, which features SiCortex CEO Christopher Stone talking about the energy-efficient design of his products.

You can find out more about the mill's history here... and there's still an active group of DEC alums with a site here.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Fireside Chat with Gail Goodman and David Friend, from Future Forward

I had a chance to conduct a "fireside chat" with two of Boston's most successful start-up CEOs this past Wednesday, at Future Forward 08.

David Friend is CEO of Carbonite; Gail Goodman runs Constant Contact.

Founded in 2005, Carbonite is an online back-up service that has raised $50 million in venture capital, and has users in 120 countries. David Friend had earlier started companies like eYak/Sonexis and FaxNet. Constant Contact went public last October, and I wrote about them recently in my Boston Globe column. Goodman had previously run the e-commerce group at Open Market Inc.

The audio file is an MP3, about 35 minutes long. Quality is good -- except for a few beeps at the end indicating that my digital recorder was about to run out of juice. We talk about what each CEO learned from prior ventures... raising money... going public... marketing and advertising... and surviving near-death experiences.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Y Combinator's August 2008 Demo Day in Cambridge

Here are the three things that hit me hardest about today's Y Combinator Demo Day in Cambridge.

1. The Boston VC community has finally woken up to this event, and the promise (and engineering skillz) that many of the YC start-ups show. Represented in the audience today were Matrix, Sigma, Kepha Partners, Spark Capital, and a zillion others -- many of whom weren't present last August. General Catalyst sent at least three folks, including co-founder Joel Cutler. More conspicuous this year were the VC firms who didn't sent a partner or associate, like Polaris, Prism, Highland, North Bridge, and some alleged early-stage funds like .406 Ventures and DACE Ventures.

2. Many of the start-ups were focused on radically simplifying the sign-up process to use a new Web service, or set up a new blog or Web page. I found myself wondering, "When will a YC start-up figure out how to enable me to join a new service before I've even heard of it?" Maybe in the Spring 09 crop...

3. I think Paul Graham is the Schumpeter of the 21st century. Every start-up seemed to be trying to destroy (or at least improve upon) something that has been around for a couple years....including Evite,, Reddit, Blogger, existing digital photo frames, and Tumblr. That's a good thing, but it was funny to hear Posterous, the first start-up to present, diss Tumblr with Tumblr investors (two guys from Spark) in the audience.

Here's the video I shot at the event, followed by some notes on all of the non-stealth companies that demoed. (Video includes TicketStumbler, Fliggo, Picwing, MeetCast, CO2Stats, Job Alchemist, Slinkset, Frogmetrics, Anyvite, Popcuts, Snipd, and Ididwork -- though not in that order. There's also a brief cameo from John Puskarich, co-founder of Bountii -- a Y Combinator alum.)

- Posterous was first out of the gate, and impressed a lot of people. A slick, simple way to start and maintain a blog using only your phone (or any device that can send an e-mail). Handles photos, MP3s, and video really well. Great company name, too. Already covered by TechCrunch and VentureBeat.

- TicketStumbler is, simply, Kayak for sports tickets, searching lots of sites across the Web and then helping you sort the options, for instance, that exist for seeing the Red Sox game. (Where do you want to sit, and how much do you want to pay?) Covered by TechCrunch here. They say they are already profitable.

- Fliggo runs an existing video-sharing community ... planning to introduce something new soon, geared to people who're dissatisfied with YouTube. A bit more about what they're up to is in the video, above.

- Picwing is trying to do for photo frames what Apple did for MP3 players... marry nicely-designed hardware with easy-to-use software. Frame is $249, and has a Linux computer inside. Their demo involved shooting a (blurry) pic of the audience and then having it appear a few seconds later on the frame. Neat! The somewhat cyncial VC next to me seemed ready to place his order.

- MeetCast: trying to make Web conferencing simpler than WebEx yet more sophisticated than Tokbox. Start a conference in a few seconds... invite people to call in or participate via video... or share presentations or docs from their desktops. This was one of those apps that you really want to get your hands on to see if it's actually as easy-to-use as the demo made it seem.

- CO2Stats felt like the most mature start-up of the bunch. And they have an actual business model that involves people paying money for a valuable service, not simply placing "targeted ads" on Web pages, or hoping someone will buy them before it becomes obvious they can't produce revenue. They certify that a Web site is run with green power, and will actually sell the site renewable energy credits to offset the site's carbon footprint. Already profitable, apparently the early leader in its space, and just signed IBM as a customer. I suspect they will be acquired before 2008 is out...

- Youlicit: Trying to best Mahalo and Squidoo by using algorithms rather than human editors to create guides to a given topic (like "picking up girls".) The results are similar to the topical directories that humans built for Yahoo in the mid 1990s. Maybe Yahoo should throw everything away and simply buy Youlicit? They'd hardly have to change the ticker symbol...

- Job Alchemist: Helping blog publishers make more money by putting targeted job listings on their sites... and collecting a bounty when a candidate gets the job. Also makes setting up niche job boards easier. Can't wait to try this.

- Create Digg-like rating systems, or votable lists, in a few minutes with Slinkset. Another thing I need to tinker with for

- Frogmetrics uses Nokia N810 devices (about $350 each) to collect survey data from consumers after they've engaged in transactions. Six employees.... they say they're already profitable... and just landed a Fortune 150 client. They say their survey response rates are better than 90 percent... and that they use the N810 because they think people are less likely to swipe it than an iPod touch, which is cheaper. Establishments can collect e-mail addresses from their customers, and also analyze how people rate individual employees or product quality at a particular time of the week. Like, does a restaurant's food get bad ratings on Sunday night, but great ones on Monday? They've been testing it in two Cambridge restaurants, which they wouldn't name.

- Anyvite is yet another Evite-killer. Focused in part on making invitations easy to create and respond to on mobile phones. Covered here on TechCrunch.

- Snipd is doing content-sharing/social bookmarking, with a focus on honing in on specific passages of an article, or segments of a video, that users find most interesting. That lets other users hone in on the "hot zones" of a video -- the part that other users found most compelling.

- Ididwork allows employees to track what they've accomplished, and publish it to a Facebook-style feed page. Managers can also use the system to review employees, giving them more frequent feedback than the quarterly review. Already profiled on TechCrunch.

- Backtype wants to be Google for comments, hunting down blog comments and making them searchable and trackable (so you could track all of my comment posts across any site, or create alerts about a given company that may be mentioned in comments.)

