Innovation that Matters – 2016

Preface: I’ve been living and working in the Boston region for 30 years now.  A native upstate New Yorker, I’ve now spent far more time in Boston than in the place I think of as my hometown.  Even though I spent the first decade renting, and hopping around the region, I have now lived in my home here longer than the house I grew up in.

Recently, our partners from Washington, 1776 (we worked with them on the Boston Challenge Cup), sent me a copy of their Innovation that Matters report. The Innovation That Matters report “examines and ranks 25 cities’ readiness to capitalize on the inevitable shift to a digital economy. It carves out critical trends every U.S. city leader can learn from and offers recommendations local leaders can adopt to strengthen their region’s digital competitiveness.”

And what city is at the top of list?  My adopted hometown, Boston.  Yeah team!

But before we start the celebrations…consider this: while the report found that San Francisco Bay area the “clear leader” in startup activity , it demoted SF for its lack of cohesive community and declining quality of life. Boston wins by default.

I was recently visiting Boulder for a speaking engagement and had a meeting with an entrepreneur I knew from Boston.  She had moved her company from Boston to San Francisco and lasted just a few months before she fled, moving “back home” to Denver.  She found San Fran cold, highly competitive and not welcoming.  She felt everyone was trying to “steal” her team and there was a huge lack of the nurturing she found in Boston.

So, why didn’t she come back to Boston?  And why did she leave in the first place?  Cost of living plays a huge role – she could buy a lovely home in Colorado and the Boston area made that not an option. In the Innovation that Matters report, Denver leads in terms of quality of life. That top score makes a difference.  It made a difference for my young entrepreneur friend.

So how do we make a difference?  How do we keep that top slot for Boston and move ahead on other fronts?

  • Keep our community strong. When you do something in Boston, tell others about it.  Share the information with other community members, including the universities. We also need to support our local media – the local media helps tell everyone your story.
  • Remember our heritage. Some people may remember that we started Mass Innovation Nights at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation in Waltham.  The museum’s mill building was the site of many industry “firsts”. Know where we came from. Know where our traditional strengths are and what we can build on – whether it is manufacturing, textiles or enterprise software.
  • Make sure our infrastructure is up to snuff.  We spent some time this week with MIT talking about future transportation issues – how will we get around Boston?  Our client netBlazr offers internet-only service all around Boston via radio “transmitters” – I’m over-simplifying it but that’s really all you need to know.  No waiting 6 years for a big cable company to dig up the streets – you can have blazing fast internet service now.
  • Make sure we fund the startups that need to be funded.  We started Innovation Women, our speaker bureau for entrepreneurial, technical and innovative women, in order to get more visibility opportunities for women.  Visibility = opportunity. Every time you can tell your story, you have a better chance to get funding, and connect with customers and partners. If we look at the numbers, traditionally, women get only a very tiny portion of the VC money.  How many opportunities have been missed because we don’t get great startups property funded locally?

So, what do you think we need to do to keep Boston strong and innovative? Let me know on social media — @BobbieC or @WomenInno