Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Katie Rae, Innovation 2012 Co-Chair: What Makes Boston Thrive and Why She Loves the unConference

It’s likely that every single person working in innovation in the greater Boston area has heard of Katie Rae. As Managing Director of TechStars and of Project 11 Ventures, and as Co-Founder and Chairperson of Boston StartUp School, Katie unquestionably has her pulse on innovation in Boston. She’s also incredibly thoughtful and approachable, which is one of the reasons we asked her to be a MassTLC Innovation unConference co-chair. We sat down with Katie to get her expert take on what makes Boston thrive and how entrepreneurs can turn this year’s unConference into an unforgettable success.

Katie, what makes Boston an innovation hub?
Boston is an extremely lucky place because of three main elements: incredible universities with world-renowned research institutions, a long history of groundbreaking startups and deep knowledge of how to fund and support them. These three elements have created a massive pool of people who understand how to build large high-growth businesses. We also have an incredible mix of industries where we grow startups to big companies. From financial services to robotics, from clean tech to biotech and big data, these varying industries make Boston unique. We have an exciting mix of companies and spaces of innovation here.

How is innovation evolving in Boston and where is it heading next?
Boston is on a roll. The number of exciting startups coming from all different pockets of innovation here is staggering. We also are seeing a trend of lean startups expanding outside of just software. The lean startup principles are being applied to different industries.

Are there any elements that we lack that would make our ecosystem thrive even more?
It’s not something we are missing, but rather something we need to continue to foster in ourselves. Each one of us has some way that we can give back, whether you are a young founder sharing what you learn or a seasoned executive who begins to mentor and angel invest. I have a growing sense of positivity as I see this gaining strength every year. That excitement helps early stage start-ups grow even stronger by continually developing that spirit that is incredibly important for any innovative community.

What brings you back to the unConference each year?
It’s one of the only forums where so many fun people come together from different communities, from the investment community to the research and startup communities. You never know what’s going to happen that day or who you're going to meet or what someone’s going to talk about. That’s what makes it so exciting.

What do you enjoy most about mentoring upcoming entrepreneurs?
Oh there are so many things! I really love helping people connect their ideas to what they should go accomplish and how they should best execute – including helping them find the right people to make the problem they are trying to solve a bit easier. There’s nothing better than watching a company start to grow faster and build momentum.

How can entrepreneurs make the most of this year’s unConference?
The key for entrepreneurs is to connect with as many different people as possible. Ask people what they're up to; you don't always have to be pitching them an idea. First you need to make a genuine connection with people and then naturally amazing things will happen.

In your roles at TechStars and Boston Start Up School you see a tremendous amount of entrepreneurs and innovation.  What stands out as necessary elements for success?
The number one necessary element is that you actually care about what you're creating. This care and commitment will naturally surround you with supportive people. The number two aspect is having a team that cares and wants to build together for a long time.

Thank you Katie for your great advice and expertise. Get there early to sign up for sessions with Katie; they’ll be spoken for quickly. If you are interested in proposing a break-out discussion topic at this year’s unConference, submit your ideas here

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