10 Takeaways from MassTLC’s UnConference

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cut down on rent costs by eliminating unnecessary common space found in individual apartments, in addition to fostering innovation ‘round the clock. Meanwhile, participants in another session on Boston’s innovation infrastructure (see below) noted that lower rent prices could keep more startups in the city.

4. One attendee said the region lacks common spaces for entrepreneurs who need more than just an office, and that’s why many startups flee the region. A good solution would be to develop common manufacturing and wet lab space, says Sarah McGarrell, who’s working on a multi-tenant nonprofit center. This was one of several approaches discussed at a session led by Matrix Partners’ Antonio Rodriguez, which he dubbed “Itching, Not Bitching,” focused on how the government can support innovation infrastructure. Other ideas: using videoconferencing to connect events taking place in the city with those convening in the suburbs; building a high-speed train to more quickly get suburban innovators into the Hub; and looking for ways to act on the momentum generated at entrepreneur events (like the unConference) on a more long-term basis.

5. Check-in-based social technologies could soon take on a predictive nature. That’s what Erin gathered at a breakout session on predictive analytics technology—what some dubbed as the next exciting trend in Internet data usage. Boston-based startup InstantNightlife, which hires college students to check out area bars and clubs and post real-time information on the scenes, is ultimately planning on using its data to predict which spots will be the hottest when.

6. Getting more women into tech companies means igniting girls’ interest at a young age, according to participants in a session Erin sat in on. One topic of discussion: whether it’s a tougher sell to younger girls that science is cool, but less hard to sell them on the idea that startups are cool—so that’s where nonprofits should focus their attention. [Editor’s note: Scientists and academics would probably disagree—as would many parents and, like, girls.]

7. The investor landscape could be turning a bit upside down. One analyst at a venture firm focused a session on VCs pitching to entrepreneurs (not the other way around). Another breakout looked at the wrong reasons to be an angel investor. And Lead Dog Ventures founder John Landry led a discussion on a proposed alternative form of finance, where startups pay back investors based on a percentage of the revenue they generate until they hit a certain return—and where investors have no ownership stake in the company in the end. (Royalty or revenue-based financing is a topic Xconomy first reported on a year ago, and there have been numerous developments around the country since.)

8. Investors are pretty excited about robotics startups in the Boston area, as I gathered from listening in on a session led by CommonAngels. Eric Paley of Founder Collective said that 20 years from now, robotics could be a “real innovation space” led by “third-generation entrepreneurs.” Yet a key challenge remains: making robots that are capable of meeting the real needs of the market while also being simple enough for laypeople to use.

9. As good as MIT is at churning out great engineers, it still doesn’t fully prepare students to take on leadership roles in industry. A discussion led by MIT’s Ed Crawley and Ken Zolot focused on how to build connections between students and industry and mentor them in leadership skills that are complementary to traditional engineering education—not finance or marketing skills, but rather things like work attitude, ethics, ambition, understanding business environments, and relating to people in the real world.

10. Finally, I’m pretty sure the most lasting ideas and connections at the unConference were created at the parties, not in the sessions. We’re all looking forward to hearing what interesting companies and trends come of it—and let’s bring on MassTLC Innovation 2011.

Erin Kutz contributed reporting to this story.

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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] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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