Hero’s Journey: A Look Inside This Year’s Class of TechStars Boston Startups

6/14/11Follow @gthuang

Incubator, schmincubator. The innovation community has had its fill of incubators and accelerators, hasn’t it? Well, this one is a little different.

As echoes of Commencement speeches die down around town, it’s fitting that the 12-week startup bootcamp known as TechStars Boston is graduating its newest class of companies tomorrow. What’s interesting about this group—compared with the two previous Boston classes, and indeed, other TechStars classes from Boulder, Seattle, and New York—might be its diversity across industry and geography, and its potential to bring fresh talent to the area.

The 12 companies presenting to investors and media at tomorrow’s Demo Day in Boston range in sector from mobile/social gaming (The Tap Lab), online promotions (Promoboxx), and alumni networking (EverTrue), to health and wellness (Ginger.io) and medical devices (Strohl Medical). Their founders come from Israel (Senexx), England (Memrise), and Estonia (GrabCAD, which just announced a seed-financing round); as well as Wisconsin (Student Spill), Tennessee (Help Scout), Texas (Kinvey), and the Boston area (the rest). I’m hearing that several of the teams from outside are planning to stay local, which should help Boston’s talent pool.

The group’s diversity is notable because tech incubators tend to draw most of their talent from founders who are already based locally—and they tend to focus on Web and social/mobile software to the exclusion of other fields like healthcare or hardware. There is still plenty of Web and mobile in this year’s crop, but its variety of startups stands out for a small incubator.

As does the group’s camaraderie, if you listen to the program’s leader. “The amount of support and help they’ve given each other, that’s really been fun for me to watch,” says Katie Rae, managing director of TechStars Boston. She calls the group “stunningly close.”

The narrative arc of a TechStars company is a classic hero’s journey—complete with a call to action, meetings with mentors, a series of tests and conflicts, and a resolution and reward. Yet this year’s companies did not enter the program as a wide-eyed or naïve bunch.

“We were skeptical about incubator programs. There’s a ton of them popping up everywhere,” says Karan Singh, co-founder of Ginger.io, which develops software for tracking people’s health and wellness by interpreting communication and movement patterns gleaned from their mobile phones. The algorithms are based on research done at the MIT Media Lab. While Ginger was already in Boston prior to TechStars (at Dogpatch Labs), Singh, an MIT Sloan MBA, is another example of imported talent—he came from the Bay Area after graduating from UC Berkeley.

Partly through TechStars, Singh says, he has learned that the key to building a business … 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 or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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