Metcalfe Says Gore Is Back for Another Bubble, Fitton Likens Raising Angel Funding to Dating, Xconomy CEO Sings New England’s Praises (Literally), and More XSITE 2010 Highlights
Thanks to everyone who made it out to Babson College for the 2010 Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology, & Entrepreneurship! We had a great crowd, representing all slices of the innovation community here in New England. And we heard some new, off-the-cuff perspectives from some familiar faces, as well as talks from emerging companies and organizations that are making a splash in healthcare information technology, medicine, startup investing, personal computing, smart energy, and much more.
A top 10 list isn’t enough to capture all the highlights. So here are a dozen takeaways the Xconomy team has from the day, in no particular order.
—Everything I need to know about dating I learned from oneforty founder and CEO Laura Fitton at our Angel Tsunami panel, where she talked about the tribulations of raising early stage funding. “Angel investors are like dudes,” she said. That was a nod to the flakiness of investors who committed to giving her cash but then disappeared completely before the checks ever made it into her hands. Here’s another parallel between investors and boyfriends, she said: “An investor who’s interested in you will act really interested in you,” she says. So if he’s not calling you and is hard to get a hold of, he probably wants no part of the deal.
—Those at our State of New England Biotech keynote chat didn’t seem disturbed by the rash moves made by life sciences stockholders. “What we’ve learned at Alkermes is that volatility is very valuable. So people who buy our stock low have the opportunity to sell it high—again, again, and again,” said company CEO Richard Pops.
—The energy industry is experiencing a bubble just like Internet companies did—and it’s called global warming, our keynote speaker Bob Metcalfe said. How does he know? “Al Gore and I inflated the Internet bubble together, and he’s back,” says Metcalfe, the inventor of the Ethernet and a general partner at Polaris Venture Partners. He also said solving the energy crisis won’t reduce the amount of energy consumed: “We are going to be using more energy, clean and cheap energy in squanderable abundance, if the Internet is any guide.”
—Xconomy CEO Bob Buderi sang a song to the tune of Adam’s Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song” on how the New England innovation ecosystem stacks up with the Bay Area. He also played his guitar. None of us who helped plan the event knew this would be happening. I think that’s all I have to say about that.
—The robotics field has experienced exponential growth in the last 20-plus years, thanks to advances in sensors, hardware, and software. But don’t worry, R2-D2 won’t be taking your job anytime soon. “Robots are assistants to people, not taking over for people. That’s where the trend is right now,” said Heartland Robotics founder Rod Brooks. (Earlier this month, I wrote about one company, Harvest Automation, that’s making robots designed to assist workers in the field of agriculture).
—Sometimes it’s great for a company not to be noticed by its customers. At least that’s what John Chuang, founder and CEO of Litl, thinks. His goal is for his company’s “Webbook” computers to work so smoothly and seamlessly that consumers don’t have to look back at the company behind them. “We feel that we’re most doing our job when you have a clean experience,” he says. “If you’re thinking about us, that’s really bad.”
—Keynote speaker Peter Diamandis talked us through why a competition is a great avenue for pushing entrepreneurs and researchers to innovate at a faster pace than previously thought possible. He founded the X Prize Foundation to encourage just that. He also said entrepreneurs can’t be stuck in the present, and must always think a few years ahead: “If you’re an entrepreneur and your company isn’t based on technology that will be available five years from now—if it’s based on technology available today—you’re dead.”
—The afternoon venture investor panel talked about the emerging challenges and breakthroughs associated with putting money into startups. Many in the industry have debated whether initial public offerings will make a comeback as an exit for venture investors, but Dana Callow, managing general partner of Boston Millennia Partners, seemed to think there could be better options for investors in acquisitions and partnerships. “I don’t want to take things public,” he said. “I think the venture capital community can do very well by embracing the corporate world.”
—We revealed a little-known secret in the Boston area, at our IT breakout session: the region is home to an all-star cast of software companies in the architecture, engineering, construction, and product design markets. They’re all pushing each other to innovate faster and cheaper and regularly introduce new features to their products. The technology is also making it easier for regular people outside of those professions to try their hand at computer-aided design.
—Presenters at our health IT breakout session said the medical industry has missed the mark. “People go into medicine to help people, and we’ve turned them into minute-by-minute money grubbers,” said John Moore of the New Media Medicine project at the MIT Media Lab. “The real solution is getting rid of fee-for-service and to move toward a patient-centric model that allows doctors to care for patients.”
—The smart energy breakout panel raised some issues that the field has in common with health IT. Namely, how to get widespread adoption from consumers. Phil Adams, the president and chief operating officer of World Energy, said Americans need to “wake up,” and that “energy is a different animal” from software, in terms of how much work it takes to acquire customers. Bob LeFort, the CEO of Ember, said energy companies can take lessons from the telecom and mobile industry in marketing new features and products. “We have to make it easy and fun for people to take advantage of these things,” he said.
—The good old iPad pulled through in our end-of-day Xpo. Wade used his favorite gadget as an applause-o-meter (yes, there’s an app for that), to determine which of the four companies in each track—life sciences, IT, cleantech/energy—was the audience favorite. The life sciences winner was medicine authentication company Sproxil. Marginize, a TechStars company that lets consumers see what people are saying about the websites they’re visiting, took the IT crown. And lastly, the audience cheered its way to proclaiming Promethean Power Systems, a maker of solar-powered refrigerators, the winner of the cleantech/energy track. Thanks to all the Xpo companies for presenting.