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Innovation sector leaders have to-do list for next mayor

Innovation economy stars offered their suggestions for what Boston’s next leader must do to keep the city buzzing.DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF/FILE 2013

David Chang

COO, PayPal Media Network

I would create a program to provide early-stage start-ups with subsidized office space in the heart of the city. There are huge benefits to working in Boston proper: access to a broader base of talent, better transportation, and walking distance to customers/partners, to name a few.

The initial funding could come from corporate sponsors, angel/VC investors, or relevant benefactors such as real estate developers.

David Chang of PayPal Media Network wants the city to subsidize start-up office space.

The funding could be in the form of an outright grant/gift, in-kind services, or an equity investment. Corporate sponsors would benefit by getting early insight into disruptive technologies. Angel/VC investors would benefit by attracting entrepreneurs in areas where they have a competitive advantage. There are tons of other potential benefactors that have something to gain in those industries.


In order to get the ball rolling, the program can't help every kind of start-up off the bat. Rather, the program needs to start in areas where the seeds of capital, customers, and veteran entrepreneurs have already been planted — for example mobile, consumer media, or travel. Most important, the program will need sponsors who are industry experts in those fields and can provide critical connections and advice to augment the subsidized office space.

As a mobile start-up acquired by PayPal in 2011, we had long been beneficiaries of this virtuous cycle. When we moved our headquarters from the outskirts into the North End in 2008, we had an influx of recent graduates as employees — smart, young, ambitious individuals. Within six months, the average employee age dropped by 10 years, and more important, they gave us a perspective and brought expertise in areas we didn't have.

I am a huge proponent of creating any program that would provide early-stage start-ups with subsidized office space and easy access to capital, connections, and expertise. It would fuel the early-stage ecosystem in Boston and put another layer of bricks on the foundation built by Mayor Tom Menino. Innovation 2.0.


Paul English

Cofounder, Kayak.com

I would make Boston a more exciting place for twentysomething entrepreneurs. Specifically, I would open the bars until 4 a.m. and run the T until 4 a.m.

Paul English of Kayak.com wants Boston to be more fun and exciting for youthful entrepreneurs, and stay open later.

And as an experiment, we could start in the Innovation District. Some people would say that would create problems, but there are many cities in the worldthat know how to do it faithfully.

New York looks to be the biggest threat to Boston, in terms of stealing entrepreneurs. And the reason New York is stealing from us, is the people who are graduating from Harvard and MIT and other schools think New York is more fun.

So the first question you should ask is: How would twentysomethings design this city? Keep restaurants open later, and make sure the T is running late.

If you're an entrepreneur you're going to work till midnight, and afterward you're going to go out and have fun. It's not about drinking, that you're going to have a bunch of drunks running around. The people who build companies work really hard, and they want the ability to meet someone for dinner at midnight. The world is running 24/7. They need more flexibility to decide what to do, when they want.

If you have a city like Boston, which is old, and you have to structure your life around the mayor's schedule, the entrepreneur is going to say, well I'm moving to New York. Entrepreneurs are international. They work long hours, they work hard, and they don't just do this for a few years. They build companies, and those companies will hire a thousand people.


I think there's something sanctimonious and pious about shutting down the T and restaurants at midnight. It's the old guard trying to maintain a grip on a society that's changing, trying to keep control over a citizenry they don't understand by applying old rules, like the Blue Laws.

Diane Hessan

CEO, Communispace

I travel a lot, and as my plane lands at Logan Airport, even on the dreariest of days, I look

Diane Hessan of Communispace would make a beautiful city even more beautiful, and improve quality of life.

out the window and think, "This has got to be one of the most beautiful cities." If I were mayor, I would focus on making this city like its skyline — gorgeous, let's have outdoor art all over the city, vibrant, let's transform our school system and reaffirm our commitment to being the best education city in the world, from pre-K to grad school — and full of possibility.

Re the latter: We don't need to attract the best people to build our economy. They are already here — in our universities, our accelerators, and our successful companies. So it's all about keeping them here, and that means quality of life.

We need to revolutionize our transportation (think: waterways), improve our nightlife, and do a better job connecting our tech community with funding and mentoring.

For my one concrete idea?


I would get a coalition of our best consulting/accounting/law firms to help me find $75 million in savings from the city budget — and then I would reinvest a chunk of the dollars in a competition for the most innovative ideas to help us build a great 21st century city.

And, of course, we would implement and help fund the best ideas.

Sarah Hodges

Cofounder, Intelligent.ly

I would reimagine our city's online presence, making it easier for entrepreneurs to connect with each other and find the resources they need, to drive innovation and the economic growth of our city.

Sarah Hodges of Intelligent.ly thinks the city needs an online forum that directly connects individuals.

Someone from New York once said to me: "New York start-ups form a network. Boston is a community."

