Friday, November 30, 2012

Building Robotics Companies in Massachusetts

Building Robotics Companies in Massachusetts

During the week of November 12th the MassTLC Robotics cluster explored entrepreneurship in Massachusetts with two events featuring local start-ups and a new incubator coming to life soon called Bolt.

On Tuesday, November 13th, the MassTLC Robotics Cluster held its quarterly meeting at Bluefin Robotics in Quincy, MA. This well attended meeting of robotics executives from around New England included a tour of the Bluefin Robotics facility and a presentation by Will O'Halloran on a recent expedition to find Amelia Earheart’s plane using Bluefin’s AUV and ROV technologies -- read more in this Boston Globe article.  New evidence has suggested that Amelia Earhart’s plane crash landed off the coast of Nikumororo Island well south of her destination of Howland Island. Forensic evidence of artifacts found on the island along with descriptions given in her last radio transmissions have led to this new hypothesis. The expedition was documented by the discovery channel in a program that aired this summer. See more about the documentary here.

Ben Einstein of the new hardware incubator Bolt also attended the meeting and talked to the group. Over the past decade building a web start-up has become faster, cheaper and easier in part due to business accelerators like YCombinator and TechStars. Bolt is looking to do something similar in finding and attracting the best hardware entrepreneurs and helping to accelerate their business. Bolt is scheduled to open in February 2013 in downtown Boston with an initial group of 15 early stage companies. The application process will start in December. In addition to office space, funding and mentorship provided by other local incubators, Bolt companies will be given access to prototyping equipment, product design expertise, as well as, help in finding manufacturing and sales channels. See attached slides from Ben’s presentation here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

unConference Session: Bring Your Own (Mobile) Device Panel

This session was a fairly small and intimate gathering with a lot of give-and-take. At the outset everyone agreed that the devices to be discussed would be limited to smartphones and tablets rather than desktops or laptops. Personally, as someone who brings a laptop into the office every day, I think they should have been included but that’s just me.

Daniel Gerow – who does corporate IT at Wayfair, a $600M home goods etailer – was the host of our little band.

 At the outset, he asked everyone to share some topics that were of interest. Here they are with the discussion around them:

Security – this came up a lot, in terms of securing the data on a device and providing devices with secure access to enterprise data. Policies were one approach to security, but they – it was agreed – are not especially strong, difficult to enforce and better in theory than in practice.

One of the most interesting discussions (as far as I was concerned) was around technologies that created secure devices on an existing device - not exactly virtual, but separated and running in parallel. Two companies were mentioned. The first was Enterproid, whose product – Divide – allows an enterprise to create a secure phone on an existing one. By tapping the home button twice the secure device is invoked. It can then access enterprise resources and corporate IT has centralized management capabilities. Double tap again and the phone is your personal one once again.

unConference Session: Big Data and Privacy

This is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart. Over the past several years I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of companies in the digital advertising and marketing space and big data and privacy are constant topics of thought and discussion.

Of all the sessions I participated in this was the most lively and engaging (so engaging, in fact, that I neglected to get any photos – which isn’t like me at all).

The big theme here was concern. People felt it’s clear there’s going to be more and more data out there, coming from more and more sources and devices and analyzed and used in ways we haven’t even imagined. As the volume of data and its use accelerates privacy is only going to become a bigger issue.

Dealing with the issue of data and privacy presents a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs and technologists.

Participants were asked what they thought was behind what was described as an “immunity” to privacy concerns. The answer from most was that it’s a generational thing. People for whom the Internet has been present for their whole lives seem less concerned that older people who give more thought to security.

An interesting variation was that it also depended on where people were from. One person asked, “What’s the cost of failure? If my credit card is compromised it’s fast and easy to shut it down.” Several disagreed with this attitude, suggesting that Europeans who had lived or known people who had lived in surveillance states were more likely to be careful than Americans. Others pointed out that in despotic countries even today privacy could become an issue of life of death. All were good points.

unConference Session: Michael Skok on Start Up Secrets, Building a Compelling Value Proposition

After years of hearing great things about the unConference, I finally attended my first one on Friday November 16 at the Hynes Convention Center and it was fantastic! As good as I had heard it was, I found it to be even better in reality.