- Popcuts is a bit like the music site AmieStreet, except they reward people who purchase music early (and presumably tell their friends about it) by giving them a cut of future sales. If a song takes off, not only could you have the 99 cent purchase price refunded, but you could earn a return for being a "taste-maker."

A few other presenters are still in stealth mode, and we were asked to leave their presentations off-the-record. We'll see if folks do that...

Here are some of the people I saw in attendance:

David Beisel of Venrock, Don Dodge of Microsoft, Bijan Sabet and Rob Go of Spark Capital, Jeff Yolen of Sphere, Saar Gur from the California office of Charles River Ventures, Steve McCormack from Commonwealth Capital, Margaret Lawrence from Pilot House Ventures, Matt Witheiler from Flybridge, Tali Rappaport from Matrix, David Baum from Stage 1 Ventures, Jonathan Golden from Greylock, Jonathan Seelig from Akamai, Bill Warner of Warner Research, David Hornik from August Capital, Rich Levandov from Avalon, Neil Sequiera, David Orfao, and Joel Cutler from General Catalyst, Matt Hjerpe from Atlas, Jeff Glass from Bain Capital Ventures, Roger Krakoff from Sigma, Fred Wilson from Union Square, Dharmesh Shah from HubSpot, and Jo Tango from Kepha.

Also saw John Puskarich from the shopping search site Bountii, a Y Combinator graduate from a previous class. They've gotten some angel funding. John, an MIT alum, has been working in Cambridge, with his co-founder Samir Meghani in the Bay Area. Sadly, John told me today he's heading west soon to keep building the company out there.

We'll see if some Boston investors put money into this summer's batch of start-ups...and maybe keep them around the neighborhood. So far, Bijan Sabet of Spark is the one Boston-area VC to put money into a YC company, I'm In Like With You, which is actually based in NYC.

Here's some previous InnoEco coverage of Y Combinator and video with Paul Graham.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The latest Globe column: Can Pixily duplicate Netflix's success?

Sunday's Globe column focused on a boot-strapped start-up called Pixily. From the opening:

    Like Netflix, Pixily has bright, durable envelopes. The difference is that instead of sending DVDs, you send Pixily a stack of documents you'd like digitized. Pixily scans the documents for you, makes the text searchable online, and then either returns the documents to you by mail or shreds them and recycles the paper.

    A plan that allows you to send in one envelope a month (envelopes can contain up to 50 items) costs $14.95 per month.

    Will it fly? Pixily, with its sprightly name, is onto something big. Who doesn't have a desk cluttered with papers that can't be thrown away, but might never be glanced at again?


    But to make Pixily a household word, the company's founders will need to crack the riddle that faces every entrepreneurial venture: How do you generate awareness and acquire customers without spending yourself into oblivion?

Here's the video, with Pixily founders Prasad Thammineni and Vikram Kumar... one of the things they talk about is why they chose to build the company atop Amazon's Web services infrastructure:

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Paragon Lake: A New Paradigm for Student-Created Start-Ups?

Sunday's column in the Globe focused on the adventures of two Babson students, Matt Lauzon and Jason Reuben, who hatched a start-up idea in their Babson dorm and just raised $5.8 million in venture capital funding.

One thing that helped them build a foundation for the company, Paragon Lake, was Highland Capital Partners' summer entrepreneurship program.

My premise is that we need more initiatives like it targeted to helping sharp students put together businesses, and making sure they take root here (Lauzon and Reuben were considering setting up shop in LA, and even have the cell phone numbers to prove it.)

I talked with Lauzon about his participation in the Highland program ... and a unique hiring tactic: MP3 audio.

One small but interesting change in Highland's summer program: participants last year didn't owe Highland anything -- there was no right-of-first-refusal on investing, no exchange of equity for office space, nothing. This year, though, according to Highland SVP Michael Gaiss, Highland has the option to participate in up to half of a start-up's first round of funding:

    ...[I]f an institutional venture capital round (not angel, f&f) is raised within 180 days, we have option to participate. It’s one of a couple variables we changed this year including preference to initiatives with some momentum (could be bringing together board/advisors/team, prototype stage) behind it (versus raw concept/idea), and letters of recommendation from administration/faculty, advisors/board members or others close to the initiative that could speak to it or the team.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Play Hard: The New Game Company in Town

Hiawatha Bray has the first piece about Play Hard Sports, the new game company being formed by Jeff Anderson. Anderson was formerly CEO of Turbine Inc., which operates 'Lord of the Rings Online.' While Turbine had raised money from Highland and Polaris, both in Massachusetts, Anderson's new company just banked $5 million from New Enterprise Associates, a predominantly West Coast firm that has offices in Maryland.

Bray writes:

    The company will begin by offering a football simulation game, with plans to eventually add baseball, basketball, and other sports. Players will be able to create their own teams and pit them against other gamers via the Internet. "I can go online, find people of similar skills and abilities, and play them immediately," said Anderson.

    Anderson may have picked the perfect time to offer an online football game. Earlier this month, Electronic Arts Inc., the leading maker of sports games, announced it would no longer sell a version of its hugely popular football game Madden NFL for desktop computers. "That changes the dynamic and the landscape dramatically," said Anderson. "It leaves a very big vacuum."

Company is based, appropriately enough, in Foxborough (home to the New England Patriots). Here's a quick glimpse of the types of folks they're trying to hire, from the Play Hard Web site.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Start-ups try to make student loan market more manageable

Yesterday's Globe column focused on start-ups trying to build businesses in the turbulent student loan market:

    "As a start-up, you either have to figure out how to change the world, or wait for things to happen organically," says Kevin Walker, cofounder and chief executive of Newton-based Simple Tuition Inc., an online service that helps students compare various loan options. The growing challenge of piecing together college financing, Walker believes, could help accelerate that organic change.

Story also deals with College Loan Market and Fynanz.

Here's the video, in which Walker offers some advice to students and parents who're currently wrangling with college financing.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Spreadshirt: The East Coast Answer to CafePress?

Had lunch today with Jana Eggers, the former Intuit exec who is now the CEO of Spreadshirt, a customized apparel company that was founded in Leipzig, Germany in 2002. The company entered the US market in 2005, and Eggers joined as CEO in November 2006.

Spreadshirt will make a jacket, t-shirt, or baseball cap with your design on it -- and they'll also let you sell your product to others in their marketplace. Unlike their California competitors at CafePress (which sells clocks, mugs, and clothing), Spreadshirt is focused only on apparel -- they offer five different kinds of hoodie, for example. But Eggers doesn't think Spreadshirt needs to go head-to-head with CafePress for market share -- at least at this stage.