It sounds fluffy, but we're eager to help each other here — it's the reason I launched Intelligent.ly, a learning campus for start-ups in the South End. The Boston Business Hub website is a solid start at connecting entrepreneurs with the right support; I would expand this, creating digital tools that help people connect with each other, not just with government officials.

As a first step, I would centralize the free legal, financial, and strategic advice for start-ups and small businesses that's already available online from Boston companies such as WilmerHale and Silicon Valley Bank, and leaders like Jeff Bussgang and Rob Go.

I would then layer on a simple directory of grants, programs like LearnLaunch. Streamlining this information is an essential path to creating easy access, and showcasing the collective knowledge of our community will attract new talent.


Starting with a simple discussion board, I would build an online forum that directly connects individuals for online and offline conversations. I would create a way for a way for entrepreneurs to raise a hand to describe exactly what they need, and in turn, for experts to offer their time and insight. Consider how empowering it would be for an entrepreneur to receive guidance about how to tackle a challenge from someone else who has already done the exact same thing. Opening the door to this dialogue would be a valuable way to propel new companies forward.

And it should look hot, too. Think about the sites we devour — Pinterest, Facebook — our city's website should be just as clean, vibrant, and easy to navigate. The marketer in me would borrow from the start-up consumer playbook, crafting a brand and site design that make people want to stop by and dive in.

One last thing: I would make ice cream free everyday, everywhere.

Greg Selkoe

CEO, founder Karmaloop

One of the things I would do is reform how this city issues permits and monitors and enforces draconian restrictions. I've heard many horror stories of red tape, problems around businesses, stores, restaurants, etc. It can be death by a thousand cuts with hurdles and fees. The city has to realize it can't be a stickler on every last thing. I would completely revamp the system for all forms of permits and licenses, modernize it, simplify it, and make it relatively straightforward.

Greg Selkoe of Karmaloop would get rid of the red tape for start-ups and create an innovation department to provide help.

The second thing is have the best public transit in the United States. Of all the major public systems, we close the earliest.

The mayor of Boston is very powerful and has a lot of leverage. You can get a coalition together and pressure the state to do more — you have a lot of ability to shape and influence the priorities around public transit. We need new transit lines — an urban ring would be a huge push! More highway money should go to bike lanes and new lines.

The third thing is make Boston a more fun, open, and cohesive environment. There are still issues of diversity, of being welcoming to outsiders and foreigners.

The mayor can get different communities to talk, create a citywide dialogue, and push for diversity — in the police force's higher-ranking officers, for example.

I don't just mean ethnic or racial diversity, but diversity of "who does what' in the city, so it's not just the same five developers building things. New ideas and participation from new people is welcome. Less trying to take credit and control and more collaboration and crowd-sourcing projects.

We also need more and different kinds of housing options.

We should have a goal of growing the city back to its size 60 years ago of almost 900,000. Paris, which no one would ever say is unlivable, has a much higher density. Housing problems will only be solved with more units; otherwise, more people will be priced out. Healthy cities build and grow.

And the city needs to do more on innovation and entrepreneurship than just hanging up a sign calling it the Innovation District.

You need more low-cost, subsidized work space, more locations where people exchange ideas, more help for start-ups. We need a biotech czar, a high-tech czar, a creative-economy czar — experts whose only job it is to go out and see what these industries need to grow and help them. I don't think it's enough to have an innovation person. You need to have a Department of Innovation.

Niraj Shah

CEO, cofounder, Wayfair.com

"If I were mayor, I would make Boston more appealing for West Coast tech bloggers to explore the companies in the region by offering subsidized office space, start-up expenses, and other incentives to encourage a stronger on-the-ground media presence in our city.

Niraj Shah of Wayfair.com says Boston start-ups are at a disadvantage due to lack of presence on tech blogs; the city needs more media presence.

Many cities, including Boston, have embraced the model of providing incubation space and other incentives to entrepreneurs and early-stage start-ups in the sciences and technology fields, but we are still missing a critical piece of the infrastructure to drive innovation in our region: greater access to the tech blogs.

Boston is home to leading consumer Internet companies, including TripAdvisor, Wayfair.com, Rue La La, and Care.com, and leading Internet-focused software companies such as athenahealth, Veracode, DataXu, and HubSpot. When thinking of consumer Internet and software, this region certainly has no shortage of success stories and entrepreneurial ventures. But they and other start-ups would benefit from more attention from these blogs.

PandoDaily, TechCrunch, Mashable, and Business Insider and other tech blogs have become daily reads for the venture capital and technology community and can provide early-stage companies with game-changing visibility and momentum.

Their coverage often helps drive funding decisions and other meaningful partnerships. Unfortunately, Boston start-ups are at a distinct disadvantage due to lack of local presence of such blogs, and as a result, many great stories are going undiscovered.

We need more eyes and ears on the street in Boston and the opportunity for influential bloggers to network with the city's business leaders, entrepreneurs, and technology companies, and to organically discover more of the city's amazing stories of growth and entrepreneurism.