Microsoft Hires Eons CTO to Start Lab Next Door to MIT

9/22/07Follow @bbuderi

Microsoft has hired Eons chief technology officer and local software legend Reed Sturtevant to head a new development lab and innovation group that is expected to set up shop next door to the MIT campus.

“That’s true,” said Sturtevant when I asked him about the lab in a telephone conversation this evening. “It’s starting Monday with me.” Sturtevant says he was personally recruited by Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie and Ozzie’s brother Jack, who also works at Microsoft. He’s known both since their days at Lotus together in the 1980s.

I’d been hearing rumors about Sturtevant’s planned move for a few days now, in bits and pieces. Sturtevant, who helped launch Lotus’s first Internet products and served as the Boston face of famed dot-com incubator Idealab (in addition to launching several of his own entrepreneurial endeavors), says that even he doesn’t know many of the specifics of the Microsoft gig yet. “It’s a new development group, and we’re really going to work out the details as we get started,” he says. “At this point it’s wide open. So all I’ll say is the intention is to try new ways to innovate and bring some fun products to market.”

The lab is eventually expected to take root at One Memorial Drive in Cambridge, a 17-story luxury office tower overlooking the Charles River. Microsoft has recently leased about half of the building. Employees in the company’s SoftGrid unit (the new name for Softricity, a Boston company acquired last year) plan to move into about a quarter of that space this week.

Sturtevant says it will be a while before his group sets up shop there, though. “At least in the beginning my plan is to be a little bit mobile,” he says. “I’ll probably spend a bunch of time out in Redmond.” That way, Sturtevant says, he can consult directly with Microsoft colleagues, most notably Ray and Jack Ozzie. “Ray has been my main contact out there, but I will be reporting to Jack,” Sturtevant says.

Sturtevant’s move to Microsoft will likely be seen as a further blow to Boston-based Eons, an Internet site for people over 50, which recently laid off a third of its staff. It also could signal the opening of yet another front in the Microsoft-Google wars. Earlier this year, Google launched its own research and development lab in Cambridge, just a few blocks away from the new Microsoft space in Kendall Square. A team there led by another local software legend, Rich Miner, may be working on the long-rumored Google mobile phone, according to a report several weeks ago in the Boston Globe.

The hiring of Sturtevant seems to be one piece of an ambitious plan for Microsoft’s Boston-area R&D expansion spearheaded by Ray Ozzie, who joined Microsoft in 2005, when the software titan bought his Beverly, MA-based company Groove Networks. The pace of our [R&D] growth has really picked up in the last couple of years,” Ted MacLean, Microsoft’s general manager for New England, told me in an interview last week. “It was underway before Ray got here…now we’ve got a chief Boston cheerleader in Seattle.”

Beyond Ozzie’s knowledge of the area and his belief in its potential, MacLean says there are several other reasons for the Boston R&D expansion. For starters, largely through acquisitions, Microsoft’s workforce in the area has gone from just shy of 200 employees two years ago to close to 600 today. In addition to Groove and Softricity, the company bought Desktop Standard of New Hampshire last year. “In the past we’d pick up those resources and assets and ship them to Redmond,” he says. “We’ve made a change in strategy to keep them here and continue to develop their products here.” That requires boosting R&D.

MacLean says that by expanding the number of R&D jobs in the Boston area, Microsoft also stands a better chance of retaining and attracting employees here, largely because it can offer a wider range of career opportunities in the area. “As you think about Massachusetts as a center of innovation, it’s important that there are jobs there, well paying jobs,” he says.

One Memorial Drive in Cambridge is destined to be the hub of a lot of this expansion. Microsoft has leased enough space to house up to 320 people, more than half its current workforce. “The number one attribute of that location that we want to be able to take advantage of is proximity to schools—principally MIT, but others as well,” MacLean says.

To pull off its ambitious plans, Microsoft will need a handful of well-known and respected leaders to manage R&D efforts, help attract talent, and build ties to the academic community. In that regard, Sturtevant seems a perfect choice. According to his Eons bio, he has been responsible for all of that company’s technology platform. Before joining Eons, Sturtevant served as managing director and VP of technology for Idealab, a prolific startup incubator founded in 1996 by entrepreneur and Caltech grad Bill Gross that in the heart of the dot-com boom times was launching a company a month. While still at Idealab, he became the founding CTO of several Idealab spinoffs, including Refer.com, Compete, Picasa, and Paythrough, and was also founding CEO of Newbury Networks, Pathspace, and Newbury Payments.

Chief Correspondent Wade Roush has assembled a detailed review of Sturtevant’s employment history.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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