Who was it who wrote, “If Silicon Valley didn’t exist, Boston would have to invent it in order to have someplace to feel inferior to”?
Oh wait, that was me. It was a snarky thing to say—but it was back in February 2009, and I was feeling piqued at the time about calls for a state-sponsored branding campaign to persuade high-tech businesses to set up shop in Massachusetts rather than California. It worried me that the state was about to put a lot of time, energy, and money into a big marketing push, when real problems like a lack of funding and support for early-stage stage startups were going neglected.
Well, the branding campaign eventually morphed into something much more useful (MassItsAllHere.com, a rich online directory of business resources). And in the last eighteen months, the community of entrepreneurs and investors around Boston has been busy coming up with all sorts of new ways to boost innovation and startup activity—TechStars, Dogpatch Labs, DartBoston, Greenhorn Connect, the Venture Cafe, Start@Spark, Mass Innovation Nights, MassChallenge, MassTLC’s Unconferences, 12 by 12, the Cambridge Coworking Center, Technology Underwriting Greater Good, the BU Kindle mentoring program, Angel Boot Camp, the burgeoning Web Innovators Group meetings, and the nearly nightly tech gatherings at Microsoft’s NERD Center, to name just a few.
I’m not too worried about Massachusetts anymore. And I don’t think Boston innovators have anything to feel inferior about.
Comparisons between Boston and the Bay Area have been on my mind a lot lately. On a very concrete level, I had to decide earlier this spring whether I wanted to say goodbye to all my friends in Boston and move West to operate Xconomy’s planned San Francisco bureau. (We would have opened the new office either way; the question was whether to send an Xconomy insider or hire someone new.) And as a writer, I had to decide whether I had gotten close enough to achieving my own personal journalistic goal when I moved here—discovering the most interesting and ambitious technology innovators in New England, and telling their stories to the world—to consider leaving with many of those stories unfinished.
The first decision was really hard, and I agonized over it for weeks. As an unofficial Bostonian (I went to school and worked here from 1985 to 1997), I had lots of friends to reconnect with when I came East to join Xconomy in mid-2007. And I’ve made so many more friends over the past three years. The technology community around Boston has been incredibly welcoming, both to me and to Xconomy in general. So it’s difficult to leave at the exact moment when I feel like I’ve gotten to know everyone here. (I think my colleague Greg Huang, who’s leaving Xconomy Seattle soon to become the editor of Xconomy Boston, feels the same way about the city he’s been covering.)
The second decision was a little easier, especially after I came to see that the stories of innovation and innovators in New England will never really be finished. I could write about one major technology player transforming its industry or one hopeful new startup every weekday for years and years, and never catch up. That’s how inexhaustible the supply of ideas has become around Boston. Not to mention the supply of investors with the courage to back these ideas, and of mentors and advisers, mostly people with a successful history of entrepreneurship, willing to put in the time to nurture them.
A couple of years ago, the situation seemed much more dire for the local technology community. A deep recession was settling in, people were losing their jobs by the thousands, capital seemed harder to come by, and memories of the Route 128 glory days were growing increasingly distant.
But entrepreneurs here, being entrepreneurial, have taken matters into their own hands, capitalizing on Web 2.0-era innovations to bootstrap new ventures for far less money than used to be required, and getting more creative about the whole funding question. (That’s what the recent Angel Boot Camp, and our “Angel Tsunami” panel at yesterday’s Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship, were all about.) Entrepreneurs have been building on the technologies this region knows best— networking and storage, telecommunications, robotics, security, and healthcare IT, to name just a few—while also creating brand-new epicenters of innovation in areas like advanced batteries, biofuels, gaming and entertainment, mobile apps and advertising, e-commerce, and business-to-business applications.
But the Bay Area has its own areas of technological strength and its own styles of entrepreneurship, and Xconomy wants to tell those stories as well. I’m going to miss writing about Boston (and believe, me I plan to take a dose of New England’s hard-headed skepticism with me to San Francisco). But I know that I’m leaving at a time when the region is on the upswing, meaning that whatever small contributions I’ve made won’t be missed much. Moreover, I know that Greg, along with Ryan McBride and Erin Kutz and all of the great reporters who contribute to our Boston pages, are going to continue to cover the stories of New England innovators with all of the breadth, depth, and insight that Xconomy strives to provide.
And I’m not really disappearing. Xconomy is a national network now, and I’ll still have a hand in our coverage of mobile technology and other areas where New England shines. So if you’re tempted to think of my departure as yet another example of Silicon Valley vacuuming up Boston’s talent, don’t. It’s really the opposite: a case of a company born and bred in Boston that’s now poised to export its business model to the Bay Area. For me and my colleagues, this isn’t an ending—it’s just another beginning.
[Editor’s Note: Xconomy readers are invited to an open party to welcome Greg Huang to Boston and say farewell to Wade. It’s at 5:00 p.m. next Tuesday, June 22, at the Cambridge Brewing Company at One Kendall Square, Cambridge.]
For a full list of my columns, check out the World Wide Wade Archive. You can also subscribe to the column via RSS or e-mail, and you can download Pixel Nation, an e-book version of the first 80 columns, as a free PDF file or a $4.99 Kindle edition.