"According to our research, 70 percent of online shoppers in the US don't know that you can do this," Eggers told me. "So it's less about stealing customers from CafePress than building awareness."

Eggers wears one of the company's products every day; today it was a brown long-sleeve t that said, "Believe it to see it." When she's in Germany, that can raise some eyebrows, since t-shirts aren't usually part of business attire. (One of her favorite shirts says, "I'm recruiting," which usually generates a conversation: "Recruiting for what?")

Eggers is building an office in Cambridge, at Cambridge Innovation Center in Kendall Square, to serve as the US headquarters of the company. It has just five employees so far (plus her) who work in sales, marketing, and finance. But she expects to add more people, in graphics and product management, by the end of the year. And a move to Southie could be in the offing. Spreadshirt's US orders are made at a plant near Pittsburgh; Eggers also says its possible that she could spark up some production in the Boston area.

The company has 250 employees in total, Eggers said.

She has a blog here, and is also a fairly avid Twitterer.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Innovation Economy’s “Cool Half-Hundred” Companies

Every week or two, someone e-mails me asking for my take on interesting companies in the Boston area. Usually, they’re hunting for their next job –- or they’re students looking for a fun place to intern.

Here’s my off-the-cuff list: call it the Innovation Economy Cool Half-Hundred. They’re chosen with complete disregard to any sort of scientific method. There were basically two questions I considered:

    - Is the company working on something important, or at least fun?
    - If you worked there, would you put people to sleep explaining what you do?

If the answer to the first question is “yes,” and the second “no,” the company is eligible. (You’ll notice a distinct shortage of enterprise software and telecom companies on the list.) At the bottom of the list, I suggest a few ways to discover other interesting new ventures. The list is in no particular order, and it’s not comprehensive: if your company isn’t on it, that doesn’t mean you can’t lay claim to coolness.

Feel free to share other advice, or list other cool Boston-area companies, in the comments area below.

Consumer Electronics

1. Ambient Devices: Integrating information displays into everyday devices, like umbrellas that tell you when it’s going to rain. (Video of Ambient founder David Rose.)

2. Bose: Noise-cancelling headsets, Wave radios, iPod docks, and other stuff that makes the world a better-sounding place.

3. E Ink: Pursuing the holy grail of electronic paper. Currently supplies high-contrast, low power screens to Amazon’s Kindle and Sony Reader, the leading e-books.

4. Emo Labs: Trying to merge speakers and displays.

5. Myvu: Digital displays integrated into eyeglasses.

6. ZINK Imaging: Polaroid’s last great hope, this spin-off is bringing to market technology for pocket-sized digital photo printers. (Video with ZINK CEO Wendy Caswell.)

Web 2.0 / Digital Media

7. Brightcove: Tools for publishing, measuring, and monetizing video on the Web. (Video of Brightcove CEO Jeremy Allaire.)

8. Frame Media: Delivering content to Internet-connected picture frames.

9. Going: Online social director for people interested in going out to live events.

10. Maven Networks: Pioneer developer of tools for online video publishing; acquired by Yahoo in 2008, so the future may be a bit hazy.

11. MyPunchbowl: Trying to knock off Evite as the dominant site for party planning.

12. ScanScout: Managing ads embedded in Internet video.

13. TripAdvisor: The definitive word on where to stay. Developing into a social network for travelers. Owned by Barry Diller’s Expedia Inc. in New York. (Video of TripAdvisor CEO Steven Kaufer.)

14. Veveo: Video search for mobile devices. (Video that includes a short interview with Veveo co-founder Murali Aravamudan.)

15. Visible Measures: Providing data about how users engage with video on the Web.

Product Design / Web Design / Marketing

16. Brickyard VFX: Visual effects for TV commercials and shows like “CSI: NY.”

17. Continuum: Design firm with offices in West Newton, Milan, and Seoul. Lots of work on medical devices, consumer products like the Swiffer, and hardware like the $100 laptop.

18. IDEO Cambridge: New England outpost of the famed Silicon Valley design firm that has worked with Apple, Palm, HBO, and Prada.

19. Sapient: Interactive shop whose clients include Staples, Celebrity Cruises, Sony, and Harrahs.

Software, Software-as-a-Service, Virtualization

20. Avid Technology: Software for movie, TV, and music editors and producers. (Video of Avid employee Matt Feury.)

21. Cakewalk: Software for amateur and professional musicians.

22. Desktone: Helping companies better manage desktop software by delivering it virtually.

23. Matchmine: Funded in part by the Krafts, the first family of New England football, company aims to deliver more personalized content: music, video, and text.

24. Nuance: The world leader in speech recognition software, right here in Massachusetts. (Video of Nuance exec Peter Mahoney demoing Nuance-powered GPS system.)

25. Vlingo: Talk to your cell phone and have it understand you. Run by former Nokia, SpeechWorks, and Groove Mobile execs. (Video that includes a short interview with Vlingo co-founder Mike Phillips.)


26. Airvana: Infrastructure for high-speed wireless networks. Also, developing femtocells (cell phone booster devices) for consumer use at home. Run by former Apple exec Randy Battat. (Video of Battat explaining the femtocell market.)

27. Akamai: The FedEx of the Internet.

28. Peermeta: Software platform to improve the end-user experience on mobile devices. Started by Acopia Networks founder Cheng Wu.

29. Verivue: Advanced networking services for the delivery of digital media.


30. Old Road Computing: Aims to help enterprises better manage mobile devices.


31. Luminus Devices: Brighter LEDs for TVs and lighting applications.

32. Nantero: Nanotube-based memory chips.


33. Zipcar: The world’s largest car-sharing firm is heavily dependent on technology. (Video of Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith.)


34. Boston Dynamics: Creator of walking robots like BigDog, as well as simulation software for the military.

35. Hydroid: Robots that don’t mind getting wet.

36. iRobot: Robots for the living room and the battlefield.

37. Kiva Systems: Robotic warehouse workers. (Video with Kiva CEO Mick Mountz.)

CleanTech, Power, and Batteries

38. A123 Systems: Nanophosphate technology allows batteries to pack more punch; an A123 division called Hymotion also converts hybrid vehicles into ultra-high-mileage plug-in hybrids.

39. Great Point Energy: Converting coal into natural gas, while sequestering the CO2.

40. Konarka Technologies: This Lowell company wants to put thin, flexible solar cells on just about every surface exposed to the sun. (Video that includes interview with Konarka CEO Rick Hess.)

