You Can Go Home Again: Five Themes to Watch in the Boston Innovation Scene

Sometimes you have to leave a place in order to really appreciate it. That’s not the case for me and Boston. I’ve always loved this area—but coming home after a two-year stint away makes for a nice opportunity to put my appreciation down in words. So, as the incoming Editor of Xconomy Boston, I hope you’ll indulge me in a quick tour of some thoughts on the local innovation community and culture.

My family has roots here. I was born in Arlington, MA, moved away to the Midwest as a kid, and came back to Boston for grad school at MIT. I spent 16 years of my adult life in this fair city. For the past two years, I’ve been out in Seattle reporting on the technology scene and co-leading Xconomy’s office there. Now I’m coming back to Boston to do something similar here. It’s a great opportunity, and I’m really looking forward to it—especially since I’m bringing some outside perspective back with me, which I think will be valuable.

I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic, and think back to when I was first getting to know this city in 1990. I remember when the Red Sox had losing seasons, and the Patriots were 1-15. I remember Larry Bird’s last playoff game, and when “Beat L.A.” meant something different. I remember when Tom Menino wasn’t mayor, and the Big Dig hadn’t even started yet (now that’s saying something).

Certainly a lot has changed in 20 years. What hasn’t changed, I think, is the spirit of innovation around New England, rooted in its long, proud history and traditions. No doubt my Boston colleagues would agree that, if anything, that spirit has gotten stronger—especially in the past couple of years.

With that in mind, here are five general themes I’m intent on exploring as I hit the ground running here. They have to do with the culture of Boston-area entrepreneurs and investors; the top challenges and opportunities for young startups; and the impact of big companies and universities on local innovation.

1. Does the startup ecosystem properly reward risk-taking?

Last fall, Brad Feld, the venture capitalist from Foundry Group and TechStars, said he thought the Boston tech community had “a massive chip on its shoulder.” That’s because this region, once the undisputed technology leader with its venerable Route 128 companies (even well into the ’90s), fell behind Silicon Valley, he said. And I’ve heard others say the New England tech scene has a bit of an inferiority complex as compared to the Valley (who doesn’t?). The question is, what is being done about this?

From what I can tell, Boston tech startup culture has been changing for the better as of late. Anecdotal stories suggest this community is more conducive to risk-taking than some other areas of the country. In other words, failure is tolerated by investors (as long as an entrepreneur failed … Next Page »

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] Follow @gthuang

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