Wherefore Art Thou Angels? Boston Startup Scene Gears Up for Angel Bootcamp on June 14 (and Wants a Little More Froth)

5/18/11Follow @gthuang

Yes, I’m well aware that “wherefore” means “for what reason.” In this case, the reasons for being an active angel investor in Boston have to do with being part of a bigger and collaborative ecosystem, giving back to the startup community, and helping create the future of technology. It’s exciting stuff—especially in this day and age when the Boston tech scene is looking for some big successes (or at least more startup activity) to rival Silicon Valley and, increasingly, New York.

That’s all according to Jon Pierce, an entrepreneur, hacker, and founding member of the Awesome Foundation, who is organizing an event called Angel Bootcamp on June 14 at the Tang Center at MIT. I sat down with Pierce recently to chat about the landscape of Boston-area tech angel investing and what has really changed (and what hasn’t) in the past year.

But first, a little more about the goals of his event, which is now in its second year. “As much as it’s about education, it’s also about getting people excited about being an angel,” Pierce says.

Last year’s inaugural boot camp drew about 275 people—mostly investors and aspiring angels, but also plenty of entrepreneurs, as well as leaders from universities, government, and the media. As indicators of its success, one could point to a handful of New England angels who have become much more active in the early-stage scene—people like Ty Danco, Jennifer Lum, Roy Rodenstein, and David Tisch. (Apparently, Tisch met TechStars founder David Cohen at last year’s boot camp; that was where they first talked about the idea of TechStars New York.) Meanwhile, more angel and venture funds seem to be making seed-stage investments. And at least one Boston-area startup, Locately, made a key investor connection at last year’s event.

“We sent a message to the entrepreneurs that we’re serious,” Pierce says.

So what has changed, more broadly, over the past year—and why is this gathering as important as ever? Let’s talk about the f-word. “Seed-stage investors and angels are now starting to highlight the fact that things are a little bit frothy,” Pierce says. “It’s not a bubble, but [company] valuations are high in the Valley and New York. It’s not as true in Boston. We could use a little more froth in Boston.”

Pierce also points to the need to get people who have built successful companies—and in some case have had big exits—involved in angel investing. He’s talking about firms like Where, Kayak, and CSN Stores, and older companies that have been acquired for large sums in recent years, like Quattro Wireless, Maven Networks, Third Screen Media, Starent Networks, and ATG. To some extent this is already happening: just today, Boston startup TurningArt announced a $750,000 seed financing … 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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