The appointment of Daniel Arrigg Koh as chief of staff to new Mayor Martin J. Walsh may have prompted some head scratching in political circles, but drew cheers from members of the city’s burgeoning technology community.
Koh has a strong link to the digital world, serving as the general manager of HuffPost Live, an online video channel, and previously as chief of staff to media mogul Arianna Huffington. His appointment has quickly mollified a tech community that had been underwhelmed by the grasp of issues Walsh displayed during the campaign.
“I think it’s an exciting choice,” said Annmarie Levins, who heads the Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center New England. “He’s a good pick for helping to bring together all the communities of Boston, and the tech community, in particular. We’re trying to answer the question of how we can make Boston a tech mecca, and somebody like Dan can help do that.”
At just 29 years old, Koh lacks extensive political experience. He spent less than a year as an adviser to former mayor Thomas M. Menino through the Harvard Business School Leadership Fellow program. His only other political work was as an undergraduate intern to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
The rest of Koh’s background is a mosaic that includes brief strategic consulting roles with the New England Patriots, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and Virginia-based technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.
Yet it is the eclectic nature of Koh’s previous jobs that excites tech and life science entrepreneurs, who say he can relate to their passion for tackling new ventures.
“I think the thing that makes him such a fascinating pick is the diversity of his experiences, from nonprofits to government entities to consulting to media,” said Michael Schrader, a Harvard Business School acquaintance who graduated a year after Koh and is now chief executive of biotechnology startup Vaxess Technologies. “He also has deep ties with the entrepreneurial community through his time at HBS, so I suspect he will be very active in reaching out and pushing initiatives that benefit that ecosystem.”
Walsh has talked about continuing the momentum of one of Menino’s major initiatives, the development of an Innovation District along the South Boston Waterfront. A new $7 million, multi-use building opened there in the fall with a restaurant and meeting and event space to serve the growing number of companies in a neighborhood that was sparsely populated just a few years ago.
But the Innovation District is far enough along that Koh probably won’t be a difference-maker there, said Charles Teague, chief executive of Lose It, a weight-loss app developer in the neighborhood.
“Candidly, I think that now that the area has reached a critical mass, it’s likely to succeed at this point unless local government actively acts as a barrier,” he said. “It’s a great place to have a company now — full of energy, lots of other companies nearby.”
Where Koh could make a greater impact, suggested Levins, is in building political bridges between Boston and Cambridge, which are sometimes viewed as competing for tech companies. Workers seldom distinguish between the two cities. Koh, who moved his studies from Cambridge to Boston when he went from undergraduate to graduate work at Harvard, could help instill a sense that the cities are on the same economic team, Levins said.
“If we think of the Boston tech sector and the Cambridge tech sector as competitors, I think we’ll miss out on opportunity to make the whole area as strong as it can be,” Levins said.