We often like to invite the media to stop by our office; it provides us an opportunity to get to know each other better and hear perspectives on current trends. The conversation also educates our team about the types of stories reporters are most interested in covering and what the media look for from the PR community to help bring a story to life.
PAN recently hosted Boston Business Journal’s Technology Editor David Harris at PAN. David led an interactive, hour-long session about his thoughts on Boston’s tech scene at large, how the Hub measures up to other areas when it comes to VC activity and fostering startup growth, and who he sees as driving local innovation. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:
- Where are Boston-area technology companies focusing and what are the types of innovations we can expect from them in the near future?
I think the biggest trend we're seeing in Boston and the larger tech community as a whole is the understanding that security is important. The Internet was built without a lot of attention to defending it from the security breaches we're seeing today. Think Heartbleed here or some of the hacking attacks originating from other countries, including China. So I think we'll see a lot more funding go to companies that are in this space. And we're already starting to see some of this such as ObserveIT, Threat Stack.
Boston is known for its B2B tech scene, but I think you'll also start to see a lot more consumer-oriented companies coming from Boston. With the opening of Blade, Kayak co-founder Paul English's startup "foundry," and some other key players out there, we'll start to see more startups focused on consumers.
- Are area VCs investing in Boston technology startups? Why or why not?
Boston is now in third place in terms of funding (Silicon Valley remains the top, followed by NYC and the Hub). Although Boston's not number one on the list, it's still in a very good spot. A lot of VC funding is going to B2B companies (this has been the case for some time). Boston tech companies are still getting a good amount of VC money. In fact, a recent survey by data firm CB Insights reported 68 percent of Massachusetts-based seed investments from 2010-2013 included a Mass.-based VC investor.
- Is the Boston technology scene “healthy” compared to other areas like New York City and The Valley?
Yes, I'd say we're in an enviable position up here, but of course we could always do better. I think the city of Boston, surrounding communities and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have taken a proactive approach to attracting and keeping startups here. We shouldn't forget that we have a thriving scene on the more mature side of tech as well. We've got EMC, Akamai, Brightcove, Pegasystems, Constant Contact and countless others all headquartered in Massachusetts. And there are companies that will continue to blossom here.
- What does Boston need to do to continue to attract technology startups and growth companies to be based here?
One of the biggest problems that Boston is facing is a housing crunch. We can ban noncompetition agreements, keep bars open until 4 a.m. and open more restaurants, but if housing is unaffordable, then the city and region won't be able to grow in a healthy way.
The other problem we face is public transportation. We need to invest in our crumbling public transportation infrastructure so that people who work in these tech companies can get to work. If we fix or deal with these problems, then the entire tech sector in Boston can grow in a healthy way as well.
- Who are the most influential leaders in the Boston tech scene today and why?
A couple people I'm looking at since I started covering this beat three months ago include Brightcove Founder Jeremy Allaire, who seems to be making a big bet on Bitcoin with his startup, Circle. Bitcoin is one of the most interesting things facing both the tech and financial worlds. If he succeeds, it could clear the way for the general acceptance of Bitcoin.
Another person I'm looking at is Cambridge Innovation Center Founder Tim Rowe, who I've known for years and has been an extremely motivating presence in the startup and venture scenes. Tim's innovative concept has spread out from Cambridge to other cities around the world, including an outpost in Boston.
- Finally (and we always like to ask this question!), what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever been pitched?
I frequently get pitches that seem a little crazy, whether it's because it's a story idea that doesn't have anything to do with our coverage area or because the idea seems more like a spam message than a story we would actually cover. I have yet to get a really crazy pitch, although my colleague tells me he was once pitched a story a couple years ago about an invisibility cloak that was allegedly invented in Waltham (which we, of course, had to write about).