You Can Go Home Again: Five Themes to Watch in the Boston Innovation Scene

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for the right reasons), and entrepreneurs don’t feel stigmatized by failures. But I’ll be trying to dig in and understand more about the view from the trenches.

2. How elitist is the innovation community?

This one didn’t really strike me until I left Boston recently. People outside New England tend to think the culture is based around hierarchies of old money and established power structures. If you didn’t go to college at MIT or an Ivy League School (and, preferably, get your MBA, JD, or MD from Harvard), forget it. Prominent angel investors and venture capitalists aren’t taking your calls, and they’re definitely not meeting with you, unless you’ve got connections and a solid business plan already.

Real or imagined, that’s a very different vibe from a place like Seattle, where the investor and startup community is smaller, and it’s not as hard to get that first meeting. And to be clear, this is just what I’m hearing anecdotally, not what I’m seeing firsthand (not yet anyway). The divide between entrepreneurs and investors, and getting them to mix in a productive way, is certainly a challenge everywhere—and I know Boston-area organizations have been doing a lot on this front lately.

3. Where are the anchor tenants in high tech?

Boston is known for its big life sciences companies—Biogen Idec, Boston Scientific, Genzyme, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and dozens of other publicly traded firms. But what about anchor tenants in technology? Sure, we have EMC, Nuance, Akamai, iRobot, and others, and IBM has a big presence here. Google and Microsoft also have been growing in the area. It’s a bit cliché to ask why Boston hasn’t produced a Google, Microsoft, Amazon, or Apple of its own lately. But I think it’s a fair question.

A giant like Microsoft acts as a talent magnet, especially at its headquarters, which has had a huge impact on local innovation for decades. (Even indirectly—for example, Amazon came to Seattle originally in part because founder Jeff Bezos wanted to set up where there was already lots of software development talent.) So Boston needs more of these big companies, and fast.

4. What is the business impact of all the top universities around town?

This one could be tough to quantify, but I’ll be looking at things like the number of companies spun out by different institutions, the types of technologies licensed by commercialization offices, the strength of entrepreneurial programs and competitions, the percentage of graduates who … Next Page »

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] Follow @gthuang

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  • Welcome home. Greater Boston is delighted that you are back.

    You mentioned the problem that some people encounter “breaking in”, so I thought I should tell you about a unique program that helps entrepreneurs do just that.

    Mayor Menino and State Economic Development Secretary Gregory Bialeki are part of a dynamic team (The Board of Boston World Partnerships, Inc.) that markets Greater Boston by breaking barriers for a 175 member civic saleforce that returns the favor by providing information and connections about economic opportunities that should be nutured.

    No City, no Region in the world, is offering such a program. But, as a returning citizen you probably aren’t surprised.

    Again, welcome home, and let us know if we can help you break barriers to your succees.


    Mark Maloney, President,
    Boston World Partnerships, Inc.

  • Indeed, WELCOME home, Greg!

    I’ve stayed close to home most of my life; but have done a fair amount of traveling to other countries. The innovation agenda is blossoming in some unexpected corners of the globe; and our E100 Network – now 180+ across 67 countries – is ready to extend the global reach of our community.

    I’ve been proud of our roots – and for many of the reasons you reference. Now is the time to strengthen and showcase our *GlobalCommonwealth*.

    Let us create some alignment…

    Debra M. Amidon, Founder
    ENTOVATION International Ltd.

  • Hi Gregory,

    Welcome (back) to Boston! Great article; you highlight some of the major pain points that have been associated with the ecosystem — although there has been tremendous progress in the past year on all fronts.

    As a student at Northeastern University, and the President of the E-Club, I am passionate about helping to foster collaboration amongst students on campus and amongst all Boston/Cambridge/MA schools. There are several initiatives and collaborative projects currently in the works to help get more students together and introduce them to the startup scene.

    Glad to have you as a new addition to Boston and looking forward to getting to know you better!


    – Aaron

  • Gregory,

    Sorry this is a late comment, but I was out of town.

    Some other markets where the Boston area has a thriving cluster would be Internet Marketing and Web Analytics.

  • Gregory,

    While my heart is in Boston, I’m in Europe most often now. Europe doesn’t know much about Boston. I rarely find anyone who can name a tech company who is from Boston. It pains me. We do have a lot to offer. Glad to have you here, promoting and support what is going on in Boston tech. And I completely agree… we are hardy and thrive on adversity.

    Welcome back!

  • All,
    Thanks for the kind welcome and good information. I’m looking forward to getting to know all of you, and telling the most interesting stories of innovation from the ground in Boston and beyond. Go Sox,