41. 1366 Technologies: Trying to bring down the cost of silicon-based solar cells.


42. Conduit Labs: Start-up trying to bring more fun and games to social networks. Founded by Nabeel Hyatt, formerly of Ambient Devices.

43. GuildCafe Entertainment: Creating an online hang-out for players of role-playing games.

44. Harmonix Music Systems: The MIT spin-out that gave birth to “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band.” Now owned by MTV Networks. (Video visit to Harmonix headquarters.)

45. Rockstar New England: known until recently as Mad Doc Software, this shop specializes in bringing artificial intelligence to games. Acquired in April 08 by Rockstar Games, publisher of “Grand Theft Auto.”

46. Turbine: Builder of online fantasy realms linked to “Lord of the Rings” and “Dungeons and Dragons.”

Research & Development

47. BBN Technologies: You’ve heard of the Internet? They helped build it. Ever sent an e-mail? They sent the first one. Since 1948, they’ve been working on the edge of what’s possible in software and networking.

48. DEKA Research: OK, it’s in Manchester, NH (about 45 minutes north of Boston). But founder Dean Kamen is the Willy Wonka of New England tech, always cooking up something tantalizing. (Video visit to DEKA headquarters.)

49. Google Cambridge: It’s not exactly Mountain View, but Cambridge engineers have contributed work to Google’s Android mobile operating system…and they’ve just moved into swanky new office space.

50. Microsoft Research Cambridge: Just set up in 2008 to focus on core computer science, design, and social science.

* * * * * * *

3 Ways to Find More Cool Companies

1. Go to events like the MIT $100K competition, the monthly WebInno gathering, the Mass TLC Investor Conference, and OpenCoffee Club. (Other events are listed in the right-hand column here, under “Regular Gatherings.”)

2. Meet someone who works at the Cambridge Innovation Center, and ask them to show you around. An astonishingly high percentage of cool start-ups in town start off in this space.

3. Keep an eye on new company fundings on the Web sites of local venture capital firms. Some good places to start: Prism, Flybridge, Sigma, Matrix, Polaris, Highland, Spark, General Catalyst and Greylock.

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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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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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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

March 08 Demo Day at Y Combinator, Mountain View

I stopped by the Y Combinator Demo Day in Mountain View this afternoon… and caught about two-thirds of the demos. (I was running late, driving up from Carmel.) This was my second time at one of the firm’s Demo Days. Last time was August, in Cambridge.

The first thing that struck me was the quality of the crowd. In addition to the usual VCs (Greylock, Matrix Partners, Charles River Ventures), the room was filled with the likes of angel investor Ron Conway, Lotus founder Mitch Kapor, HotorNot co-founder James Hong, Dave McClure of 500 Hats, and VentureBeat founder Matt Marshall.

Second thing was the quality of the demos. They’re limited in time (seven minutes?), and so the entrepreneurs don’t feel obligated (nor do they have time) to explain every feature of their product, or talk in comically vague terms about all the potential partnerships they’re pursuing. Basically, they offer some context: who they are competing with, who has tried something similar before. What does the service do now, and what might it be able to do in the future? That’s all.

(I’m a big fan of seeing how entrepreneurs respond to questions, so I suggested afterward to Y Combinator partner Jessica Livingston that one question from the audience per demo might not slow the pace too much…especially if the answer had to be given in one minute or less.)

From a Boston perspective (the lens through which I see the world these days), a couple things were interesting…

First is that Y Combinator works with two classes of start-ups each year – a summer crop in Cambridge, and a winter crop in Mountain View. The Cambridge crop presents their demos in Cambridge, and then flies out west to present again in California. But the Mountain View crop presents twice in California (no trip east for them.) The first presentation, apparently, is to people who’ve previously invested in Y Combinator companies. Today was the second presentation.

Livingston told me that of the 60 start-ups that have been through the program, only two have decided to stay rooted in the Boston area: Tsumobi and Bountii. (She wasn’t counting the 20 start-ups in the current crop.)

Two start-ups in this Y Combinator class had Boston roots, and both plan to try to make a go of things here in the Valley.

One is Tipjoy, founded by Ivan and Abby Kirigin, who previously worked at iRobot and Nokia. They quit their jobs late last year to develop their idea – an easier way for fans of Web content (whether music, blogs, or videos) to leave a tiny monetary tip… like 10 or 20 cents… as a thank-you for creators of content they enjoy.

The Kirigins still have a house in Arlington, but they’re planning to extend their lease here in the Valley for six months, to see what happens. “This is where 90 percent of the funding is,” Abby told me. “There are more angels in Silicon Valley, because you have lots of people leaving larger companies with money to spend time investing,” Ivan said.

The other is Kirkland North , which is developing a game called Turf, played both online and in the real world. The game started at Yale, spread to Harvard, and is being rolled out to more schools by a small team that includes three ’07 Harvard grads. Co-founders Matthew O’Brien, Andrew Fong, and Hugo Van Vuuren met while living (and playing Halo together) in Quincy House.

O’Brien was far from subtle in making the comparisons to Facebook, noting that Turf had spread among Harvard undergrads even more quickly than Facebook. “We’re not trying to be as big as Facebook,” he said. “We’d be happy to be 1/15th as big as Facebook.” (An allusion to the company’s $15 billion valuation.)

Some other cool ideas from today’s batch of demos:

Wundrbar is a tool bar that tries to anticipate tasks that you want to do (like booking a flight or adding an event to your calendar), and bring them into a single page through clever use of APIs.

Chatterous lets you initiate conversations with your friends through their preferred mode of communication: IM, e-mail, SMS, etc.

Webmynd creates a visual record of your Web browsing history that can be easily navigated… so that without creating scads of bookmarks, you can go back and find stuff that’s relevant to you.

Omnisio lets you annotate, tag, and comment on videos from any video site, and also edit highlights out of longer videos.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Boomeranging founders: Sunday's Globe column

Sunday's Globe column looks at companies locally (and nationally) that have put a founder back in the CEOs office after a "professional" manager doesn't work out.

From the piece:

    Boston venture capitalist Jeffrey Bussgang, a former entrepreneur, says firing the chief executive is the "only tool in the toolbox" for investors when a company hits a rough patch. Asked whether he's kidding, he says he's half-serious. "Ultimately, the real core of the board's job is oversight, and that includes hiring, evaluating, compensating, and, if necessary, firing the CEO."