As soon as the opening session started, long lines began to form at each mic and ideas poured out of the entrepreneurial community at a fast rate. The hour session flew, the boards were filled and I was off to my first session lead by Michael Skok, a VC at North Bridge Venture Partners. He also teaches at Harvard's iLab and his session was titled "Start Up Secrets: Building a Compelling Value Proposition."

Every seat was filled as the flip charts went up quickly along the walls. As a VC, Michael sees lots of pitches and knows what it takes to get funded and go "from zero to hero." I was surprised to hear this was Michael's first unConference too. He took our group through lots of great ideas on ways to define, evaluate and build a fundable value proposition.

One of my favorite takeaways was his "4U's" to decide if you have a problem worth solving. His simple test consists of 4 questions -- is it Unworkable? Unavoidable? Urgent? Or focusing on an Underserved market? To figure out who the right champion might be, look to see who will get fired if this problem does not get fixed, that person will be motivated! The problem does not have to be at the very top of the list but it should be one of the top 3 at least. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

unConference Session: Bring Your Own (Mobile) Device Panel

This session was a fairly small and intimate gathering with a lot of give-and-take. At the outset everyone agreed that the devices to be discussed would be limited to smartphones and tablets rather than desktops or laptops. Personally, as someone who brings a laptop into the office every day, I think they should have been included but that’s just me.

Daniel Gerow – who does corporate IT at Wayfair, a $600M home goods etailer – was the host of our little band.
Daniel Gerow of Wayfair and participants at the BYOMD Panel.

At the outset, he asked everyone to share some topics that were of interest. Here they are with the discussion around them:

Security – this came up a lot, in terms of securing the data on a device and providing devices with secure access to enterprise data. Policies were one approach to security, but they – it was agreed – are not especially strong, difficult to enforce and better in theory than in practice.

unConference Session: Scalable Databases for Startup

One of the great things about the un-conference is the spontaneity of the ideas. In the morning I ran into an old colleague whose startup was looking at switching databases and struggling the options. Hence, “Scalable Databases for Startups” seemed like a great topic, and we were off and running full steam after lunch.

The session brought in a wide variety of startups. While there were several vendors there – Basho, Calpont, InterSystems, ParElastic, and Tokutek (my firm), there was also fortunately a number of startups and bigger companies alike willing to share stories, including, Curata, Iron Mountain, Lucidel, and Mapkin.

First of all, we found that there was no single solution out there that all startups were either using or gravitating towards. While several folks were using MySQL, SQL Server, and contemplating MongoDB, we also heard about Hadoop, Sphinx, CouchDB, PostgreSQL and the related Google App Engine being considered. Basically, companies were struggling to find the right fit of the menu of options.

unConference Session: The Future of Storytelling

Alena Gribskov, @alenarg

“Storytelling” is a big buzzword these days, especially in the realm of marketing and social media. But, do people even know what makes a good story? Do they know how to deliver one? This conversation covered a variety of topics and viewpoints. What follows is a collection of sound bytes that pose some interesting questions.
Presenter Alena Gribskov with several storytelling enthusiasts – continuing the conversation after the session

Starting Questions:
How is technology changing the future of stories – content and delivery?
What does this mean for us in terms of how we tell stories and get our messages across?

We’re at a really interesting point in the evolution of “story technology.” Today’s storytelling tools include ebooks, visual storytelling, social storytelling, collaborative and curated storytelling, and audio and video.

unConference Session: Bringing Your Team Through The Startup Storm

If real estate’s catchphrase is “location, location, location,” the mandate for startup success might be: “team, Team, TEAM”

This session featured a super panel comprised of four people who know a lot about starting, running, staffing successful tech startups:

Katie Rae, Managing Director, Project 11 Ventures and TechStars/Boston (@ktrae) who invests in and coaches early stage startups.
Sean Lindsay, VP Engineering, Tapjoy 
(@seanlindsay): also a board advisor companies including Boundless Learning, StartStreet, HelpScout and Nimbit.

