Over the past decade, Boston has made major strides to become a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship. Nevertheless, the region still has a long way to go: In a 2015 USA & Canada Accelerator Report, Massachusetts ranked sixth in total cash investment from accelerators to startups, behind New York, Texas, and even Hawaii. To understand why this is, we need only look at the undisputed mecca of technology investment: Silicon Valley.
What does Silicon Valley have that Boston doesn’t? The list is long, but it boils down to one word: community. Silicon Valley is the Holy Grail of entrepreneurship, an ecosystem that connects talent and investors unlike anywhere else. Boston offers an incredible pool of talent, which is one of the reasons my cofounder and I decided to grow our startup, Placester, here. Yet there remains a gap between the innovators and the investment they need to bring their ideas to life. We can do better, and it all starts with HUBweek.
Boston’s second annual HUBweek, a “creative festival celebrating innovation at the intersection of art, science, and technology,” represents an opportunity to grow our community and bring entrepreneurs and investors closer together. While words like “community” and “festival” may seem soft and far away from long-term investment dollars, that assumption is wrong.
Entrepreneurs spend every waking hour refining their idea or venture, and the idea of community often takes a back seat. In Boston, the yeoman’s work of building community has fallen to a patchwork of coworking spaces, startup accelerators, incubators, and support programs. From Cambridge Innovation Center to WeWork, Mass Challenge to TechStars, Harvard i-lab to MIT Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator and more, these organizations have helped propel Boston’s tech scene forward. Yet outside of demo days, none have provided a sufficiently big, open stage that could give investors a collective picture of the talent Boston has to offer. With HUBweek, entrepreneurs have the platform they need to make their voices heard.
Access doesn’t immediately equal investment, but it adds an important layer to the community. Through various speaking engagements, panels, and demos, HUBweek is an opportunity for startups and founders to find mentors who can help them grow. These community connections are critical. At HUBweek, folks who have experience in fund-raising, business expertise to scale a company, or the technical skills to move an idea to a product can see what entrepreneurs are doing and take on advisory roles. Without these events, entrepreneurs have fewer catalysts for networking or face-to-face opportunities to bring the raw ingredients of success together.
But what about the money? As a strong technology community strengthens its connections and builds awareness of what’s going on in the local ecosystem, investors can expeditiously gather more indicators around the health and potential of a business at an early stage. Is there an exceptional team here? Does this company have the experience needed to move forward? Can I make a connection that will better the chances of this company growing? Do I see an advantage here that will make my investment grow? With a strong community, investors can make more confident judgments about whether a startup “checks the right boxes” to warrant investment. Entrepreneurs, meanwhile, have access to more experiences and points of view, making them more likely to come to investors with market-tested, bankable ideas.
So does HUBweek make Boston Silicon Valley? Of course not. Boston still has a long road ahead. But I think it’s important that we strive to emulate Silicon Valley more than any of the other startup ecosystems that seem more attainable. The reason? Silicon Valley is the gold standard of a diverse and fruitful ecosystem. New York’s startup scene is known for advertising tech and media; Washington, D.C., for education and marketing tech; Chicago for ecommerce; Los Angeles for social media; Austin for hardware. Silicon Valley stands on its own pedestal, known for all of these fields and more. With community as a driver, Boston also has the opportunity to diversify and allow various types of startups to thrive, regardless of the industry or technology they are defined by.