    Of the latest crop of initial public offerings of Massachusetts tech and biotech companies, the majority had founders or cofounders as CEOs. Could it be that hired guns are quicker to sell a company, rather than continue to grow it?

The video is from a chat I had with Akamai Technologies co-founder Jonathan Seelig at last week's panel at the Vilna Shul.

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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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Monday, January 7, 2008

The Bostonians behind BigThink, and a possible CNet takeover

The NY Times has two pieces of interest this morning...

- Former Harvard president Larry Summers and Nantucket Nectars co-founder Tom Scott are two of the investors backing BigThink, a new site that offers videos from well-known thinkers on topics like faith, truth and justice, and policy and politics. From the Times story:

    “I’ve had the general view that there is a hunger for people my age looking for more intellectual content,” said Mr. Summers, who resigned as Harvard president in 2006 after making controversial comments about the lack of women in science and engineering. “I saw it as president of Harvard when I saw C.E.O.’s come up to my wife and want to discuss Hawthorne.” (His wife, Elisa New, is a professor of English at Harvard).

    ...“I tend to follow my own curiosities, and I know millions of people are like me,” said Mr. Scott. “I’m into this kind of thing. I do think there is a market for this.”

- And Boston VC firm Spark Capital is involved in an effort to take over San Francisco-based CNet Networks. From that piece:

    The proxy fight is expected to shake up CNet, whose shares have underperformed the market and its competitors, leaving investors with a 19 percent loss over the last three years while other Internet-related companies grew. Over the same three-year period, the Interactive Week Internet Index rose 32 percent.

    Wall Street analysts have not looked favorably upon CNet, either: only two of the 18 analysts that follow the company have buy ratings on its shares, according to Bloomberg.

The article says that Spark partner Santo Politi will likely be nominated to join the board of CNet.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Sunday's Globe column: Stonebraker, StreamBase, and Vertica

Yesterday's Globe column focuses on two start-ups created in pretty quick succession by database guru Mike Stonebraker; both were funded by the same two VC firms, Bessemer Venture Partners and Highland Capital Partners. The video is an interview with Chris Risley, who is the second CEO that StreamBase Systems has had -- he succeeded Barry Morris late this summer.

My favorite quote from the column comes from Risley, who says, "Stonebraker works best a fair distance from the enterprise." Don't we all know people like that?

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Peermeta Lands Ricotta as CEO

Acton-based Peermeta, founded by Cheng Wu and funded by Sigma and Kepha Partners, is starting to say a bit more about what they're up to...and today, they announced that they've hired IBM and Cisco veteran Jim Ricotta as CEO.

Here's their company description:

    Peermeta is a pioneer in Web 2.x enabled software platforms for intelligent end points utilizing mobile broadband infrastructure. Peermeta provides a method for tapping into the breadth of distributed heterogeneous content, extending control over consumable content to users for personalization and sharing among social networks, and closing the capability gap between today's fixed and mobile networks. The result is enhanced end-user experiences, mainstream adoption of mobile media and greater productivity in our daily lives.

That's what I need: greater productivity in my daily life!

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mid-week links: Convoq closing, Alliance for Open Competition, O Beverages

A couple Wednesday links...

- When I ran into Chris Herot at the Tech Crunch party last month, he told me he was hoping to sell the collaboration company he co-founded, Convoq. It looks like a sale didn't come together, and Chris has posted some reflections on his blog about the five years he invested in trying to get the start-up off the ground. It's thoughtful writing -- and worthy reading.

- Spark Capital and Bijan Sabet are creating a new group, The Alliance for Open Competition to advocate for eliminating non-compete causes in Massachusetts. They're looking for people to sign on in support of the campaign.

- Xconomy reports on a new start-up from Highland Capital Partners' Consumer Fund, O Beverages. The founder is Tom First, one of the two Toms from Nantucket Nectars. O sounds like a new twist on Vitamin Water, which Coke bought for $4 billion earlier this year.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Stem Cell Start-Up Fate Gets $12 Million

Fate Therapeutics hopes to use stem cells to fix damaged tissue; the start-up just received $12 million in A round funding from ARCH Venture Partners, Polaris Venture Partners, Venrock, and OVP Venture Partners. The company's scientific founders hail from the University of Washington, Harvard, Stanford, and the Scripps Research Institute.

Fate says it'll have offices in both Massachusetts and Washington (the company was incubated in the Seattle offices of ARCH), but until a CEO is hired, they won't have a decision about where the HQ will be.

From the Seattle Times coverage:

    In Seattle "we're able to attract money to great ideas," [ARCH founding partner Robert] Nelsen said. "The hardest thing is finding the right team and the right CEOs."

    Fate will work on drugs that cause dormant adult stem cells to rebuild damaged tissue, as well as drugs that reprogram mature adult cells into stem cells that can repair ailing organs.

    The therapies could help treat Down syndrome, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, as well as repair tissue after heart attacks, infections or transplants. Stem cells could also help fight certain types of cancer.

Mass High Tech adds:

    The firm aims to develop chemical-based, or small molecule, drugs intended to "awaken" stem cells in the body to combat diseases and regenerate tissue. Its other molecules would reprogram adult cells to an embryonic state. None of the firm's treatments would be derived from embryonic stem cells, the company says.

    Other local notables involved in Fate Therapeutics include Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors Robert Langer and Ram Sasisekharan, both of whom serve on the firm's scientific advisory board.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pop Quiz: How Many of Y Combinator's Latest Start-Ups Got Funding from Boston VCs?

I was chatting this afternoon with Y Combinator co-founder and big thinker Paul Graham this afternoon, for my Sunday Globe column.

Y Combinator runs two three-month-long workshops each year for start-ups, one in Palo Alto in the winter and one in Cambridge in the summer. The firm also makes small investments, usually less than $20K, in the start-ups that it selects for these workshops. At the end of each workshop, they hold a Demo Day, where the entrepreneurs show their prototypes to a group of VCs and established entrepreneurs.

I'd been hearing rumors this fall that Y Combinator might stop doing its summer Cambridge workshop. But Graham told me that isn't happening. Rather, this year, they took the Cambridge class of start-ups to do a second demo session in Silicon Valley, a few days after they'd presented locally. (Interestingly, they don't ship the Palo Alto entrepreneurs out east for a second show-and-tell day.) That seemed to solve a problem Graham had noticed, which was that the East Coast group weren't getting as much funding action as the Palo Alto crew.