Mentor at several startup accelerator programs including TechStars, MassChallenge, and Founder Institute.
Bouzha Cookman, Managing, Partner, Catlin & Cookman Group), whom I think runs the #support group for CEOs in Mass:
Eric Paley, Managing Founding Partner, Founder Collective (@epaley)

Founders Panel (L to R): Rae, Lindsay, Cookman Paley
The panel responding to questions from the crowd (of circa 50 attendees), and many members of the audience (entrepreneurs themselves) also shared their own lessons learned (in the trenches).

unConference Session: Data Data Everywhere and Not a Control in "Site"

Photo: Credit: Kevin Kosh
"...your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should" - Dr. Ian Malcom in Jurassic Park
Obviously not a quote about Big Data, but a refrain that kept ringing in my head during the session "Future of Data and Privacy" with Charlotte Walker & Clark Dever

The discussion was wide ranging and many viewpoints were expressed. Too many to capture here, but the essence of discussion was around whether big data -- either contained in an application, or gleaned by bots on the web -- has the maturity to provide mutual benefit, or if it is the proverbial kid who found his father's gun.

The discussion is incredibly timely with news this week that NASA lost Personally Identifiable Information (PII) on 10,000 employees and contractors, and the latest defeat of the cybersecurity bill has privacy advocates up in arms. But while the EFF is concerned about government data collection, there is a feeding frenzy over what we reveal about ourselves -- or what we allow others to reveal about us -- online.

unConference Session: Startup Internships

Startup Internship had two objectives: how to find an internship within a startup and how startups could find use of interns. The session was held by Kelly Rice, Marketing Manager at Kinvey and Smit Patel, Intern at Hubspot.

Smit gave his experience on how to find an internship. One way he mentioned was utilizing Twitter to search for a keyword "internship" and afterwards narrowing down via geolocation to find the tweet within a certain mile radius. Clever!

unConference Session: Marketing Automation: What does it do, how can it help me, & is it worth my time?

We discovered in session today that this is a complicated answer. Some consider marketing automation to be spam mail. Some use it as an internal tool for their own employees, others use it to contact potential leads without putting in much effort. Email automation certainly isn’t the same thing as a website’s analytic processing, but the two can work together. It’s confusing.

There were some key things we took from this session.

The challenges:
  • Produce strategic content
  • Get readership from audience
  • Turn audience into customers

These three challenges are all nested under the biggest goal of all: make money.

The reason why most marketing automation isn’t working is because marketers seem to ignore those three challenges, and focus on the making money part. They use drip email campaigns which send a newsletter or an offer out every X amount of time. It’s automated, but it’s not personalized.

unConference Session: What is Big Data?

Big Data is changing business, the government, and health care—but what exactly is Big Data, and when did it start? Richard Dale, a venture capitalist who focuses on Big Data startups offers his perspective.

Matt M. Casey is an award-winning freelance journalist focussing on next-step science and technology. You can find more of his writing and interviews with innovators at

unConference Session: Customer Experience Design as Brand Disruptor

Dave McLaughlin – Vsnap
Dave Wieneke - ISITEDesign

Dave McLaughlin of Vsnap and Dave Wieneke of ISITEDesign

It’s no longer just about products. It’s about the relationships with customers.
It’s no longer all about what brands say about themselves. It’s about what customers say about brands.

Raving, happy fans are the holy grail of your success.

Questions to consider:
·      Does a strong, positive customer experience trump paid exposure?
·   If you can give your customers an amazing experience that not only keeps them coming back, but also inspires them to share their positive brand story with others – isn’t that more valuable to brand growth than traditional advertising?
·       How does your experience deliver on your brand promise?
·   First – do you know what your brand promise is?
·   Second – does the experience you deliver live up to that promise? Are you walking the walk, or just a lot of talk?

unConference Session: eCommerce Today: Beating the Amazon Powerhouse

In the "Anything and Everything eCommerce" session, we hear from Silva of (yes, you're allowed to laugh.) He specializes in selling fashion forward womens' belts online. In his five months of business he's found success. In a world of in-person retail and the "Amazon vortex" as one discussion member terms it, how is this womens' accessories site doing so well?

It's an untapped market. Amazon's got books, Gilt and RueLaLa have daily deal apparel. Where do you go when you want to buy a variety of belts? One young woman in the session notes--even in shops, belts are pushed to the side at the register as a forget-me-not kind of item. So part of the success comes from a niche market. Amazon scares Sivan a little bit, but the truth remains, not that many fashion forward women are buying no-name brands off of Amazon. They are looking for Calvin Klein and other name brands, but not these personalized or original designs.

