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Shirley Leung

Start-ups, business establishment must collaborate

David Chang, chief operating officer of PayPal Media Network, meet Paul Guzzi, chief executive of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

You two have never met, and you should have by now. David moved more than 160 PayPal employees into International Place in December, as sure a sign as any that the new kids on the block are infiltrating the Financial District.

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So, Paul, why haven’t you met David?

“It’s a very good question,” Guzzi told me.

It’s not just David and Paul. The downtown business crowd and Kendall Square’s tech companies and start-ups have never mixed well. They each do their own thing. But now their worlds are colliding when they should be collaborating, and they need to get to know each other.

These upstarts began moving into Boston after Mayor Tom Menino, in a stroke of marketing genius, rebranded the Southie waterfront as the Innovation District. Over the past couple of years, more than 200 companies with about 4,000 employees , primarily related to the tech industry, have settled in the Innovation District, according to city officials.

It’s put Menino in the position of being a one-person welcome wagon. He recently asked Guzzi about getting these newcomers to join the chamber, and now the two of them are planning a meeting with them to discuss the issue.

Entrepreneurs and the establishment are, by nature, frenemies.

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“We want to make sure they feel like they’re part of Boston, not just doing business down there,” the mayor said. “How can they collaborate with the old part of Boston?”

The silver-haired Guzzi is climbing on board, and, having been a regular guest for years on his NECN show “This Week in Business,” I know he’s as cordial and connected as they come.

“We’re not your grandfather’s chamber of commerce,” Guzzi said.

It can’t be. The next Facebook and Instagram could well be in our own backyard, and our most prominent business leaders have no idea how to connect with them. Connections, for good and bad, are what the Boston business community has been built on, and if we can’t find a way to connect with the most dynamic part of our economy, we lose.

The governor of Florida zeroed in on our Achilles’ heel when he mailed letters last week to 100 business leaders in Massachusetts urging them to book a one-way ticket to Florida, after the Commonwealth approved higher taxes on computer services.

Entrepreneurs and the establishment are, by nature, frenemies. Entrepreneurs are the disruptors of the status quo. They also dress funny — bike messenger chic.

The newbies say they are building companies with national and international business models, making the local connections offered by a chamber less useful. But even a global company needs to nurture its roots.

Only about 10 percent of the chamber’s 1,500 members are tech companies. Certainly the tech giants — EMC, Google, Microsoft — are members but go one layer below and you won’t find some of hottest tech brands around — TripAdvisor or HubSpot, for example.

And what about the even smaller companies, the ones that generate so much excitement? They’re the hardest nut to crack. Though they like talking to each other, they’re growing so fast they don’t have time for extracurriculars like the chamber.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work: Two years ago, Guzzi called Niraj Shah, the cofounder and chief executive of Wayfair, a Boston-based furniture and home goods Internet retailer that generates more sales than Crate and Barrel online. They met over breakfast at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s Asana, where Guzzi persuaded Shah to join the chamber. The chamber landed a star e-commerce company, one that now employs more than 900 people in Boston — a 50 percent increase in just a couple of years. Wayfair got fresh connections and a far stronger voice in Boston’s business community.

As to why Shah is joining forces with the downtown crowd, look no further than the state’s new 6.25 percent tax on software services. State officials “think about industries like real estate developers, insurance, and other more traditional industries,” he said. “They need to think about the software and consumer Internet industries more.”

Yes, they do. The tech sector is the region’s growth engine, and it’ll stall if the big wheels are still the same old, same old.

Shirley Leung can be reached at sleung@globe.com.
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