Boston: Cradle of Liberty and Data Startups
I didn’t know the full extent to which the Boston area has a thriving data and analytics startup scene.
I had always associated the city primarily with biotech innovation. My company, Chart.io, provides hosted business dashboards to help companies visualize their database data. We’re based out in San Francisco (we were part of the 2010 Y Combinator class), but our investors, Avalon Ventures, call Boston home. When my friends at Avalon-backed Kinvey (mobile backends as a service) and Boston-based SessionM (a platform to spark deeper consumer engagement with mobile content and ads) and I decided to co-host a data visualization and analytics meetup for the local community, we expected to get 20-30 RSVPs at most. Instead, we broke 100 in a flash and saw a steady torrent of emails from data enthusiasts pleading for admission.
In fact, a deeper look into the Boston tech scene reveals quite a rich history of data and analytics companies, including Netezza, Endeca, ITA, EMC, and other giants. And it turns out, the startup scene is equally rich, with companies innovating around NoSQL, data storage, search, healthcare, and a variety of cloud computing ventures. Here’s a quick tour of the Boston- data landscape. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
As data volumes have exploded in the past decade, so have the number of companies building tools to store, retrieve, analyze, and generally manage the deluge of data.
Two Boston-area companies, Cloudant and Basho, are tackling the big data problem through non-relational databases (NoSQL), designed to handle hundreds of gigabytes and even terabytes of data and enable applications to elastically scale out to meet the demands of millions (or hundreds of millions) of concurrent users. In this vein, Cloudant offers tools to help companies use Apache CouchDB, while Basho developed its own data store called Riak.
Meanwhile, other local firms are focusing on the next generation of enterprise storage solutions. TwinStrata and Nasuni both address traditional capacity issues by providing seamless data storage in the cloud. This approach frees the business from having to invest in, upgrade, or replace infrastructure in-house—a benefit that saves them both time and money. While there are a lot of great pure SaaS players in Boston, storage is one area where a hybrid on-premise and SaaS approach can in fact make good sense.
With Boston hosting some of the country’s most reputable hospitals and medical schools, it’s no surprise the healthcare vertical is a popular focus of data companies in the city. One such company, Ginger.io, is developing software that can model patient behavior and derive intelligent conclusions from massive amounts of behavioral data. And just this past summer, Kyruus released a platform that helps profile physicans based on an extensive analysis of public and private information. This makes it easier to match physicians with appropriate healthcare industry resources. This sort of data is driving more transparency in an industry that’s been unnecessarily opaque.
On the consumer side, data can be used to significantly improve how we search for relevant information and content in our day to day lives. One approach on the local side of search is Cambridge-based and aptly-named Locu, which is hoping to create the world’s largest repository of structured, real time small business offerings—such as menus—to enhance local search. While it’s daunting to take on anything search related (ahem, Google), Locu is engaging an interesting and niche problem by creating and then making sense of enormous amounts of useful data.
Beyond local data, another major part of everyday search is travel. Hopper is scouring the Web and building a massive index of travel-related information, so that users of its service can ask questions like “best place to eat in the Bahamas” and even book travel. In essence, Hopper wants to become the Google of travel search. Coincidentally, Google recently acquired Boston-based ITA, which provides the data layer for travel sites like Expedia, Priceline, and others, in an effort to boost its dominance in travel.
As most people in the tech community in Boston know, it seems like every few months, the blogosphere rehashes the now-familiar discussion of whether “[insert name of city] is the New Silicon Valley.” New York, Boston, you name it. It’s almost always rather hyped. The truth is, right now, Silicon Valley is simply unparalleled as a tech ecosystem. Other cities, however, should be recognized for the strength of their own tech clusters. In Boston’s case, the combination of top schools like MIT and a legacy of giant and successful data companies creates a prime talent pool of data-savvy engineers and thinkers. The next entrepreneur contemplating a data startup might well want to consider calling Boston home.