Really what KeepYourPantsOn is doing is retaining engagement and personalization with their consumer base through Facebook. Consumers are buying from a BELT company, not an Amazon powerhouse.

unConference Session: How Twitter Is Changing TV

Twitter is changing TV. According to Steve Brand, founder and CEO of Sidecaster, Inc., 12 million people tweeted about television shows in October 2012—that's up from 5 million in October 2011.

Matt M. Casey is an award-winning freelance journalist focusing on next-step science and technology. You can find more of his writing and interviews with innovators at

The unConference Time Dilemma

Time is the most precious commodity at the unConference.

While I've been to every unConference each year, I always walk away feeling one day ain’t enough… It really could be a week or month-long event!

Some thoughts on time…

1) Time and Space

There are 4 scheduled sessions in the one-day unConference. What happens, when as I found out --- I wanted to be in 3 different sessions that took place at the same time?

My solution: I found 2 other people who look just like me who I thought would be my proxies and attend sessions I couldn’t be in.

Left to right: Patrick Rafter, Dave Wieneke, and Kevin Winant.

As bad luck would have it, 2 of the 3 handsome bald guys above both showed up at the same session.

unConference Session: Clustering Educational Startups

Session Leaders: Jean Howard, Eileen Rudden, Marissa Lowman,
Eric Braun, 30Hands Learning

Hot talk on the future of ed tech in Boston and the US. Photo Credit: Chris Nahil

The session drew more than forty attendees who represented a wealth of diversity in terms of their approach, niche, expertise and point of view on the future of education-related innovation in New England.  Session attendees included founders, investors, teachers, developers, administrators, students and information seekers.  Highlights and info bullets from the session included:
-The session leaders – three of whom are building a nonprofit organization to help connect and grow education technology start-ups called --- have identified 150 education-related start-up companies in the New England region.  Of these perhaps 10-20 have received early funding and 10 could be considered in serious growth mode.

-Spending in the K-12 market on technology and other educational support products and services represent 9% of the U.S. GDP, but only .1% of venture investments over the last ten years. There is a clear capital gap here.

unConference Session: Get Famous Fast? Get Over Yourself!

Kicking off unConference in a big way, an overflow crowd attended the session "Get Famous Fast: Media Relations for Entrepreneurs " With an All-Star panel that included innovation chronicler Scott Kirsner; Author David Meerman Scott;  Twitter pioneer, Laura Fitton, BzzAgent Founder Dave Balter; and Gemvara CEO Matt Louzon, it was a lively discussion that quickly spilled into the audience where insight and inquiries were many.

Scott kicks off the discussion. Photo Credit: Kevin Kosh

A PR practioner for 20+ years myself, the session was a great cross section of entrepreneurial inquisitiveness and field hardened war stories.  

Regardless of whether or not a company is ready for - or ultimately will ever need - a dedicated PR firm, the resounding message was, if you want to be famous, realize that it's not about you.  Sure, pedigree and success breeds success, but there are some entrepreneurs whose CV is not ready for TV.

unConference Session: Ten Second Mobile Apps

Before the start of the first round of sessions, TL Neff (Executive Vice President) and Marc Rosenbaum (Director, Sales Engineering) of Vervivo’s session title piqued the curiosity of a dozen or so unConference attendees. “So what’s a ten-second app?” more than one would-be participant asked as part of their session selection process, only to be turned away with a mysterious “you’ll have to see.”

It turns out of course that “ten-second apps” are not named so because of the time they take to develop, but rather they are “one-trick pony” apps that perform a singular task very well. The ensuing discussion traveled from examples of these apps to discussions around what type of apps might be able to benefit Enterprise companies, to the future of mobile, to spirited digressions (that’s the unConference way after all) about operating systems and platforms.

Neff began by regaling the group of 20 or so participants with an embarrassing tale of leaving his bike on his car as he drove into his garage only to feel the sad, sinking feeling one does when their expensive Italian cycle crunches against the garage. Like the answer to so many other questions/problems the past few years, his buddy told him that there’s an app for that – “Bike Saver,” his friend said. Apparently said app learns where you live and lets you know when you’re approaching home. “That’s a ten-second app,” said Neff.

unConference Session: Boston Innovation Center

The Boston Innovation Center session was held by Tim Rowe, President of CIC and Carlos Martinez-Vela, Executive Director of Venture Cafe Foundation, and the agenda was to obtain feedback from the community on how the Boston Innovation Center was to be utilized. Here are the specs of the space:

- Located in Seaport District with access through Courthouse Silver Line Stop
- Will operate 24/7
- 12,000 sq feet, one-story building with option to build out a mezzanine or roof deck [currently not in budget but if you have deep pockets or know of anyone they will surely lend their ears]
- There will be a restaurant
- There will be a large assembly space that can hold approximately 200 people and also can be broken into three compartments for meeting purposes
- There will be five "pods" or "pop up space" for actual live experimentation/prototyping ranging from 3-9 months rotations
- There is one area [2,000 sq ft] of space that has yet to be designated for a particular usage.

