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

6/21/10Follow @gthuang

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 »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://www.bostonworldpartnerships.com Mark Maloney

    Welcome home. Greater Boston is delighted that you are back.

    You mentioned the problem that some people encounter “breaking in”, so I thought I should tell you about a unique program that helps entrepreneurs do just that.

    Mayor Menino and State Economic Development Secretary Gregory Bialeki are part of a dynamic team (The Board of Boston World Partnerships, Inc.) that markets Greater Boston by breaking barriers for a 175 member civic saleforce that returns the favor by providing information and connections about economic opportunities that should be nutured.

    No City, no Region in the world, is offering such a program. But, as a returning citizen you probably aren’t surprised.

    Again, welcome home, and let us know if we can help you break barriers to your succees.

    Sincerely,

    Mark Maloney, President,
    Boston World Partnerships, Inc.

  • http://www.entovation.com Debra Amidon

    Indeed, WELCOME home, Greg!

    I’ve stayed close to home most of my life; but have done a fair amount of traveling to other countries. The innovation agenda is blossoming in some unexpected corners of the globe; and our E100 Network – now 180+ across 67 countries – is ready to extend the global reach of our community.

    I’ve been proud of our roots – and for many of the reasons you reference. Now is the time to strengthen and showcase our *GlobalCommonwealth*.

    Let us create some alignment…

    Debra M. Amidon, Founder
    ENTOVATION International Ltd.
    http://www.entovation.com

  • http://www.getzazu.com Aaron Gerry

    Hi Gregory,

    Welcome (back) to Boston! Great article; you highlight some of the major pain points that have been associated with the ecosystem — although there has been tremendous progress in the past year on all fronts.

    As a student at Northeastern University, and the President of the E-Club, I am passionate about helping to foster collaboration amongst students on campus and amongst all Boston/Cambridge/MA schools. There are several initiatives and collaborative projects currently in the works to help get more students together and introduce them to the startup scene.

    Glad to have you as a new addition to Boston and looking forward to getting to know you better!

    Best,

    - Aaron

  • http://blog.bos.genotrope.com/ Tom Summit

    Gregory,

    Sorry this is a late comment, but I was out of town.

    Some other markets where the Boston area has a thriving cluster would be Internet Marketing and Web Analytics.

  • http://www.lifeonashirt.com Jana Eggers

    Gregory,

    While my heart is in Boston, I’m in Europe most often now. Europe doesn’t know much about Boston. I rarely find anyone who can name a tech company who is from Boston. It pains me. We do have a lot to offer. Glad to have you here, promoting and support what is going on in Boston tech. And I completely agree… we are hardy and thrive on adversity.

    Welcome back!
    Jana

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/ghuang/ Gregory T. Huang

    All,
    Thanks for the kind welcome and good information. I’m looking forward to getting to know all of you, and telling the most interesting stories of innovation from the ground in Boston and beyond. Go Sox,

    Greg