Startup Profile: Xconomy
No sooner had Verizon connected our telephone lines than the phones began ringing off the hook. We dropped our Ikea wrenches to field calls from investors, attorneys, and underwriters. Then came the telemarketing blitz from insurance peddlers, payroll services, financing companies. There was even one slightly peeved call from a big law firm trying to track down its client (the previous holder of our main number), a well-known biotech firm. Hey Alnylam, update your lawyers.
In short, we’re a startup, just like a zillion others here in Kendall Square and the greater Cambridge/Boston area. Only our job, which starts with today’s debut, is to bring you news and insights about the multitude of entrepreneurs and high-tech startups around us—as well as about the big companies, university researchers, venture capitalists, angel investors, and all the others who come together to make this area such a remarkable nexus of business, technology, and innovation.
Ours is a grassroots endeavor, supported by some of the world’s great innovators and business leaders, most of them from our local community. These and a growing group of other experts and leaders from a wide variety of fields will help us keep our finger on the pulse of innovation in this vital area, in part by sharing their own thoughts in our Xconomist Forum.
Variety of perspective and coverage is central to our mission. We believe that you can best understand today’s high-tech economy by keeping your eye on the places where diverse people, technologies, organizations, expertise, and interests come together. Life sciences is made stronger by world-class information technology. Nanotechnology helps drive biotechnology, computing, and energy. And so on. The collaboration of—and friction between—academia and industry sparks profound changes in the way novel technologies are commercialized. The scope and scale of industrial giants like Novartis, Biogen, Pfizer, Microsoft, IBM, and EMC are even greater assets when combined with (or pitted against) the nimbleness and drive typical of startups. The interactions of venture capitalists, angel investors, professors, students, lawyers, consultants, accountants, legislators, consumers–all these forces and interests come together in different ways to spur or hinder technological creativity and economic growth.
As we’ve presented our vision to hundreds of people, both in meetings with our advisors and on scores of sales and fund-raising calls, we’ve been buoyed by the enthusiasm we’ve seen for a new type of media outlet devoted to the business of innovation and technology in the greater Boston area. But we’ve also been struck by a powerful, even overriding, feeling shared by many people, that while the region gives rise to a tremendous amount of innovation, its full potential is far from being met.
A particular concern is how Boston is doing compared to the West Coast—Silicon Valley, yes, but also other areas, such as Southern California, which has now surpassed Boston on some yardsticks of innovation. Time and time again, we heard questions about why there haven’t been more billion-dollar companies created here. Many business and technology leaders have pointed a finger at the local venture community, which they fear has developed an aversion to risk, visible in its diminished funding of the seed deals that might improve the odds of spawning a homegrown Google or Yahoo. We’ve listened to grave tales of how young entrepreneurs trained at MIT or Harvard have gone west for funding, taking their ideas and startups with them.
Along with that somewhat gloomy view, though, we’ve also encountered a strong belief that the tide can be turned. The sense that a venture like Xconomy can help, by both showcasing and challenging the local innovation community, and by bringing together people and ideas from different fields to foster new types of collaboration, explains why so many are so generously supporting our endeavor.
I began shaping the idea of Xconomy a year ago, along with my colleague Rebecca Zacks, the company’s cofounder and our executive editor. We spent months studying the media market, researching competitive trends, and just talking with lots of great people whom we mined for ideas to help shape our business plan and strategy. In January, we had honed the concept enough that I began floating the idea to various innovators and leaders, trying to build a base of support in the business and technology community. One of my first e-mails, on January 9, went to Phil Sharp, a Nobel Prize-winner and cofounder of Biogen and Alnylam (whose number we coincidentally inherited). In part, my e-mail went like this:
“I am planning to launch a blog this spring dedicated to covering the business of Kendall Square, which I am defining as MIT, Harvard, and all the labs and spinoffs, startup firms, and big companies concentrated around here.…If it all works out, I will expand to other key high-tech clusters around the country.”
Phil’s reply was brief and to the point, but indicative of the reception we have gotten from many others.
“Bob, This sounds interesting.…In principle, I am over committed and am reluctant to take on new responsibilities. Can we meet to discuss your plans.”
(Coming tomorrow in Part 2: VCs, BlackBerries, and ethics)