Michelle De La Isla joins a long line of people who attended Harvard University and then stuck around Greater Boston after completing their studies.
The former mayor of Topeka, Kansas, arrived in August 2022 to pursue her master’s in public administration at the John F. Kennedy School. As graduation approached in May, a job posting caught De La Isla’s eye: chief executive of Hack.Diversity, the Boston nonprofit building a pipeline of Black and Latino tech talent through an internship-to-hire strategy. Its previous CEO and cofounder, Jody Rose, had stepped down just as the organization expanded into New York City.
De La Isla had planned to continue in her role as managing director of the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, a California-based venture philanthropy firm, where she worked while attending Harvard. But once she learned more about Hack.Diversity, she couldn’t stop thinking about the opportunity.
“It was just like, ‘Oh, wow, this is the dream,’ " she said. “I’m one of those weird people who has my own life’s mission statement. And I know part of my life’s mission statement is to find ways to support and empower others who feel like they don’t have a voice.”
De La Isla, who joined Hack.Diversity in recent weeks as chief executive, was a single mother who overcame homelessness to become Topeka’s first Afro-Latina mayor, serving from 2018 to 2022. She also worked as the diversity and inclusion representative for Westar Energy, Kansas’s biggest utility company, now known as Evergy.
Hack.Diversity was cofounded in 2016 by Rose, Flybridge Capital general partner Jeff Bussgang, and Tech Connection chief executive Melissa James. They wanted to place Black and Latino students from community colleges and overlooked universities into internships at prominent tech companies with the goal of having them hired after graduation.
Hack.Diversity has helped more than 500 students, at more than 50 companies — including Amazon, Athenahealth, Formlabs, Liberty Mutual, Rapid7, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and Wayfair. For the 2023 cycle, Hack.Diversity placed more than 100 interns in Boston and New York.
While De La Isla plans to keep her apartment in Cambridgeport, she will be in Topeka, where she still has a house and family, one week a month.
“I have no intention of abandoning Topeka in the sense that it’s always going to be home,” she said. “I was just very fortunate to have this opportunity happen.”
BCEC becomes the hub of HubSpot’s universe
HubSpot’s annual Inbound conference has come a long way from its start 11 years ago as a sales and marketing conference that drew 1,000 or so people to the Hynes Convention Center.
This week, the Cambridge marketing software firm’s big event will attract more than 11,000 people to the Seaport, for a sold-out multiday show that begins Tuesday at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. The 2023 Inbound theme, according to HubSpot VP of global events Kat Tooley, is the “year of customer connection.” Big-name keynote speakers include actress/producer Reese Witherspoon, baseballer-turned-businessman Derek Jeter, and neuroscientist Andrew Huberman. Meet Boston, the local tourism bureau, estimates that the economic impact for the Boston area could reach $17 million, up from $16 million a year ago.
New this year: HubSpot’s first-ever pitch competition. Six startups will compete for an opportunity to win $1 million. Judges include Sarah Hodges of Pillar VC, Lily Lyman of Underscore VC, and Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital.
Tooley said the interest in Inbound really took off in 2016, when HubSpot relocated the conference to the much larger BCEC and started booking higher-profile speakers. Most attendees use HubSpot in some capacity, but about 20 percent have no affiliation with the company and instead will attend for the networking opportunities and to hear the speakers.
“Since 2016, especially when we started [lining up] the bigger name speakers,” Tooley said, “it started becoming really part of the tech-business zeitgeist.”
Asian American luminaries gather in Boston
A who’s who of Asian American business and community leaders gathered at the Sheraton Boston Hotel at the end of August for the annual convention of the National Association of Asian American Professionals.
Nearly 800 attended the three-day confab, where they were feted with local, national, and international keynote speakers. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu was there, as was her chief of staff Tiffany Chu and director of federal relations Sam Hyun.
Other local luminaries included: University of Massachusetts-Lowell chancellor Julie Chen, Cambridge city manager Yi-An Huang, Flour Bakery + Cafe co-owner Joanne Chang, Boston Scientific global chief diversity officer Camille Chang Gilmore, Mei Mei & Prepshift cofounder Irene Shiang Li, and financial planner/actor Michael Tow.
Among the not-so-local speakers were “Star Trek” actor George Takei, Gold House cofounder Bing Chen, and Vietcetera Media chief executive Hao Tran, who flew in from Vietnam. (The Brown University graduate founded a company churning out podcasts and online news for young Vietnamese.)
For Harris Zhao, president of the Boston chapter of NAAAP, it was a presentation from Asian Americans who came to the United States as adoptees that made the deepest impression. NAAAP recently launched a committee to bring adoptees together to talk about their struggles fitting in and how they can be, as Zhao put it, “unapologetically Asian.”
“For a long time our adopted Americans, they felt like … they aren’t Asian enough,” Zhao said. “So hearing their stories and seeing the room of tears and people being inspired, that was my favorite session.”
Raise a cup to sarcasm at Cumby’s
Do you want some attitude with your morning coffee?
Jonathan Balck and Greg Almeida sure hope so.
The cofounders of Boston ad agency Colossus are launching a major ad campaign for convenience store chain Cumberland Farms this month. They want to make a splash but don’t have the big budget that Cumby’s employed in the 2010s to hire celebrity spokespeople such as actor Michael Rapaport, comedian Nikki Glaser, and pro wrestler Ric Flair. And of course, there was David Hasselhoff, who sang in a Cumby’s music video spoof and inspired people to steal hundreds of life-size cutouts of the actor from shops around New England.
This time, the coffee is the celebrity. The 15-second TV spots don’t even show the face of the actor grabbing his Cumby’s Farmhouse Blend at the fully functioning store inside Cumby’s HQ, in Westborough. Radio spots, social media posts, and more than 40 billboards and other signs will all feature a distinctively local tone. For a buy-one-get-one-free promotion, one sign says “Go from unlikeable to mildly tolerable” while another says “Existential dread goes better with coffee.”
There’s no Boston accent to be found. Cumby’s, after all, has stores in New York and Florida, too.
But Balck and Almeida said it was important that the ads portrayed a Boston attitude.
“It feels very Boston, without the classic ‘wicked pissah’ Boston clichés,” Almeida said. “It has the Boston sarcasms and the Boston ‘wink and nod.’ There’s a very specific Boston humor to it. That’s the voice of the brand.”