[Photo credit: Jennifer Cimino]
Recently, I read a post by Francisco Dao in which the author laments Silicon Valley’s transformation into a Bravo-addled wannatrepreneur mecca. Which—fine. The post itself didn’t set me off. I mean, I know that amidst the Valley’s bloviating bloggers and angel investor “influencers” with two-letter twitter handles and three airport-code bios, there are real innovators, building real, useful products, but what’s the harm in a little hyperbole?
No, what set me off was Dao’s response to a commenter’s suggestion that Dao change his title from “Tech really is the new Hollywood...in all the worst ways” to “Silicon Valley really is the new Hollywood...”
That hissing sound you heard was my blood boiling over, again. Because no: Silicon Valley is not representative of the entire tech industry. We are not, in tech as in music as politics, a homogenous nation. Silicon Valley may be tech’s capital, but that doesn’t make L.A. or Boulder or New York its suburbs. For proof, you need look no further than Brad Feld's new book Startup Communities. Feld writes about entrepreneurial ecosystems in all over the world, and makes the convincing argument that you can create a startup community anywhere, provided you have grit, determination, and an open-door policy.
I couldn’t agree more, but today, I’m just focusing on the city whose startup community I know best: Boston. The city on a hill is cold, old, and lousy with hardworking geniuses. Regardless of your startup’s industry, Boston won’t turn into a pumpkin, and if you fit the following profile, it may just be your glass slipper.
Characteristic 1: You’re in it for the long haul. Even a quick glance at Boston’s tech scene will tell you that its hotshots have one thing in common: they’ve been around for at least two years, and generally for more than 5. Mark Zuckerberg himself told YC’s Jessica Livingston last fall that were he to start Facebook again, he would have stayed in Boston, because Silicon Valley "is a little short-term focused and that bothers me.” The whole short-term thing comes up again in Startup Genome’s recently released Startup Ecosystem Report. Among the findings: Boston entrepreneurs are 87% less likely to want to get rich, 37% more likely to be motivated by building a great product, and 100% less likely to create a quick flip than their Bay Area peers
Characteristic 2: You’re not making the next great hyper-local virtual social farming app. I mean, you can try to do that here. SCVNGR did, somewhat, with a fair amount of traction, but it’s Priebatsch’s second company, the mobile payment app LevelUp, that’s turned out to be the real success story. Historically, Boston’s been an infrastructure and storage town, and those are still some of our strongest areas. Other areas experiencing some serious momentum: robotics, data analysis, mobile healthcare, online ed, and travel.
Characteristic 3: You have some serious, bleedin’ edge technical chops. Some of our buzzier startups don’t have the most elevator-ready pitches. Take Hadapt’s, for example: “Hadapt unifies SQL and Hadoop, enabling customers to analyze all of their data (structured, unstructured, and multi-structured) in a single platform - no connectors, complexities, or rigid structure.” Pretty dry, and yet the data analytics startup, founded by a Stonebraker protégé, has already raised $16.2 million in funding. Big data is certainly big here, and its technologies like distributed computing, machine learning, and NLP are powering some of my favorite startups, including Recorded Future, Crimson Hexagon, and the perennially about-to-launch-out-of-stealth-mode travel engine Hopper.
Characteristic 4: You’re not looking for a celebrity investor.
Characteristic 5: You hold any/all if the following in high esteem:
- Alt-rock/classic rock/ Dropkick Murphys
- Front porches, backyards, and widows walks
- Pretty Things Jack D’Or
- Dollar oysters
- American art/Contemporary art/ Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance Art/Bad art
- Scenic running paths
- Football games in coliseums
- American Revolution reenactments
- Independent movie houses and theatres
- Meetups that are more about learning than about networking
- Feeling both fervently loyal to and perennially disappointed in your baseball team
- Wearing running sneakers with jeans, without judgment
Not convinced? What do you need in a city in order to start your startup there?