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At 3:55pm yesterday I cried.
I was getting ready for a Google Hangout back to my office with my partners and I noticed something about an explosion at the Boston Marathon on twitter. I did a quick scan of Twitter, clicked through to a few links, and realized a bomb had gone off near the finish line.
I went blank – just stared at my computer screen – and then started crying. I called Amy – she hadn’t heard about it yet and told her what had happened. I collected myself and called in to my Hangout. My partners were all shaken also – Seth lived in Boston for many years, Ryan has done several marathons, and Jason just did his first marathon last year in Detroit.
During our Hangout I sent some emails out to friends in Boston. Four close friends were on the third floor of the building above the first explosion. They were ok – but shocked and very shaken up. Emails continued to flow with me checking in on people and people checking in on me since they knew I was a marathoner and on the east coast.
My emotion shifted from sadness, to a wave of being horrified, to temporary anger, back to a very deep sadness. At the NJ Tech Meetup, before I started talking I asked for a moment of silence to recognize the people who were at the Boston Marathon, especially those who were injured. I can’t remember exactly what I said – I just know that I teared up again before my talk.
On my way back to Manhattan, Amy and I talked. We were both incredibly sad. And lonely – she’s home and I’m in NY. She was supposed to go to Boston yesterday for a Wellesley board meeting – she decided not to go because of some stuff going on. She would have stayed at the Mandarin Oriental, just down the block from the explosion. It’s all too close for comfort.
Lying in bed, I couldn’t fall asleep. I tossed and turned until 1am. I kept thinking about being in NY on 9/11, about running the Boston Marathon, about the bike accident I had in September where a turn of the wheel a different direction would have meant lights out for me. It was some combination of PTSD, sadness, obsessions, and contemplation of mortality. I finally fell asleep.
This morning on my run with Reece Pacheco we talked about it a little more. I haven’t even begun to really process this. Brent Hill sent out a tweet to me and a bunch of friends to commit to running Boston in 2014. I’m in.
I just contributed to the Boston Tech Communities fundraiser for the Boston Marathon victims. All proceeds will be donated completely to programs working with victims of the attacks including Red Cross, Children’s Hospital, and others.
Over the last three weeks I’ve had numerous people ask me how my trip to Boston has been going. For a while I corrected them and said “I’m mostly in Cambridge” but gave up. Tonight, after hanging out at the TechStars Boston Mentor evening and program kickoff, I got into a long discussion with a Bill Warner and Ken Zolot about Cambridge, Boston, and startup communities. At some point in the conversation I blurted out “I have no idea why we call this program TechStars Boston instead of TechStars Cambridge.” And then something that I thought was important dawned on me.
My entire entrepreneurial view of “Boston” is centered around Cambridge. I’ve been here for two of the last three weeks (I spent four days in New York). I’m staying in a hotel in Kendall Square across from Google and next to MIT. I’ve spent my days walking to meetings at MIT, Kendall Square, Tech Square, Central Square, and East Cambridge including what I refer to as “the old Lotus building”. I’ve had all of my meals in Kendall Square or Central Square. Other than running, I’ve only been physically in Boston four times – first when I arrived at the airport, then when I took the train to New York, then when I returned on the train from New York, and finally when I spent the morning at Fidelity’s FCAT offices at Summer Street.
Now, I know there is plenty of startup activity in Boston. My old neighborhood near Fort Point Channel (I used to live on Sleeper Street in a condo at Dockside Place) is bustling with startup activity. There’s plenty of stuff on 128 and 495. There’s are other entrepreneurs tucked around the city. But that’s not the interesting story, at least in my mind.
The few square miles in Cambridge around MIT is the white hot center of startup activity in the region. One of my basic principles of startup communities is the need for what I call entrepreneurial population density (EPD) which I calculate as the total number of entrepreneurs and employees of entrepreneurial companies divided by the total number of all employees in a region. Then an even more powerful metric is entrepreneurial density, which is EPD / size of region. A large EPD in a small physical region wins.
Part of the magic of Boulder is the entrepreneurial density of the place. And as I wander from meeting to meeting in Cambridge, running into people on the street who I know, or who I met with the day before, or I who I want to know, reminds me of the dynamic in Boulder. For example, I ran into Matt Cutler on my way to Rich Levandov’s office and we walked over together. I bumped into the StartLabs organizers when going to a meeting with Will Crawford. I saw Joe Chung while hanging around StartLabs. I saw 50+ mentors who I knew last night at TechStars and expect to see more today when I’m there. While having breakfast with Michael Schrage at the Cambridge Marriott Joost Bonsen came over and said hello. At Dogpatch meeting with Yesware I saw Dave Greenstein and gave him a hug for his new kid. And the list of moments like this, which happened with 10 square blocks, go on and on. But when I hop on the red line and travel to South Station, the magic disperses.
I remember when the Boston VC community moved from downtown Boston to Waltham. I understood it was an effort to create a “Sand Hill Road” like venture community but the big miss was that an MIT student couldn’t hop on a bike and ride to Waltham like a Stanford student could with Sand Hill Road. And it’s no surprise that downtown Palo Alto, which is even closer to Stanford, is an attractive place for VCs to hang out. The snarky message when the VCs moved to Waltham was that they wanted to be close to their fancy houses and their private golf clubs and the entrepreneurs could come to them. It’s no surprise that many of these firms have relocated to Cambridge, recognizing that they should be in the middle of the entrepreneurial energy.
