I’ve spent this Saturday morning catching up on some of the news and analysis of the Startup America announcement from this week. It’s an exciting initiative and it is a great follow up to President Obama’s State of the Union address. I first caught wind of it from my Facebook feed where I watched this video description of the program:
At a high level, it helps to bring national attention to this crucially important component to our economy. Also, its great to see that those working in Obama’s administration are making the distinction between ‘mom & pop’ small businesses and potentially high-impact, scalable small businesses. But what does this mean for the startup community here in Boston?
To add a little context to the question, there is a great piece by Daniel Isenberg in the Harvard Business Review in which he both praises the things that were handled well but also offers some critical suggestions for improving Startup America. Amongst the suggestions, a key piece in how this all relates to Boston’s community is this quote:
Entrepreneurship is hyper-local in that all “species” of entrepreneurs gather around extremely small “watering holes” to draw from the resources (people, ideas, capital, customers) they need to launch and grow.
The thing is, the watering hole is well stocked here. We see leadership from individuals like David Cancel, Jeremy Allaire, Roy Rodenstein, Dharmesh Shah, Simeon Simeonov, Dave Balter, John Prendergast, Brian Shin (CEO of Visible Measures which is where I work), Jeff Bussgang and many others. We have a culture of innovation that dates back to the fifties with the evolution of the 128 loop. There are tons of success stories such as TripAdvisor, A123 Systems, and EnerNOC as just a few off the top of my head. There are countless venture capital firms in the region and a plethora of angel investors to provide the capital necessary for growing startups. In fact, there was $2.12 billion that was dished out to startups in Boston last year alone which probably doesn’t even account for most of the seed rounds. As for education, well… it’s Boston. I don’t think that needs any further explanation. There is MassChallenge, Tech Stars, Y Combinator, and Dog Patch Labs to name a few of the region’s incubators which is a big component to the Startup America initiative. I’ve seen a great host of events taking place in the past couple years fostering new relationships and entrepreneurial support lead by members of the community like DART Boston and the folks at Microsoft NERD. And I think that focused media coverage from Xconomy Boston, BostInnovation, Scott Kirsner’s Innovation Economy blog on Boston.com and Mass High Tech is another important piece to the ecosystem by documenting the goings on and events that take place so that progress and shifts can be noted.
So I return to the original question of what Startup America means for Boston. From my perspective, I don’t think it will mean a whole lot. Perhaps the most impactful piece will be tax breaks and incentives for entrepreneurs but most of what the program is attempting to do are things that are already established here. There’s always room for improvement in the startup scene, don’t get me wrong but a lot of infrastructure already exists. That’s part of the reason why the MassChallenge was involved in the formation of the White House’s program.
So to expand slightly more on Daniel’s critiques, it would seem that one of the further measures of Startup America’s success will be the ability to truly foster innovation and entrepreneurship in areas of the country that do not have this type of infrastructure already in place.
I do want to end this on a positive note and reiterate that I am very excited and encouraged to see this type of attention from the top levels of our government paid to this sector of industry. And instead of simply patting ourselves on the back for a job already well done here in Boston, I’d love to hear in the comments if there are ways you think we can a) improve things here in Boston further and b) essentially teach, share, or export some of our capabilities or lessons learned to regions that are still fostering their own local innovation economies.