Pamela Goldberg became head of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the quasi-public agency charged with spurring the state’s innovation economy, last year. Goldberg, the former director of entrepreneurial leadership at Tufts University, recently spoke with Globe reporter Michael B. Farrell about the state’s competitive edge, the shortage of female engineers, and the bright spots in a lagging economy.
Since you’ve been on board, what have you accomplished?
We’re starting to make some headway in making the organization even more innovative. If we’re serving the innovation economy, we need to be like entrepreneurs. With my entrepreneurial background, I am always trying to be agile and look at new approaches. I haven’t been in government before so this is a real change.
What are you having to get used to?
I spent the last decade creating and building an entrepreneurship center at Tufts University, so in academia there are politics with a lowercase “p’’ and in the government it’s politics with a capital “P.’’ I recently spent 10 days with the governor on a trade mission in Brazil. Brazil’s biggest asset is its oil and arable land, and Massachusetts’ biggest asset is its brain power.
Why is it important for the local technology sector to have connections with developing economies?
For our tech companies, it’s a global world today. If they are just doing business in the US or focused on Massachusetts, then they cannot be a strong competitor in the world economy. We also need to encourage tech companies outside the US to have their US headquarters here. Our goal first and foremost is job creation here, but if our companies are doing business elsewhere, we want to support them, and that will influence their commitment to Massachusetts.
New York eclipsed New England in venture capital funding. How do we ensure that Massachusetts remains a vibrant place for start-ups?
When you look at pure dollars, New York has eclipsed Massachusetts. But on a per capita basis, we are still ahead of anyone else. Kendall Square has the strongest concentration of start-ups. One of the initiatives of Mass. Technology Collaborative is our Tech Hub Collaborative, which is a bunch of tech CEOs working with venture capitalists to launch new ventures. It’s been responsible for creating 12 new start-ups.
You’ll often hear people lament that Facebook started here but left. How can you ensure that start-ups stay here?
I hear the Facebook example all the time. But an example of a hot technology company deciding to stay in the Boston area is Nuance Communications Inc. When they grew through acquisition, they could have moved their headquarters to California but instead decided to stay. So why doesn’t that get the same PR that Facebook going in the other direction gets?
Is there enough engineering talent to continue staffing these tech companies?
A lot of companies associated with MTC are asking how they can find more engineers, especially computer science majors. It’s a challenge. It’s really important for us to encourage more young people to go into the STEM fields [science, technology, engineering, and math], and there are definitely jobs here in Massachusetts.
You’re the first woman to head this organization. Do you bring a different perspective because of that?
Mentorship is a critical part of driving the innovation economy, driving technology. And for young women to decide to get into the technology sector, there needs to be more female role models. It certainly isn’t balanced yet.
Why are there so few women in engineering?
It’s a generation thing. Our culture historically didn’t encourage that. I was asked at a STEM conference why didn’t I pursue a career in science. I grew up knowing that I was stronger than my peers in math and even studied some computer languages in college, but wasn’t ready to fully break out of traditional roles. The next generation has the opportunity because there aren’t set expectations.