Boston Innovation Center[BIC] is an open and accessible gathering space for the innovation community. It is a non-profit civic space meant to be a symbol for sharing ideas where people come together to create community to build business and create stories. This will encompass active programming, experimentation, and networking. In the session the audience voiced what the space will not be for: a VC trap, closed, a museum, competition for Cambridge, etc.

Get Famous Fast: Media Relations for Entrepreneurs led by Scott Kirsner

This session led by Boston Globe columnist and blogger, Scott Kirsner (@ScottKirsner) explored some insightful tips and techniques for startups and entrepreneurs looking to learn more about successful media relations. Some key takeaways included:

Competitors. Look at your competitors news and recent press to find appropriate reporters covering your industry.

Build a relationship and engage. Relationships with the press start way before getting press. Send a note or comment about a recent article to the reporter you’re interested in engaging with.

Get Social. Twitter is a great way to learn more about reporters. What are their interests? What are they writing about? Find what their likes and dislikes are to continue to help build a rapport.

Face to face. Meeting a reporter in-person is the one of the strongest and personable ways to get to know a reporter. More than email. More than Twitter. It’s all about personal connections.

Customers. Ask your customers what they read? Find out what articles your customers are posting on Facebook and Twitter. This will help further uncover who is writing about your specific industry while discovering what publications will truly impact your business.

Content. Remember to write content not just about what your product or service does, but instead make sure to address how your product or service solves customer problems. This will help leverage sales as well as media.

Keep it simple. Use the “cocktail party” explanation approach when explaining your product or service to a reporter by keeping it brief, simple, clear, and concise. Forget the buzz words.

 Empathy. This is incredibly valuable in terms of media relations and PR. Being able to relate to a reporter’s feelings, experiences, and believes is beneficial in further developing a personal connection.

Be honest. Trust goes a long way with a reporter. Don’t ever lie. It’s okay to say no comment.

Johanna Lucia, Operations Executive

unConference Session: Solution Design: The Hidden Side of UX

Joe Baz – Above the Fold  @joebaz & Richard Branfield – Fresh Tilled Toil @freshtilledsoil

Richard Branfield (@freshtilledsoil) and Joe Baz (@joebaz)
This conversation covered a lot of ground around UX (user experience) and UI (user interface). Ready? Let’s go:

How do you know what to put into a UX?
Two schools of thought:
1. Data research – personal development & user testing
2. Steve Jobs  screw the customer; I know what I want to build

The truth is something in between and varies by project. Apple does do a lot of research and testing.

Getting Ready For the Start of the unConference

The calm before the storm...

It’s 8AM --- 1 hour before the 2012 @MassTLC #unCon initial session kicks off.

At 7AM, things were very quiet, with hustle bustle of the awesome MassTLC team getting things together in anticipation of a record-setting 850+ attendees.

At 9AM this empty room will be chock-a-block with the movers and shakers, presenters and lurkers, who’ll participate in the individual sessions that will take place at 4 separate times starting at 10:15 and going through 3:30

Patrick Rafter/Valuecasters

What happens at the initial session is attendees line up behind each other and announce their intention (e.g. I’m going to do a session on the pros & cons of outsourcing sliced bread SaaS applications vs. in-house hacking).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Jamie Goldstein on Boston as a Tech Hub, the unCon, and Solving Tough Issues

Jamie, what makes you excited about Boston as a technology innovation hub?

We've got the greatest entrepreneurs in the world here. They are focused on solving important problems. They're educated, they're hard working, they're tenacious and they're trying to make a difference in the world and those are exactly the entrepreneurs you want to partner with.

