The inaugural edition of the Globe’s Tech Power Players list, last year, came amid boom times for the local tech industry. But the party didn’t last.
This year’s list arrives amid a sharp slowdown in tech spending, hiring, and startup funding. Instead of IPOs and unicorns, we’re stuck with bankruptcies and job cuts.
And the selections on the 2023 list reflect resilience in the face of adversity.
At the top, Toast cofounders Steve Fredette, Aman Narang, and Jonathan Grimm succeeded despite VCs doubting them, a customer base skeptical of technology, and the ravages of COVID-19. Early in the pandemic, Toast went through a near-death experience, with sales plunging 80 percent overnight, forcing a massive job cut of half the company. The trio dug in and added features to help restaurateurs navigate a new world of takeout and delivery. Sales this year are forecast to increase almost 40 percent over last year to more than $3.7 billion. Toast’s stock price is up 55 percent after hitting bottom almost a year ago but remains at less than half the $40 price of its September, 2021, IPO.
“It was always our goal to build a pillar company in Boston,” Fredette told me.
Among newcomers to the list, Yvonne Hao, Governor Healey’s new secretary of economic development, debuts at number three. The Bain Capital veteran who helped sell PillPack to Amazon aims to make the Commonwealth more welcoming to startups. But fitting with the times, one of the first challenges Hao faced was helping startups survive the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. “I wake up every day and feel a ton of urgency,” she told columnist Shirley Leung.
About 60 percent of people on the 2023 list were new. Other newcomers included Melissa Smith, chief executive of Portland payments company WEX, last year’s best-performing local tech stock in a tough market, and Rick Cohen, chair and CEO of Wilmington robotics maker Symbotic. Molly White, an early critic of crypto scammers, also made the list for her prescient warnings.
One defining aspect of the local tech scene hasn’t changed: Boston is still a center for “tough tech,” including the kinds of innovations in energy, materials, and batteries needed to address climate change.
Repeats on the power players list in climate include Carmichael Roberts, co-leader of the investment committee at Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Katie Rae, CEO of The Engine, and Bob Mumgaard, CEO at Commonwealth Fusion Systems. Brian Halligan was already a power player as the cofounder of HubSpot, but he’s on this year’s list for creating a new $100 million fund to back ocean-related climate-tech startups. “You’ve got some potential global leaders” in the area, Anthony DeOrsey, research manager at Cleantech Group, told tech columnist Hiawatha Bray.
Tough times also shake up the status quo and create new opportunities. Just days after we published the list, at least one member is changing roles. IDG chief executive Mohamad Ali is stepping down at the end of May after a four-year run. The IBM and Carbonite veteran said his next step will be into AI or cleantech.
“These technologies are now coming of age, and promise to have massive impact on our planet, potentially in both constructive and destructive ways,” he wrote in an e-mail.
If Ali is on next year’s power players list, it will likely be for a whole new venture.