I’d suggest to the Cambridge and Boston startup communities that they should think of themselves as two separate but related communities. Even within Boston, it seems like there are different startup communities in downtown, 125, and even 495. I think that thinking of it “Boston” is a mistake.
In my world view, the entrepreneurs drive the startup community. Focus on entrepreneurial population density and entrepreneurial density – and make sure your geographic region is small. Over time, linking the critical mass together in a larger region (e.g. Silicon Valley or Boston) is fine, but the real power comes from the startup communities with the largest EPD in small physical regions which are big enough to have critical mass.
If you want to go to TechStars for a Day in Boston, today is the last day to apply for the Boston program early application deadline. If you haven’t heard of TechStars for a Day, it’s a one day event that immerses you in the TechStars program, exposes you to the mentors, and increases your visibility with the selection committee. Why wouldn’t you do this? I have no clue.
If you are contemplating applying to Techstars Boston, stop procrastinating and apply now. If you are curious about how some of the TechStars Boston class of 2011 have done, take a look at the post titled 2011 Funding: Boston. And yes, I plan to be in Boston for the second half of January so I’ll be at the first few days of the program for everyone who gets in.
I’ve been spending some time with the current TechStars Boston class. This feels to me like the strongest class we’ve had in Boston so far and might be the one of the strongest TechStars classes overall. This class of companies in Boston is thinking big and is very diverse.
It’s been incredibly energizing watching each of the four TechStars cities (Boulder, NYC, Seattle, and Boston) up their game every single year. In Boston in particular, Katie Rae has done a great job engaging many great new mentors. I was lucky enough to have the chance to meet many of them on my last trip to Boston, and they all seemed very excited to be involved. They were feeding off of the energy of the companies in the program, just as it should be.
If you’re an angel investor or would like to become one, there’s a great two-for-one coming in Boston soon. June 15th is TechStars Demo Day, where the new crop of companies there will show their stuff for the first time in front of several hundred investors. If you’re an angel investor or a VC and you’d like an invitation, just drop TechStars a note. If you’ve never been to a TechStars Demo Day event before, you’re really missing out on something special. The day before, on June 14, Jon Pierce has put together a great event called Angel Boot Camp where those interested in learning more about angel investing can spend the day learning from those who do it well. It’s a great opportunity to learn and then see some great new TechStars companies the next day as well. Oh, and just in case you want to be really cool, don’t miss Coolio at the TechStars after-party on June 15th.
If I’ve learned one thing in my life, it’s that nothing is static.
Periodically the meme surfaces that “the only place you can create a great software / Internet company is in the bay area.” While I think the bay area is a special place, anyone that knows me knows that I strongly believe there are several great entrepreneurial communities throughout the US and the potential for many more.
Boston has always been a great entrepreneurial community. Sure – it’s had it’s ups and downs, but when I lived here from 1983 to 1995 the entrepreneurial vector was awesome. I started my first company (Feld Technologies) here in 1987 and made my first angel investment (NetGenesis) here in 1994.
When TechStars opened a Boston program in 2009 there was definitely new energy around the software / Internet startup scene in Boston and TechStars was excited to be part of. When I say “Boston”, I actually mean “Boston/Cambridge” where the center of mass is really near MIT in Cambridge. The venture capital community has finally realized this (again) and much of the physical location of the VCs is shifting to the Cambridge / Kendall Square area with a little in Harvard Square (a 10 minute cab or train ride from Kendall Square.)
I spent the day at TechStars Boston yesterday meeting with all of the TechStars Boston 2011 companies. They are halfway through the program and are stunning. Three months ago I was super psyched about the quality of the TechStars NY 2011 companies as they were halfway through the program. The Boston program, under the leadership of Katie Rae, has taken it up another notch!
Last night at dinner I met a bunch of the TechStars Boston mentors. Katie has recruited some folks I’ve never met before and I asked her to put together a dinner with the people I didn’t know. It was just awesome – super food at Evoo, great conversation, and really impressive people. Tonight we have a TechStars Boston mentor happy hour so I’ll get to see a bunch of old friends and the rest of the TechStars Boston mentors.
At the end of dinner, Matt Lauzon, the founder/CEO of Gemvara, told me about this thing he and some friends had created called #RubyRiot. It’s a “pay-it-forward” event where everyone that comes asks for an introduction to one person (anyone on the planet) and everyone in attendance works together to make the introduction happen. Matt asked me if I’d sponsor the event – Fred Destin piled on and said he’d put up $1k if I did, then Reed Sturtevant did also, and Gus Weber from Dogpatch finished us off. I’m an easy mark so I jumped in the boat.
As I walked back to my hotel, I was buzzing from the day. I believe to my core that the entrepreneurs create and sustain entrepreneurial communities. Everyone else, including VC’s like me, are participants. And it’s just awesome to see the next generation of Internet entrepreneurs reignite the fire in Boston (well – Cambridge) and drag the last generation back into it.