Tell us about your involvement in the MassTLC unConference
I am excited to be part of this year’s MassTLC unConference because I believe that it attracts the entrepreneurs who matter.  I think that there are two types of entrepreneurs: those that want to make a lot of money quickly and make themselves famous in the process, and those that actually want to make a lasting imprint. We have a lot of entrepreneurs here that want to make a lasting imprint, with higher ambition, goals and vision, and I know I will be meeting some of them at the unConference.

What are you hoping to share at the unConference?

I'm excited to meet a lot of new entrepreneurs that are passionate about their ideas and brainstorming with them about ways to make these ideas successful. I've been helping entrepreneurs for over 16 years now - I've seen lots of companies succeed and fail. The business I am in is very much a pattern-recognition business - we see things that work and we come across things that don't work, so I'm excited to share those insights and learnings with the entrepreneurs attending the unConference, or any entrepreneur who is interested to hear them.

Michael Skok on the Innovation unConference, Entrepreneurship and Startup Secrets

Michael, tell us about your involvement with the MassTLC Innovation unConference

The Innovation unConference is such an important initiative for entrepreneurs, innovation and the Boston technology ecosystem.  In order for innovation to succeed, our community needs to create forums and platforms for continuous, collaborative learning.  That means bringing together the best talent in our industry to share their experiences, insights and best practices. What better way to get that learning than to have entrepreneurs and innovators engaging amongst themselves, continually refreshing, refining and improving. This is where both the mentors and mentees benefit equally.  I think what MassTLC and all the mentors are doing for the community is phenomenal. I'm psyched to be a part of it this year and for years to come.

You are passionate about entrepreneurship and innovation.  Tell us a bit about your passion and your endeavor, Startup Secrets.

When I look back on my fortune as an entrepreneur, I wish I could rewind the clock and start my first ventures again with the knowledge I have today.  I call this the unfair competitive advantage, and although it is impossible for me to go back in time, I know I can put the lessons I learned to use for today’s entrepreneurs.  This is why I started Startup Secrets. It is but one way to give back to our thriving community of entrepreneurs and support industry efforts such as the Mass TLC unConference, now in its fifth year. Startup Secrets was also propelled by my realizing that there is a mentorship gap, a deeper need to connect those with extensive practical experience with the new talented leaders in our growing startup community. So the format I follow for Startup Secrets is a collaborative one – I bring together successful entrepreneurs to share their stories and insights, so we can collectively give back and help the new leaders, and learn in the process.  I see my efforts and the efforts top entrepreneurs as a catalyst where we all learn as much from the emerging companies as their leaders learn from us. This is why I have committed to finding the best founders, the top innovators, and the most talented product managers, to come and participate in Startup Secrets.

Talking Innovation with Dailybreak’s Ryan Durkin

Enthusiasm radiates from Ryan Durkin, Operations VP at Dailybreak. That much is clear even to strangers. Ryan loves people – watching them develop their potential, watching them learn, and watching them tackle exciting, intimidating projects. Ryan returns to the unConference this year as the Connectors co-chair.

What makes Boston an innovation hub? 

Several elements constitute Boston’s unique innovation epicenter. First, we have entrepreneurs with an overwhelming desire to build and create. Plus, we have young people graduating from school systems that are nationally recognized as being from one of the best states in the U.S.

We have an unusual amount of experienced entrepreneurs, inventors, builders and mentors willing to dedicate time to young people. And finally, the weather: we have a lot of available time to spend indoors during snowstorms and Frankenstorms to think about problems people have and problems we can solve. I'm happy we have the climate we do.

How is innovation evolving in Boston? Where is it heading next?

It’s important to me to keep a pulse on the budding entrepreneurial scene here – those that are 18-22 year olds on greater Boston campuses. From these conversations, I think two things are going to happen:

1. People feel the need to start diving DEEP into research and becoming experts in their respective industries sooner in the life cycle of the business. Look at what the team at LEAP Motion (computer control with natural movements) and imagine the research and development + focus their team must have had to create what they've created. And at the same time

2. A rise in unsexy businesses. After speaking at a number of campuses in Boston over the past six months, I’ve seen a reduction in the "startup hype" we saw over the last two. Entrepreneurs are becoming more grounded. Young people realize that they can solve core problems and make a lot of money, in a way that does not require swinging for the fences with a $100+MM exit every time.

