What TechStars’ Progress in Boston Really Means for Innovation

5/4/12Follow @gthuang

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the chorus of people who say, “We need to build more big companies in Boston”—which is debatable as well, of course.

I think the resolution comes down to startups needing to focus on solving specific problems, and if they do that well, they will have a choice of becoming bigger and more influential or selling out. Accelerators like TechStars need not stand in the way of that, of course, and they should (and already do) recognize when a company or idea has a real opportunity to become huge.

Another more general criticism is that we are in the midst of an “incubator bubble” and an early stage startup bubble. Too many similar companies are getting similar amounts of funding and not amounting to much. There is something to be said about the pack mentality that keeps people from trying radically different approaches, or putting their money and effort into other big sectors that need it (like energy, healthcare, and education) rather than chasing after the next Facebook or startup du jour. So we’d all do well to remember that accelerators like TechStars are just a piece of the whole puzzle, that they work for certain types of startups but not all.

At the end of the day, the fate of Boston’s tech ecosystem rests with all of its companies—those that stay local, that is. The renowned investor Bill Warner reminded us at Demo Day that in 1977, when he came to Boston to attend MIT, the city “was on top of its game. People didn’t know there was high tech anywhere else.” Now he is bullish again on Boston’s future, saying that “today is the day the [overdrive] button got pushed. The revolution is starting here.”

Warner also touched on the region’s historical significance when he pointed out that “the first social network” was created in the Northeast; it was based on a few lines of code, and now has some 300 million users. “It’s called the Constitution. What we created is a social network, and it’s changing the world.”

Perhaps an even broader perspective was shared by TechStars co-founder Brad Feld when he said, “Boston was a great startup town before I got here, and it’ll be a great startup town after I’m dead.”

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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