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opinion | John Harthorne

Stoking a vital startup scene

Richard Borge for The Boston Globe

BOSTON IS the best place in the world to launch and run a startup.

There’s nowhere else I would rather have started or headquartered MassChallenge, and I think all the 617 startups we’ve helped launch so far would be most successful over the long-term by maintaining a strong presence or headquarters in the area.

But the Boston startup ecosystem is far from perfect. There’s a lot that we can do to improve it, and it starts with something as simple as telling our story more effectively. We need to make sure everyone sees all the amazing talent and opportunities we are generating. One way to do this is by capitalizing on what we’re already good at — collaboration and engagement, sharing and cross-pollinating ideas across different sets of expertise.


Greater Boston is home to a vibrant innovation community of accelerators and incubators (MassChallenge, Techstars, EforAll, Greentown Labs, MIT Venture Mentoring Service, to name a few). There are quasi-governmental organizations such as the Mass CEC and MassTLC; workspaces that include WeWork, Workbar, and the Cambridge Innovation Center; and amazing organizations built to cultivate entrepreneurs, such as the Startup Institute.

In addition, the administrations of Deval Patrick and the late Mayor Tom Menino made huge strides toward identifying and serving the needs of the startup community, and we continue to see engaged leaders in Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh. From building an entire district dedicated to innovation to hiring Rory Cuddyer as the city’s startup czar, Boston has proven that it has a vested interest in the growth of entrepreneurship.

But more needs to be done. Boston needs to encourage the area’s universities to collaborate with each other. Many universities already have great entrepreneurship programs, but there’s a lot more they could do to share resources and expertise. Both the private and the public sectors should encourage this cross-university mixing. One way would be to host and support massive cross-university pitch competitions and mixers.


Collaboration should be omnipresent in the city. We need to make sure everyone sees firsthand all the amazing talent and opportunities that startups are generating in collaboration with large companies, small companies, and the public sector.

The CEO Club of Boston as well as the local chapters of the Young Entrepreneur Council and the Young Global Leaders are doing great work with this already, but more of Boston’s establishment CEOs should be involved. They should be showing up at events at District Hall or the Venture Cafe, where social interactions fuel creativity and innovation. They should be involved in this exciting sector of the economy.

When members of the innovation community tell their stories, national media outlets are bound to recognize the impact of the Boston startup scene. There have been so many stories in recent years that show the value of our startups — from Hubspot to Wayfair, Kayak.com, Localytics, and more.

Once upon a time, Boston had revolutionary ideas that changed the world. That is happening again. All it takes is a little more effort to tell our story effectively, and we can catalyze an even stronger innovation boom.

John Harthorne is founder and CEO of MassChallenge.


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