Sometimes, the best way to expand isn’t to open new offices in new cities. It’s to work with another company that can do it for you.
That’s one lesson to be learned from the Startup Institute’s new growth push. The Boston-based training center closed its Chicago location a year ago. CEO Rich DiTieri says the institute was spread too thin at the time.
Now, the Startup Institute is taking its curriculum to Belgium and Armenia, through a licensing deal instead. Microsoft will pay for the rights to use the institute’s training program for the tech giant’s Innovation Centers in those two countries. DiTieri says that, hopefully, this will be the first of many such corporate partnerships.
“If we want to expand and grow beyond Boston and New York and help people get access into the tech ecosystem in the digital economy, this is probably the most efficient way for us to do it,” DiTieri says. “This kind of model allows us to go to all those places and start training those folks just like we do here in Boston, without having to raise millions of dollars.”
It’s been a busy year for the Startup Institute’s new chief executive. DiTieri was promoted to the job in December, taking over for Diane Hessan after she left to work on a project for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. (Chief financial officer Kevin Brown had filled in on an interim basis.)
One of DiTieri’s main goals is to develop a sustainable business model for the institute, a for-profit venture backed by Silicon Valley Bank, the local VC firm Accomplice, and angel investor Walt Winshall.
Also this year, his team launched a program for part-time students and ushered in a new system in which employers pay tuition for certain workers. The participants include Gillette, John Hancock, and Harvard University.
To blow off steam, he sometimes races cars on weekends with his buddies, driving a beat-up 1990 Toyota Corolla covered in thousands of tiny “googly eyes” in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance series. The “lemons” used in the race can’t be worth more than $500. You learn how to be as efficient as possible, while having fun — perhaps the most important lesson for anyone in the startup world.
Foundation looks beyond Boston, to Lynn’s art walls
As the Barr Foundation looks to expand its scope beyond Boston’s borders, an unusual project with the potential to transform downtown Lynn has caught the nonprofit’s attention.
The foundation decided to give $200,000 to the effort, known as Beyond Walls. Its showcase piece took shape last month: 15 murals, some higher than 60 feet, each one reflecting a different ethnic group. Vintage neon signs are being installed throughout the area. Beyond Walls founder Al Wilson says the foundation’s money will be used to light up three dark underpasses, to encourage more pedestrian traffic.
Wilson got the idea after seeing the rejuvenation of a neighborhood in Miami into the Wynwood Art District and London’s King’s Cross area. He grew up in Walpole, but played plenty of soccer in Lynn and had a longstanding appreciation for the city and its many cultures. So he returned last year with a project that has galvanized the city’s business community and its residents.
Beyond Walls used the crowdfunding site Patronicity to raise more than $80,000 from nearly 1,400 donors. That triggered a $50,000 matching grant from MassDevelopment. With the Barr gift, Wilson estimates, the donations — including in-kind services, hardware, and equipment — have exceeded $1 million. Among the most unusual gifts: a 1940s-era jet engine from General Electric that will serve as a focal point for an art installation.
San San Wong, director of arts for the Barr Foundation, says she understood the possibilities and embraced the effort as part of a broader goal for the organization to become more of a regional presence.
“We saw a lot of potential in these six-story buildings that were blank walls,” Wong says. “It’s an incredible story of generating a feeling of ownership within the community.”
Shuttling students home, post-Bridj
Bridj lives. Sort of.
The Boston-based city shuttle service shut down abruptly earlier this year after an investment from Toyota fell through. But a sister company that debuted before Bridj, BreakShuttle, will continue to operate under new owners.
BreakShuttle works with colleges and universities to arrange trips home for students. Bridj’s founder, Matt George, launched BreakShuttle while he was in college, before expanding the idea to city transit with Bridj.
Now Wells + Associates, a Virginia transportation planning company, has bought BreakShuttle and hired Jon McBride, the manager who had been overseeing the company under George, to continue operating it.
“BreakShuttle’s always been a profitable business and always been a business that had a lot of growth potential,” McBride said. “Once Bridj launched, BreakShuttle was kind of this bastard stepchild, but a bastard stepchild that was producing cash.”
Boyd declined to say what Wells + Associates paid for the company but acknowledged that it was a low price and noted that it would not require much of an investment to launch a similar service.
The company was interested in acquiring BreakShuttle and hiring McBride because of its existing business relationships with bus companies and about 20 colleges and universities, McBride said. Wells also works with colleges and universities on traffic and parking planning, so BreakShuttle “fits into a much bigger picture,” he said.
Minority interns get a taste of commercial real estate
Boston’s commercial real estate business has never been a bastion of diversity. But this summer some of the biggest names in building Boston have been trying to enlarge the pipeline of women and minorities in the development game.
Sixteen interns from five local colleges graduated Friday as the first class of the Commercial Real Estate Success Training Program, interning at 16 local real estate firms. The program included workshops, professional development, and a two-day “real estate boot camp,” along with 10 weeks of paid work at a developer, brokerage firm. or general contractor
“We are well aware that our industry is lacking in diversity and while there is a real interest to work on the issue, not a lot of ideas have been put forth,” said David Begelfer, CEO of the trade group NAIOP Massachusetts. “This partnership introduces the career path to ethnic minorities and women while still in college, so they will be encouraged to enter commercial real estate.”
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