What TechStars’ Progress in Boston Really Means for Innovation

5/4/12Follow @gthuang

As I walked out of the latest TechStars Demo Day spectacle in Boston yesterday, I was struck by one question: what does it all mean?

Yes, 13 young startups made highly refined pitches to a theater full of angel investors, venture capitalists, and fellow entrepreneurs, to mark the end of the accelerator program. Yes, some of them were intriguing, but it’s hard to tell much about their real prospects from pitches like those. Judging from the breathless tweets and most of the media coverage around the event—not to mention the congratulatory remarks emanating from the stage—it would seem that a Boston tech renaissance is upon us.

I would say the true significance of the event is both more and less than that. This was the fourth startup class for TechStars Boston, and the program has firmly established itself here. (There will be another session this fall.) It is consistently drawing outside talent to Boston, which is always good for the community. It attracts top-tier entrepreneurs and investors to get involved in the mentoring and vetting process. And it shines a spotlight on an important segment of the tech startup population. TechStars clearly has succeeded in bringing together an outstanding crowd of innovators. (When you run into David Beisel, Mok Oh, Jason Jacobs, and others within seconds of arriving at the event, you know it’s for real.)

And if the goal of its companies on Demo Day is to raise money, they’re doing pretty well there too. Gone, at least for now, are the days when even accelerator startups really struggled to get going. But the longer-term impact of TechStars and its companies—and where they fit into the broader ecosystem—is still an open question.

(By the way, the martial-arts demonstration in the middle of Demo Day was a bit random, but I hope it inspires someone to organize a Startup Fight Club. If so, I’ll be there.)

Some of the bigger ideas were from Laveem, which is trying to serve up nutritional info about every food you might eat; UberSense, which is using mobile and video technology to connect athletes and coaches anywhere; and Pact, which gets people to put their own money on the line to motivate themselves (to exercise, for starters). These are all ideas with a big upside, if they can gain wide adoption.

But a criticism I often hear about accelerators, even from their mentors, is that they think too small. Their financial model rewards relatively quick flips to make money for their investors. That would seem to be at odds with … 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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