Tuesday Sep 17, 2013 by Dennis Keohane - Staff Writer, VentureFizz
Last night a Microsoft NERD, Startup Institute held an awards event unlike any that I've attended in Boston so far.
The Italics Awards seemed more like a close family gathering of Boston's most loyal and intelligent innovators than a ceremony to acknowledge local company founders. I wish I had a video of the event to show anyone who might ask me, "What makes the Boston tech community special?"
The second annual awards presentation featured many of last year's Italics winners handing out the sharp, 3D-printed prizes to local innovation ecosystem stalwarts Bob Mason of Brightcove, Ben Einstein of Bolt, Sarah Hodges of Intelligent.ly/Smarterer, Evertrue's Brent Grinna, Intrepid Pursuits/Timbre's Mark Kasdorf, Greg Selkoe of Karmaloop, and Colin Raney of IDEO.
If there was a theme to the event, it was to "Keep Doing as Much Good as Possible for Boston." Almost every presenter and award winner acknowledged the impact some other member of the tech community had on them and urged anyone looking for advice or mentorship to reach out and ask for it.
After some introductory remarks from Startup Institute's Aaron O'Hearn, Dan Allred of Silicon Valley Bank briefly discussed his vision and hopes for Boston.
While introducing Brightcove and TechStars' Bob Mason, Sravish Sridhar of Kinvey spotlighted the deep relationships that can be built rather quickly in Boston. He told the story of preparing to launch a new product only to find out that Brightcove had already gotten the jump on the same idea. And yet, while competing for the same space, Mason helped Sridhar fill a key management role that helped Kinvey's rise as a mobile backend powerhouse.
During his short acceptance speech, Brent Grinna pointed out some of the fresh faces in the room whom he had talked to before the event started and acknowledged the courage it takes to approach a stranger for mentorship and advice.
"The consistent theme for a lot of people here is to continue putting yourself out there," Grinna said. "At the event that I met Dan [Allred] at a few years ago, I was one of the guys standing in the corner." During his introduction of Grinna, Allred had relayed the story of meeting the Evertrue founder at a similar event years before.
"I've met a couple of people here tonight already, who I've thought to myself I want to help them, and I know that I'm going to." Grinna then pointed out the young, hopeful entrepreneurs who had approached him before the event started.
While accepting his Italics Award, Mark Kasdorf told the story of going to Joe Caruso's office for the first time and the impact that sitting down with the Bantam Group's founder had on him. As Kasdorf said, "I remember at the very end of the meeting, he said to me, 'I only have one data point, and that's not a lot to go on, but I don't think you are full of BS, and we should meet again. I'd like to help you build a great company in Boston.' And that really stuck with me."
After that meeting, Kasdorf set his mind to being a difference maker in the startup community. As he said, "I became determined to try to be that type of person in Boston...the kind of person that will listen to what someone's goals are and regardless of the company they are starting or the thing they're working on, they will reach back into their network and the people they know and ask how can I hopefully help this person move what they are doing forward."
Colin Raney of IDEO acknowledged the startup community and explained how the Boston design scene and tech scene work best when they look to each other for inspiration. "What you do with startups and what we do in design is a shared struggle," Raney said. "I think that we are both trying to find our place in this great city, and I think we work better together."
During her acceptance speech, Sarah Hodges talked about how she was thinking about moving out of Boston until she "fell into startups." As she explained, "I was totally blown away by how enveloping and supporting and warm this community is. Everyday I am grateful to be a part of this ecosystem."
Hodges explained how Adelphic Mobile's Jennifer Lum helped her when she was first getting involved in the startup scene. Hodges thanked Lum for constantly asking her, "Who do you want to meet, how do you want to grown your network?" As Hodges explained, "It was one small thing she did that helped me get my foot in the door and build my own network."
"All of you know someone who can help someone else," Hodges said. "Just taking the time to ask someone how you can help them and how you can move them forward is something you should be doing everyday."
Bolt's Ben Einstein, a relative newbie in the tech community, thanked the audience and talked about the importance of mentors and influencers. In particular, Einstein relayed the story of meeting SolidWorks' Jon Hirschtick and how he helped him get connected to the tech scene.
Maybe the most raucous (and inspirational) speech of the night came from Karmaloop's and Future Boston's Greg Selkoe.
Saying that the 1900's was a "bad century" for Boston, he commented on and listed all the great Boston thought leaders that made Boston the "Hub of the Universe" in the 1800's. After name dropping abolistionists, Edgar Allen Poe, Longfellow, Isabella Stuart Gardner, James Law Olmstead, and Henry James, Selkoe emphatically urged the crowd to replicate the innovative thinking of Boston's golden century to be "the next leaders who are going to be good for not just [Boston] but the whole world."
The Startup Instiute should be commended for putting on such a great, positive event. I have no doubts that this event will continue to grow over the next few years to the point that it might be the premier celebrations of the Boston tech community.