So what were the results of this first-year experiment with taking the East Coast cohort for a West Coast field trip? Graham says that not one of the 19 start-ups from the summer workshop has yet been funded by an investor in the Northeast. But about half got funding from an investor in Silicon Valley.

What's the meaning of that? You be the judge...

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sunday's Globe column: Social Networking Goes to the Dogs

I'm traveling this week, so a bit slow to post the link to last Sunday's Globe column. It focuses on two Boston companies working on intelligent, wearable tags -- one for humans, and one for dogs.

From the piece:

    Entrepreneurs of every breed need to make a clean break with reality; their job is to imagine a product or service that doesn't yet exist and that fills a need none of us knew we had. Ideas that seem slightly crazy at first - Bluetooth headsets, anyone? - can become commonplace in just a few years. Or they end up as one more crazy concept that didn't fly.

    SNIF [Labs] is the second local start-up to introduce wearable tags for information exchange. Charlestown-based nTag Interactive has raised $14 million to market smart name tags that enable conference-goers to swap contact information, peruse the day's agenda, play ice-breaker games, or respond to a speaker's survey question.

    Both companies trace their genealogy to the MIT Media Lab. In 1995, the lab was organizing a party to mark the launch of a research initiative, called Things That Think. The objective was to explore what might happen when computers were embedded into all sorts of objects.

And here's the video ... a short conversation with SNIF Labs CEO Noah Paessel:

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Friday, November 9, 2007

Future Forward 07: Some rough notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

This Week's Meanderings -- So Far

I was at Web Innovator's Group last night .... big crowd, as usual ... really surprising how many of the folks who get up to explain their companies can't do it in a way that is either:

    A) comprehensible, or

    B) enthusiastic

(That applies mostly to the "Side Dish" ancillary presenters, not the "Main Dish" demo-ers.)

My favorite concept of the evening was, a site that makes it easy for anyone to create an online store containing an inventory of items they like. It looks like it's much easier to build a "Lemonade stand" than it is to set up an account with's affiliate program, which allows you to sell Amazon products. And many retailers still aren't hip to the idea of affiliates, so there's big potential for Lemonade to develop a big base of affiliates, and bring new retailers on board. Affiliates get paid a commission on any sales they generate, and can also earn bigger "bounties," for instance when they deliver a new customer to a company like AT&T. (The whole concept harkens back a bit to BeFree, one of the Web's first third-party operators of affiliate programs. But that was Web 1.0.)

The favorite entrepreneur of the night was Steven Bao. Bao is a sophomore at Wellesley High School who has created Student Concourse, a site that helps students manage all the school assignments they're working on, and collaborate with their classmates. He got a warm round of applause when he got up to explain what he's doing, and afterward, at his demo table, he was fielding questions like a pro. (Carolyn Johnson included Bao in this Globe story about young entrepreneurs.)

This morning, the Globe held one of its occasional small business breakfasts. We heard some great war stories from Rich Doyle, co-founder of Harpoon Brewery (in their early days, they decided to self-distribute, since no distributor wanted to carry their product) and Ian Lane Davis, founder of Mad Doc Software. Ian is the sole owner of the company ... which never took venture capital funding ... and today has 100 employees. He mentioned that they're now working on a version of "Bully" for the Xbox 360, a game originally developed by Rockstar Games, and several other projects he couldn't talk about.

Tomorrow is Future Forward in Weston. I'm told it's sold-out this year, and that there's a pretty substantial waiting list, so it should be a fun day...

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Desktone fills out the team

I'm out in San Diego this week for a conference, and I bumped into Paul Gaffney, the former CIO at Staples. Paul is now COO at Desktone, a start-up developing "virtual desktop" technology.

BBJ has a piece today about several executive hires at Desktone, which is funded by Highland Capital and Softbank.

The company is starting to look like a sequel of Softricity, a start-up acquired by Microsoft last year. Same CEO (Harry Ruda), same head of bizdev (Les Yetton). Plus, Jeff Fisher and Julian Weinstock.

One thing that's different: the VC backers.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Stealthy helmet-making start-up comes out

Big story on the front page of today's New York Times about Xenith LLC, a start-up company in Boston that has designed a new kind of football helmet that could be especially effective at preventing concussions. "Studies have found that 10 to 50 percent of high school players each season sustain concussions, whose effects can range from persistent memory problems and depression to coma and death," according to the article.

The price of the new helmet will be around $350, more than twice the cost of current helmets. But the initial target market will be individual parents who want to protect their kids, rather than selling a couple dozen to a high school or college team ... an interesting approach.

Company Web site is here. They've raised $10 million in venture capital, most of it from Dan Gilbert, the chairman and founder of Quicken Loans, and the majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA team.

On the company's board are John Duerden, formerly president and COO of Reebok; former Harvard athletic director Bill Cleary; and former Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti. On the management team are veterans of Puma and Burton Snowboards.

Xenith was founded in 2004 by Vincent Ferrara, a former Harvard quarterback. He wasted no time: 2004 was also the year that Ferrara graduated from Columbia's business and med schools.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

This week's Globe column: A mash-up of Amazon and Second Life

Yesterday's Globe column focused on an e-commerce start-up called Kinset, co-founded by serial entrepreneur John Butler.
From the opening:

    John Butler is trying to introduce true browsing to the online shopping experience, blending the innovations of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos with the old-school merchandising of R.H. Macy.

    Butler is the founder and chief executive of Kinset Inc., a Marlborough start-up that plans to launch its first online stores this week. Kinset's stores combine e-commerce with the kind of visually rich, three-dimensional environment that has been made popular by the virtual world Second Life and such videogames as World of Warcraft, but that would feel familiar to a conventional department store shopper.

    In November, Brookstone will launch a Kinset store that will allow shoppers to roam virtual aisles in search of the perfect holiday gift. And Canton-based Tweeter, the consumer electronics chain, could have one online in time for the Su per Bowl, when buyers tend to hunt for new TVs.

For those who appreciate historical allusions, RH Macy ran a dry goods store in Haverhill, MA (called the Haverhill Cheap Store), and even sponsored a parade in the town, before he moved to New York to start the shop that became Macy's. Interestingly, Macy was a die-hard entrepreneur: he failed four times before opening his store in Herald Square. More on that here.

Here's the video for this week's column -- a chat with John Butler at the Newton Marriott, and a demo of the software. You can also now check out their two demo stores, BunchBooks and 'lectroTown, on the Kinset site. (Assuming you have a Windows PC.)

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What's Andora Up To?