Are there elements we are lacking that would make our ecosystem thrive even more?
There’s one area I feel strongly about:  all the talk about the Boston "brain drain" of talent. This idea that students come to colleges in Boston, get their education, and then leave to pursue other opportunities. Meanwhile, at my alma mater, UMass Amherst, 90% of the people I met grew up here and ended up STAYING in Massachusetts.

UMass has a very large local student base (74% Massachusetts' natives). If I were building a business that focused on recruiting talent (which I am), I would immediately focus on people I know WANT to stay in Massachusetts. The last time I spoke at Boston University, there were three people in a room of 25 who grew up here, likewise at Boston College, where five people in a room of 25 grew up in Massachusetts. But the last time I spoke at UMass Amherst, 22 people out of 25 people grew up in Massachusetts.

If the question is whether or not UMass Amherst students are talented enough to be recruited and hired by tech / innovation companies, I’d suggest you ask Nikhil Thorat (UMass Amherst '12 alum) hired by Google as an Engineer, or Tom Petr (UMass Amherst '10) alum hired by Microsoft in 2010 and Hubspot in 2011 as an engineer, or Mike Miklavic (UMass Amherst '09) hired by Dailybreak as an engineer, who then Founded his own company Clearview Digital, or Sam Erb (UMass Amherst '11 alum) hired by Cisco as an engineer, or Brad Durkin, Jesse Morgan, Chris Ziomek, Jack DeManche, Colby Marques, Matt Holmes, John Federman, Jared Stenquist, Boris Revsin. A small sample of UMass alums who grew up, pursued higher education and stayed in Massachusetts.

My suggestion: bring the big behometh of UMass Amherst into discussions more. Its students will rise to the challenge. They simply need more help seeing all that exists in Boston. After all,  "You don't know what you don't know."

What draws you back to the MassTLC unConference each year?
I’ve met and stayed friends with about two-dozen new people at the unConference. I’m drawn to the strong quality of people and stories / experiences you hear about. I also like the "mentor-mentee" format to the event. It encourages "young people" to meet "older people" with the right war stories and experience. It also allows seasoned vets to meet the future leaders of their city. 

What do you enjoy most about mentoring up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
In one word? Potential. I love the idea of finding students who will do anything they can to "get the deal done." I like meeting people who pride themselves on becoming Renaissance Men and Women; those who excel academically, athletically, musically, professionally, etc. I like people who value productivity and happiness, and I like seeing young people who are working towards both. I feel like I always get far more out of my conversations learning about young adults and their focus on their own visions, than I am able to give them in return.
How can entrepreneurs make the most of this year’s unConference?
Map out on paper who you want to meet with and one line about why. Then, when you get there, find that person and tell them your one line: "Hi Dave. I want to meet you because I'm really interested in the company X you invested in. Could we talk about it?" If you don't have a plan for the day, the day is going to come and go. You'll miss out. You'll end the day saying: "That was a lot of fun." BUT, I think the real value in this event lies in the opportunities to meet a bunch of people you've wanted to meet all year. They're all in one place after all.

What advice would you give to students or young entrepreneurs who are just starting their journey?
Read. Read. Read. Read and read some more. Ask everyone who impresses you about their favorite book and then go read it. And then ask them what their second favorite book is. And then go read that one. Read alllllll the time.

As for Ryan’s favorite books, he’d recommend Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bettina Hein on the Innovation unConference and What Makes Boston’s Innovation Scene Buzz

Bettina Hein
It’s that time of year again – MassTLC unConference time! In fact, it's this Friday! To get us all in the mood, we sat down with some of Boston’s best leaders and unConference mentors to find out what they think makes Boston’s innovation scene buzz and what to expect from this year’s unConference.

First up, Bettina Hein, Founder and CEO of Pixability. Bettina has entrepreneurship in her blood, dating back at least as far as her German grandfather. Bettina is a fixture on the Boston start-up scene, and serves as a role model for other female entrepreneurs, starting the ShEO Network with Zipcar founder Robin Chase. Her take on the Boston start-up scene below:

What makes Boston an innovation hub?
The unique thing about Boston is the large concentration of educational institutions. That creates many graduates who are prime suspects for founding new businesses, working in new businesses, and just making our start-up economy so vibrant.

