Boston News Roundup: Amazon, Akamai, Blend, MC10, & More

12/19/12Follow @curtwoodward

There have been plenty of updates from companies big and small across the Boston-area innovation scene in the past week or so. Here’s a rundown of the biggest and best stories for a midweek catch-up:

—With news of a sales-tax deal between Amazon and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, the Seattle-based cloud and e-commerce titan said it planned to create “hundreds of high-tech jobs” in the state. And reports quickly surfaced of the company expanding its small but growing Boston-area office footprint.

What’s that mean for the technology sector here? With a possible office that could hold several hundred workers, along with the recent acquisition of Kiva Systems, it looks like Amazon is getting serious about tapping the Boston area’s rich talent pool to satisfy its huge hunger for workers.

That means more competition for companies big and small—but in technology businesses, a scarcity of engineers and developers is kind of par for the course at this point.

Akamai Technologies has a new CEO: co-founder and former chief scientist Tom Leighton. The big Internet traffic and services company sought to convey an orderly, not-many-changes impression from the leadership change. Former CEO Paul Sagan announced in the spring that he would step down next year, and he’s staying on as a board member.

Leighton, who also has been an MIT professor, said that Akamai’s notable pace of acquisitions would probably continue—good news for IT startups around the country, no doubt.

Blend Therapeutics, a Watertown-based biotech startup, raised a $16 million Series B round that is expected to bankroll the company’s next two years of drug development work.

Blend’s name hints at its target: The nearly year-old company hopes to use nanoparticles to deliver advanced platinum drugs, a system that could be safer than today’s common platinum-based chemotherapies.

MC10, of Cambridge, raised another $10 million to fuel its flexible electronics products. The four-year-old company is working on several avenues for turning its technology into products, including impact-sensing headgear for sports and a bendable, sticker-like sensor that can be worn on the skin to record sweat loss, body temperature, respiration rate, and more.

As CEO Dave Icke says, the drive for MC10 now is to move from the hopes-and-dreams phase into having actual paying customers and shipping products. Eventually, the tech could be used in flexible solar cells, new kinds of optical sensors, and even brain-machine interfaces.

—We turned our attention to Rhode Island to talk with CEO Angus Davis of Swipely, a startup that is attempting to make some headway in payment processing and sales analytics for local businesses, particularly restaurants.

Trying to corral the local small-business market has been the graveyard of many startups over the years, and there’s certainly no shortage of upstarts trying to alter the payments system. Swipely claims some good progress, saying “hundreds” of merchants are doing some $250 million in annual sales through its system.

—Cambridge-based Ariad Pharmaceuticals (NADAQ: ARIA) got some good news: The FDA approved its new drug for two rare forms of leukemia, some three months ahead of schedule. The drug was found to be effective on patients who weren’t responding to other treatments. It’s expected to be available within just a couple of weeks.

We got an update from Veracode, an application security startup that—like many fast-growing companies in complex markets—is on its third CEO. Veracode has about 225 employees and is projecting up to $39 million in sales for the year—with revenue growth of more than 75 percent year-over-year.

—Remember all those headlines we’ve seen about venture money moving to the earlier stages? Here’s another data point: Boston’s .406 Ventures has closed a second fund at more than $175 million. The firm focuses on enterprise IT companies (Veracode is in its portfolio).

Brooks Automation, a Chelmsford, MA-based robotics maker, says it plans to lay off some 100 people. In a filing with regulators, Brooks says the job cuts will be spread across the company’s worldwide locations. They’re being tied to a restructuring plan that eliminates redundant positions and consolidates offices after the company’s acquisition of Crossing Automation.

Brooks (NASDAQ: BRKS) also says the moves will improve profits “in light of the continued near-term macro-economic environment.” The Boston Business Journal’s Jon Chesto points out that likely refers to softness in the semiconductor market, one of the key destinations for Brooks’ products.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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