June 30, 2013

Jay Batson's Vision of the Boston Tech/Innovation Community

Last week, at the new office launch for another one of Boston's 'quiet monster' ecommerce companies, Jay Batson and I engaged in a discussion on the state of the Boston tech/innovation community. Batson, who helped found Acquia and is currently the mentor-in-residence for TechStars Boston, had pretty much all of the good ideas I must admit.

Mainly, he was passionate about the branding of the current Boston tech/startup boom that is seeing new innovative companies exploding out of nowhere all of the time, and older, established businesses being rewarded with significant acquisitions and IPO's.

At the heart of his thinking was the belief that the old identification with the Route 128 tech corridor was outdated. (Although the company he founded with Dries Buytaert, Acquia, is headquartered in Burlington.) The Boston tech/innovation community covers a more widespread area than ever before, and, though major companies are still located in Waltham and other 128-bordering cities and towns, Batson sees a new identity and connecting thread starting to immerge.

Specifically, Batson has observed a trend over the past few years of startups, as well as the new offices of some older companies, establishing their home bases in close proximity to the Red Line from Central Square to Sullivan Square.
As we talked, it became clear that Batson was on to something, a distinct identifying factor for the whole Boston tech/innovation scene. (One that wasn't focused on a neighborhood or 'district' and doesn't ignite old cross-border rivalries, like the hot/cold Boston-Cambridge relationship.)

We spent a good chunk of time trying to figure out an appropriate name and identity for the "Boston Tech Line." Many of the naming ideas were just plain absurd (mostly my own lousy creations) and somewhat nonsensical, but the discussion lit a visible fire in Batson who was so excited by the prospect of a legit way to identify the explosion of innovation and awesome companies that have all grown up in and around the Red Line.

When we last spoke at the event, he was excited to go home and write down his thoughts. Today, he published his thoughts on the "Boston Tech Line" on his blog, startup dj.

Here are the essential highlights of his post:

"I've recently been struck by the the office locations at which I've found Boston area startups taking root. And a pattern emerged for me: the center of gravity is along the MBTA Red Line. And there are so many companies it now significantly outweighs the historically-named "128 Corridor. This shift in the Boston tech scene is so significant that I think we (the Boston tech community) should name this new corridor, and using the name to bring attention to it. The mere act of doing so can accelerate the reality of it."

Batson then gives a history of some of the explosion that hit the suburbs in the 1960's and 1980's, but believes things have changed:

"Today, the Boston tech scene has totally changed: The number of startups in the city now outnumbers the suburbs by an order of magnitude, and nearly all are founded by young(er) teams."

Batson thinks some of the major changes in the startup world are do to three key factors: Lean startup methodology, more angel/seed investors involved in building a vibrant and successful community, and younger founders who have the leverage and (lack of) responsiblity to take bigger risks.

"During the early part of this explosion, there has been a significant draw for startups to locate in the area right around Kendall Square. This was also driven in no small part by the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), which provided tech-centric co-working space. Everybody wanted that address.
At the same time, Microsoft, Google, Facebook & others wanted to open up shop there, too. Adding to the pressure, a biotech boom happened in Cambridge at the same time, with Biogen, and numerous other behemoths building monster buildings.
That same draw has driven the price of space in Cambridge through the roof, squeezing out "lean" startups.
And this is what I've noticed: They've all gone to locations within a 5-8 minute walk - 2 or 3 blocks - from a MBTA Red Line station, and the distance from Kendall Square Red Line is growing steadily - forming a new...[Boston Tech Line]."

He concludes his piece with a call to arms:

"We, the Boston tech scene, now have an amazing stretch of both Boston & Cambridge that we need to name, own, and build an entire ecosystem around. Let's make a habit of meeting at some more Voltage-style coffee shops - but do it downtown. I want to know where the next after-work watering hole will be (similar to Meadhall) so we can share ideas, people, and resources. And I hope the Mayors of the two respective cities along the Red Line can join together and just bring more companies here regardless of the side of the river.
And we can stop comparing the "128 Corridor" with Silicon Valley. SV is always going to be bigger. BUT, the Boston Tech Line is better, because we can all take the subway from office to office in 10 minutes or less. OR (better), bike between them.
Let's name, this, and own it."

Batson has some great ideas in his post and his passion for bringing this identifying factor to life is obvious.

The dyanamics have changed and yet, Boston has not "officially" moved on from the golden age of the "Massachusetts Miracle."

Jay Batson's "Boston Tech Line" go a long way in changing that identity.

We just need to work on the name. Anyone?

You can view the full post here. Please send comments on what you think of the Boston Tech Line and tweet any possible naming ideas to @VentureFizz.

Dennis Keohane is a staff writer for VentureFizz.  You can follow Dennis on Twitter (@DBKeohane) by clicking here.