Bob Langer's lab at MIT seems to be going through a particularly fertile period -- I heard tonight that two Langer Lab companies are currently out talking to VCs.

Ryan McBride of Mass High Tech had a fun piece last Friday about another recent Langer Lab spin-out, Andora, basically speculating about what they may be up to. The company raised $4 million earlier in the year.

Andora (no Web site yet) is in Kendall Square, and were until recently was cohabitating with Tempo Pharmaceuticals, another Polaris-backed start-up. Avid surfer Amir Nashat is running the company. Oddly, Jon Flint from Polaris, not usually a life sciences investor, is on the board.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sunday's Globe column: Brightcove and Maven, duking it out

Today's Globe column is about the competition -- and many connections -- between Brightcove and Maven Networks, two Cambridge companies angling to become the dominant tool for media companies that publish video on the Net. (Their offices are a stone's throw from one another in Kendall Square.) From the column:

    The story of Maven Networks and Brightcove, two companies that have helped shape the way media firms distribute video online, is one of unbridled competitiveness: two entrepreneurs who were once on the same team now duking it out.

    Brightcove, by virtue of having raised $82 million in funding, is one of the highest-profile tech start-ups in Boston (Maven has banked $27 million). The big question is which one will wind up with the sweetest finish - either an acquisition by a big player like Microsoft or Google, or a public offering.

I actually had included Adobe in that list, as a potential acquirer, but it got snipped during editing. (Macromedia, now part of Adobe, acquired the first company that Brightcove founder Jeremy Allaire started, Allaire Corp.)

A few other interesting notes on possible exits: when Comcast bought thePlatform last year, they paid between $100 and $125 million, according to several sources. So that's the one valuation we know about in the enterprise video-publishing space. On the consumer side, we know about YouTube ($1.65 billion), and Sony's acquisition of Grouper ($65 million). (We sort of know about Vimeo, a video publishing site started as part of CollegeHumor, which Barry Diller's IAC acquired last year for a reported $20 million.)

YouTube received a grand total of $11.5 million in venture funding before it was acquired by Google. It starts to make it look as though Brightcove's backers ($82 million) may find it tough to make a 3x, 4x, 5x return. But we'll see. One intriguing possibility would be combining the two companies, since Accel Partners and General Catalyst are investors in both. Of course, they'd then confront Sophie's Choice, since I'm sure that Maven CEO Hilmi Ozguc and Allaire would never work together.

John Simon, the General Catalyst partner who sits on the board of Maven (his firm is also an investor in Brightcove), wouldn't talk to me by phone. But he sort of answered a couple questions via e-mail. I asked what he thought the benefit was of being an investor in both companies. He wrote that the "two companies ... show every sign of delighting customers, employees, and stakeholders and being very significant venture capital winners at this point," adding, "[T]hese are two companies we can really be proud of."

Here's this week's video.... an interview with Jeremy Allaire, published using (what else) Brightcove.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Online Invite Site Gets Funding from Intel, Angels is an online invitation site that is trying to best by adding scads of new features, like one that helps a large group of people hone in on a mutually-agreeable date for a party.

This morning, co-founder Matt Douglas e-mails to let me know that the company has just landed some seed funding from Intel Capital and New Hampshire-based eCoast Angels. Company is based in scenic Natick, MA.

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Adobe, Google Grab Local Start-Ups

Two small Boston-area start-ups have been adopted by California parents: Adobe and Google.

Zingku runs a mobile social networking service; originally known as Bloobird Studio and funded by Flagship Ventures, the company's founders include Martin Fahey (formerly CEO at WebHire), Mussie Shore, and Sami Shalabi. (All three are Lotus Development Corp. alums.) Google acquired Zingku late last month, but didn't announce the purchase price.

From the PC World story:

    Zingku aims to make it easier for people to share photos, send invitations or conduct polls among friends via mobile phone. It also provides a way for businesses to send "mobile flyers" to customers advertising products and services.

    Zingku was started in 2005 and the service has been in testing with a limited number of users in the U.S. New account sign-ups have been frozen following Google's acquisition, according to Zingku's Web site. Existing accounts will be transferred to Google unless they are cancelled by Oct. 4.

    Detailed terms of the acquisition weren't provided and Google didn't return calls seeking comment. The company has confirmed that it bought "certain assets and technology of Zingku," according to the Google Operating System blog, which first reported the deal, and is not owned by Google.

And Waltham-based Virtual Ubiquity has been acquired by Adobe, also for an undisclosed amount. Virtual Ubiquity makes the Web-based word processor Buzzword. The company received some funding from Adobe's venture capital arm last year. This sets Adobe up to compete with Google in the battle for users of Web-based writing tools. (Tim O'Reilly says that Buzzword is superior to Google Docs.) Virtual Ubiquity's CEO was another Lotus alum, Rick Treitman. Here's the announcement from the company's blog.

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Monday, October 1, 2007

Wireless charging: Please get here soon...and with a single standard

The day before I finished this Globe column about the prospects for wireless charging pads, I had one of those fun experiences where both my cell phone and laptop ran out of power while I was up in New Hampshire, and I'd stupidly left both chargers elsewhere. What's great about the concept of charging pads built into cars, hotel room desks, and airplane tray tables is that they'd let you charge devices without toting along their myriad power adapters. But the danger is that we might wind up with warring standards -- one charging pad might not juice a certain brand of phone, for instance.

Here's the gist of the column:

    Wireless power transfer is the next new frontier for the consumer electronics industry, and unlike a 47.3 megapixel digital camera or a combination cellphone/pepper grinder, it's something that consumers actually want. And several years after companies like Splashpower Ltd. of Britain began demonstrating charging pads, big electronics companies are starting to show interest in helping bring the technology to market.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Instead of Going Public, Adnexus Shacks Up with Bristol-Myers Squibb

Bristol-Meyers Squibb is paying $430 million in cash for Waltham-based Adnexus Therapeutics, which filed an S-1 statement just last month. The company planned to raise $86 million in an IPO, on top of $76 million it had already raised in VC money.

We included them earlier this year on our list of the ten most-promising New England life sciences start-ups, in the second edition of The Convergence Guide. (The list was compiled by Steven Dickman of CBT Advisors.)

From the AP report:

    The companies said the acquisition of Adnexus will help advance Bristol-Myers's role in biologics and includes an early stage trial for cancer treatment candidate Angiocept. Angiocept is designed to be a so-called anti-angiogenic drug, or one that tries to stop cancerous tumors from developing new blood vessels.

