Who are the central nodes in Boston’s tech network — the people who unfailingly know about funding rounds coming together, founders on the verge of being ousted, and acquisition whispers?
To answer that question, I started by asking the most in-the-know people I rely on as sources after more than two decades of covering the tech scene in Boston. That group included people like HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah, serial entrepreneur Paul English (he co-founded the travel site Kayak), entrepreneur turned venture capitalist Jennifer Lum, and Emily Reichert, who oversees Greentown Labs, a network of incubators for energy-sector startups.
They gave me a broad list of names. Then, I offered my nominators a second ballot — a chance to give an additional vote to someone that had been suggested by someone else.
A dozen people emerged, with three capturing significantly more votes than the rest. I’ve listed those three first. Everyone below them got a similar number of mentions. Of this list, four people (Katie Rae, Eric Paley, Andy Palmer, and Jeff Bussgang) also appeared on the Globe’s recent Tech Power Players list.
1. Katie Rae. Rae helped MIT launch The Engine, a venture capital fund and workspace for startups focused on “tough tech,” technology that can often take years to perfect and build a business around. Among those startups: Commonwealth Fusion, developing grid-scale nuclear fusion reactors, and Biobot Analytics, a startup that has been helping cities measure COVID infection rates by sampling wastewater. In 2020, The Engine raised $230 million of additional capital — some of it from Harvard. Last month, The Engine opened an expanded 150,000-square-foot headquarters on the fringe of Kendall Square. (Note: Boston Globe Media Partners CEO Linda Pizzuti Henry serves on the board of The Engine.)
2. David Chang. Chang’s day job is as an executive at Hunt Club, a Chicago startup focused on recruiting. It provides rewards to people who recommend individuals in their personal network for open jobs. Chang has helped to run Babson College’s summer startup program, and he is a founder of the angel investing group TBD Angels. His recent startup investments include XSET, an e-sports company; NeighborSchools, a website that recommends daycare centers to parents; and Apex Noire, a seven story “experiential cannabis retail shop” planned for downtown Boston, and run by former Boston city councilor Tito Jackson.
3. Eric Paley. Paley is a managing partner at Founder Collective, a venture capital firm based in Cambridge. He was an early investor in Uber and Cruise Automation, a self-driving car startup acquired by General Motors. Two of his most recent deals are the National Cycling League, slated to launch next year, and Agora Health, developing an app that provides advice on better gut health.
Andy Palmer. He runs the Cambridge startup Tamr, which helps companies clean up and better use the data they gather to run their businesses. Palmer also regularly makes angel investments in other startups. One female entrepreneur recently told me she thinks Palmer might be the most consistent backer of female founders in town; a list that Palmer sent showing seven recent investments included five founded by women. Among them: Piction Health, which uses technology to help non-dermatologists diagnose skin conditions, and Hey Jane, a virtual clinic that prescribes abortion medication.
Sarah Hodges. Hodges is a partner at the Boston venture capital firm Pillar, helping to develop new partnerships and events like Frequency Crypto, a bootcamp for people developing companies using so-called “web3″ technologies. One of her recent investments is Allma, which makes software that helps companies address bugs and feature requests more efficiently.
Cait Brumme. Joined MassChallenge, a global support program for startups, in 2019. Brumme was named chief executive in June.
Greg Raiz. Has overseen the Techstars Boston startup program since 2021; before that, an entrepreneur and angel investor.
Joe Caruso. Caruso, a prolific angel investor, likely meets with more entrepreneurs and hears more pitches than anyone else in town. He says he does about 30 Zoom meetings weekly, and is starting to “tiptoe” back into in-person events and lunches. Among his recent investments: energy-efficient microchips and underwater robots for data collection.
Jeff Bussgang. Venture capitalist who also teaches at Harvard Business School. Bussgang’s firm, Flybridge Capital, this year collected $150 million to make early investments in startups, and he put together another $7 million pool of money to specifically back recent Harvard grads. Bussgang also helped launch the Hack.Diversity program, which seeks to bring more Black and LatinX people into the tech industry.
Ryan Moore. Moore’s firm, Accomplice, has helped fund startups like Whoop, which makes a fitness wristband; the fantasy sports site DraftKings; and PillPack, the online pharmacy acquired by Amazon in 2018 for $750 million. Lately, Accomplice has been putting money into smaller venture capital funds run by individuals, rather than committees.
C.A. Webb. Webb co-founded the venture capital firm Underscore in 2015, but left abruptly two years later. She then served as president of the New England Venture Capital Association and the Kendall Square Association. She left the latter role in February.
Mike Volpe. Volpe was a surprising addition to the list. He was an early employee at HubSpot, the Cambridge-based marketing software firm, and eventually rose to become its chief marketing officer. Volpe was fired in 2015 for violating the company’s code of conduct, as part of his efforts to obtain the manuscript of a book that was written by a former HubSpot employee. Most recently, he was chief executive of Lola.com, a business travel management service that ran into a brick wall when the pandemic hit. The Lola team and technology were acquired by the financial services giant Capital One last year, but the service is no longer live. When I asked Volpe whether he is still working at Capital One, and what else he has been up to lately, he responded with a “no comment.” Volpe has made a handful of angel investments in startups through an entity called Operator.VC.
Scott Kirsner can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKirsner.