Of Red Wine, Robotics, and What Folks Would Do As Governor—Xconomy’s Forum Sparks Debate on the Future of Innovation in New England

I don’t know if the cold medicine was getting to me or what, but venture capitalist Michael Greeley was sounding awfully like a socialist for a minute there last night at the Xconomy Forum.

Greeley—a general partner at IDG Ventures, president of the New England Venture Capital Association, and an Xconomist—was moderating a spirited discussion on the future of innovation in New England. He had lit a fire under the tushes assembled in the MIT Media Lab’s Bartos Theatre by offering prizes for the most provocative question and for the most lively question. (The latter is a bit of an inside joke; I’ll explain in a bit.)

Taking the prize for most provocative—a Roomba generously donated by iRobot 
co-founder and chairman Helen Greiner, who was one of the panelists joining Greeley on stage—was a question from Cambridge Innovation Center cofounder Tim Rowe directed at each of the speakers. Noting that Tito Jackson, Industry Director of Information Technology at the Massachusetts Office of Business Development, was in the audience, Rowe asked, roughly: If you were the governor of Massachusetts, what you would do to spark innovation and address the fact that there aren’t more billion-dollar companies being formed in Massachusetts? (The billion-dollar-company issue was a central focus of last night’s discussion.)Helen Greiner and Frank Moss

Here’s where Greeley went momentarily pink on us, suggesting that the state should offer free housing for all graduates of Harvard, MIT, and the like. “It’s a tragedy that we educate these people and they leave,” he added. Of course, Greeley also said that as governor he’d take the capital gains tax to 0 percent, which was much more in line with what I’d expect from a VC, if a bit of an expansion of gubernatorial power.

Media Lab Director Frank Moss, another of last night’s panelists (and another Xconomist), went in the opposite direction on this question, though to similarly provocative effect. “I don’t think that the opportunities we have in front of us are going to be much influenced by government policy,” Moss said. What Moss advocated instead was, among other things, for the venture community to forge a new relationship with academia, getting involved with budding inventors and entrepreneurs by supporting them in some fashion while they are still students. With government and industry funding for basic research falling, Moss said, … Next Page »

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