    The deal "is an important step in accelerating the strategic transformation of our pharmaceutical business to a biopharma business model," said Bristol-Myers Squibb Chief Executive Jim Cornelius, in a statement.

Among the local VC firms that backed Adnexus are Polaris Venture Partners, Atlas Venture, and Flagship Ventures. The company did a Series C round of $15.5 million just before filing for its IPO.

Update: Tuesday's Globe has the full story.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Vanu, Inc. in the NY Times

Michael Fitzgerald has a nice profile of Vanu, Inc., the Cambridge company run by Vanu Bose (son of Dr. Amar Bose), in today's NY Times. He writes:

    Most of us don’t think of our cellphones as radios, but they are. Any wireless device uses a radio. Figuring out a way to operate the radio with software has obvious potential advantages: for one, it’s easier and cheaper to upgrade software than it is to send field technicians to cellular towers to add components. And a software-based radio — the industry calls it software-defined radio — could handle multiple cellular signals at the same time, the way a computer can run a browser, a word processor and a spreadsheet all at once.

    So, in theory, letting cellular companies accommodate new spectrum or technologies by doing software upgrades could expand coverage and services while possibly reducing what we pay for them.

Vanu raised a $8 million "angel" round in July.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mini-Printer Co. Gets $25 Million

Zink stands for "zero ink," and the company is developing technology for tiny portable color printers, which would work with handheld devices and phones. It is run by Polaroid alum Wendy Frey Caswell, and the technology came out of Polaroid's R&D labs. Zink plans to manufacture the special paper required for its printers, and have other electronics companies make the printers.

Sharp guy Dan Primack e-mails to let me know that Zink just closed a $25 million VC round -- about a year after a $70 million round led by Polaris fell apart. His blog post is here. Will Polaris one day regret passing? We'll see....

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

LocaModa Scoops Up $6.1 Million from DACE

I'm at a conference in New York this week, and yesterday one of the moderators was using Wiffiti to allow audience members to post comments or questions by sending text messages from their cell phones; they appeared on a big screen behind the stage. Turns out that Wiffiti's creator, Somerville-based LocaModa, just raised $6.1 million from DACE Ventures, the new VC firm run by David Andonian and Jon Chait. (Two other investors participated in the round, LocaModa's Series A.) Not sure if this is DACE's first investment, but it's certainly among the first.

LocaModa also has some interesting ideas about "the Web outside" -- basically, screens in public places that people can interact with using their cell phones.

Here's the PEHub item on the funding, the very Spartan DACE Web site, and LocaModa's site.

Joining DACE are investors from India and Japan. LocaModa CEO Stephen Randall writes via e-mail, "LocaModa's business is now better placed to not only grow in [the] USA but also in Asian markets, where the usage of the mobile phone is often a user’s primary interactive device."

In July, Randall was carping about the cluelessness of Boston VCs in my Globe column. Maybe this has changed his mind?

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Why OnForce is Moving to Boston

I ran into someone yesterday who mentioned that OnForce, a NYC start-up backed by General Catalyst, is in the process of moving from New York to Boston.

OnForce is basically an online marketplace for short-term technical gigs, like installing a bunch of new desktops, diagnosing printer problems, or setting up videoconferencing systems. The company's CEO, Peter Cannone, e-mailed me today, and the first thing I asked was, what's behind your decision to move to Boston?

Here's what he said:

    As we continue to build out the Company the biggest and most important short term need we have is highly skilled developers/engineers as well as product design and development folks. It was very difficult to find these folks in New York City. When we assessed a new location for our Company we thought Silicon Valley, Austin, Texas or Boston, MA. Boston MA was the clear choice for us. We have already hired some very talented folks up in Boston including a CTO and a Director of Product Development. Many of these folks are working in temporary space in Cambridge. As a validation of the decision one of my Board Members Marty Abbott previous CTO of EBAY who is very knowledgeable about locations of marketplace companies like OnForce was very supportive of the Boston move. Having [General Catalyst] close by also makes available additional resources which we can take advantage of. They are great VC firm. We will be opening the office in Lexington MA in early October and hopefully transitioning most of our employees from NYC by year end.

There you have it.

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Let's Fix What's Not Working

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let's start working, shall we?

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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Today's Globe column: Why Facebook Went West

Ever since I moved back to Boston from San Francisco, I've been wondering about the story behind why Facebook was started at Harvard but has been based in Palo Alto, CA ever since the summer of 2004. So that's the topic of today's Globe column. Here's the opener:

    In April of 2004, two Harvard undergrads walked into the Charles Hotel for a meeting with a venture capitalist. What happened next either highlights Boston's deficiencies as a greenhouse for a new generation of Web start-ups, or illustrates the incredible magnetism of Silicon Valley - or a bit of both.

I didn't get to talk with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for the piece, unfortunately, but pretty much everyone I spoke to said that he had his heart set on going to Silicon Valley for the summer after his sophomore year. (I do believe that for aspiring techies, Silicon Valley exerts a powerful pull the way Hollywood does for aspiring actors.) Scott Tobin of Battery Ventures, the one VC firm I could find that was aware of Facebook in early 2004, wrote in an e-mail:

    Zuckerberg was into going out to Palo Alto for the summer if I remember correctly, however it’s impossible to tell if whether he had influential advisors in NY or Boston working with him & suggesting to him that Boston was his place – that he would have considered doing so.

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and the first investor in Facebook, said:

    I think there was a sense that it made sense to start an Internet company from California. It was seen as a friendlier environment. It is really amazing that people in Boston missed out on it, even though it was a very risky deal, with lots of open questions.

David Sze, a partner at Greylock, said, "There is definitely an ecosystem advantage [in Silicon Valley]. There isn't a history for consumer Internet on the east coast, and I think Mark sensed that and wanted to have every advantage."

I mention the large number of local companies now building Facebook apps in the story....while I don't want to try to be comprehensive here, there are apps from (just launched today - a nifty one that lets you spin an animated Globe and then answer travel trivia), Tourfilter, Fafarazzi, TripAdvisor, StyleFeeder, OurStage, Finetune, GoLoco, Geezeo, and

The video that accompanies this week's column is an interview with Stephen Kaufer, co-founder and CEO of TripAdvisor, a Web 2.0 company founded here in Boston that stayed. In it, he talks about raising money, building a team, and staying flexible enough to find a business model that would work. (TripAdvisor was acquired a few years back by InterActiveCorp for $200 million.)

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