How is innovation evolving in Boston and where is it heading next? I am really bullish on the Boston innovation ecosystem because of the number of companies being started here, as well as the number of support initiatives we have access to, like TechStars, Mass Challenge and the BREW entrepreneurship week. Each of these programs support young companies. I believe that Boston will be home to the next billion-dollar tech startup.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Finding and Assembling the Building Blocks to Improve Chronic Care and Reduce Costs

Erik Strout, solutions architect at SilverTech and Type 1 Diabetic (T1D) for twenty-seven years, presented the complexities of managing his chronic condition.  Erik framed the conversation in the context of a typical day as a busy business person, family man, philanthropist and individual.  Then he added to that “all the things” a T1D life support system requires of the individual in order to delay (hopefully avoid) complications or even death.

Knowledge of T1D, as well as medical device and insulin technology for managing the condition, has advanced greatly through the years.  Those advancements have created an incredibly complex life support system that the T1D must integrate into everyday life.  Successful execution requires the individual to collect, correlate and act on a wide variety of constant data streams and share that information with the care team. 

Erik focused on two key challenges he faces in managing T1D.  First, those various data sets are separate silos.  Managing and correlating that data is complex and time consuming.  Currently, there is no comprehensive technology solution available to diabetic patients to help with what equates to a full time job. 

Second, the condition assaults the individual with constant negative reinforcement, returning negative results despite 24 X 7 efforts to do “all of the things”.  This daily bombardment exists within the reality that T1D is forever and the over arching negative reinforcement that everything a T1D does is to avoid complications such as blindness, kidney failure, amputation or even death, among other things.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Go-to-market Strategy & Planning - in the End its All About Measurement

MassTLC’s sales and marketing community came together on Friday to discuss the various go-to-market strategies for a range of organization sizes and lifecycle, whether it be a recently-funded venture, a growing venture that has achieved scale, or a larger public software company.

David Skok, General Partner at Matrix Partner discussed a common pain point, the cost of customer acquisition.  His presentation demonstrated that as human touches are added, the cost of customer acquisition is exponential.  But the internet has allowed us to be much more creative in our marketing than ever before. Working at the top of the funnel, its all about generating awareness, something HubSpot has done really well.  At the middle of the funnel it’s about nurturing and answering questions before they are ready to buy your product.  David’s presentation can be found here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

September MassTLC Robotics Cluster Meeting Recap

MassTLC – Robotics Cluster Meeting
September 18, 2012, 8:30 -10:30am
Vecna Technologies, Cambridge, MA

Ted Acworth, Artaic; David Askey, Energid; Martin Beuhler, Vecna; Kim Blair, Cooper Perkins; Valerie Buchalet, Invest in France; Ben Flaumenhaft, Harvest Automation; Michael Gennert, WPI; Kathleen Hagan, Hagan and Co.;  Kristen Johnson, Symbotic; Joe Jones, Harvest Automation; Kevin Leary, Power Hydrant; Jim Mail, ABB; Michael McGurk, Finnegan; Elizabeth Newstadt, MassTLC; Betsy Ross, MassTLC; Barbara Rudolph, Rudolph Communications; Tom Ryden, vGo Communications; Rob Smith, iRobot; Bob Steingart, Steingart & Associates; Debbi Theobald, Vecna; Didier Vanden Abeele, CEA LIST; Cheryl Walsh, FIRST; Maggie Weeks, Symbotic; Jill Wittels, Sostenuto Strategic Advisors; Yanliang Zhang, Mathworks; Bill Zimmer, Server Technology

Welcome and Introductions – Mike McGurk of Finnegan spoke to the group as the new sponsor of the MassTLC Robotics Cluster.

Recent Cluster Highlights
·        Rethink Robotics unveils Baxter
·        iRobot acquires Evolution Robotics
·        Aquabotix featured in Mass High Tech
·        UMass Amherst researchers develop robots to aid stroke victims
·        iRobot announced the launch of the iRobot Looj 330 and the iRobot Roomba 600
·        Medrobotics receives $8M
·        Maine start-up, Howe & Howe Technologies, has developed a robotic fire fighter
·        Quiet Logistics expands to West Coast
·        Energid to provide software for a robotic satellite servicing spacecraft
·        iRobot unveiled healthcare robot, the RP-VITA
·        Rethink Robotics, formerly Heartland Robotics, received $30M in funding
·        MIT, Bluefin Robotics and Harvest Automation recently featured in the Economist