Repost: Doing Business in Boston and the Need for Constructive Action

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by Kate Brodock on 29 July 2010

Posted in: Discussion,Entrepreneurship,Newsworthy,Random Thoughts

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[This was originally posted on Today and Tomorrow, but I thought I'd repost it, as it's important to the Other Side Group and all of its colleagues in Boston.]

On Monday, Henry McCance wrote about why he moved his firm from Boston to Silicon Valley, and why Boston isn’t a good place to start a company.

Well, I found this to be crap, and sent it to a few locals in high places to see if they had a response. One of them was Doug Banks, Publisher of Mass High Tech, who wrote a wonderful rabble-rouser of a post on the MHT blog (you should definitely read the whole thing, there are a lot of good retorts).

I wrote a comment on the post, and I wanted to repost it here and break it down.

“Completely awesome retort. Glad I sent you the article as you’ve done a great job in countering the many points.

To add a few myself, I think it’s a pretty weak claim to say that you shouldn’t do business in a place because it doesn’t have name brands. As far as I’m concerned, probably half of Silicon Valley went to Silicon Valley simply because name brands were there, not necessarily because it was a better place to do business…..”

As I’ll allude to later, a lot of what McCance talked about was simply “I gotta be where the cool kids are.” The Googles, the Facebooks. I might argue that many of those made it out to Silicon Valley for the same reasons. Granted, they are actually the cool kids, but couldn’t it be that the reason is because Silicon Valley is a great place to start a business (it’d be silly to say otherwise) and not necessarily that Boston is a bad place. And Doug has some really great points about the reality of this claim as well - there a lot of intricacies to the Silicon Valley vs Boston landscape that aren’t so simple as “SV/Cali is bigger and better than Boston…” As an addition here (forgot this in the comments), California in general is actually a really tough place to do business in overall - employee insurance/taxes are atrocious, rent in at least San Fran and LA at least equals and in many cases well surpasses Boston and even NY….. I could go on, but will stop…..

“….I started right out of college in the start-up environment in Cambridge. To your point about MIT, in most cases, the first place MITers would go is right across the street to CIC (founded by MITers). It was like their second home. If they couldn’t get something thru the MIT tech tranfer office, they’d go next door, not across the country. And based on the success of CIC, I’d say it’s a pretty supportive environment to start a company in, and it just keeps growing.

From there, I also had my stint at places like Bose. In terms of encouraging innovation, it’s not as cutting edge as Google, but the stuff that goes on in that place, and the support Bose gives to research and “tinkering” is amazing (Dr Bose started the company based on the premise of trying to solve many of the worlds huge problems, including cold fusion. They have a car that can jump over a curb, which Dr Bose developed based solely on a physics graph that said to him “this is possible.”…”

In addition to Bose, Doug mentioned a LOAD of other rocking start-ups that started and stayed in the Boston area. Are they Google? No (well, actually, as Doug mentioned Google’s second largest “center” is in Boston…). But they’re powerful and successful companies (zipcar, Staples, Monster) and some of the newbies are poised to be big names (Carbonite, iRobot).

That reminds me, someone should do a tally of the companies that have also gotten sold for valuable price tags, because I would also consider those a success…..

“….I agree, there is some work to do, but there are plenty of organizations that not only realize this, but are pushing for progress. Orgs like Mass High Tech, Girls in Tech and Boston World Partnerships are actively pushing for more visibility on the benefits of doing business in Boston….”

And this is important. Doug points out several gaps we have, and the fact that we know we have them. This debate has gone on for so long, we would be silly not to be trying to fix every hole. As Managing Director of Girls in Tech Boston, we had several conversations about this issue internally and externally.

We’re all proud of Boston and the supportive entrepreneurship community that’s here, and we darn well know we have a lot of substantial, meaningful things to offer to any business that wants to be here.

“…..McCance’s argument seemed to be based a lot on PR issues…. Silicon Valley has the brand, Boston doesn’t. That’s no reason to claim that Boston is a bad place to do business though. It needs a few improvements in that area, and a good PR campaign… that’s all.”

This is where I think the bulk of the problem lies. It’s a PR issue. McCance really doesn’t give any more substantial argument as far as I’m concerned. Doug says, “Even [he] agrees there’s “no compelling reason” why Silicon Valley should get all the credit for consumer e-commerce companies. So if it’s a matter of perception, then what should we be doing to change that perception?

And THAT’s the question we should all be answering. It’s not about whether Boston is a good place to have a company. It is. But what can we all do to change peoples’ views on it?

We’ve got to develop a solid PR strategy, and the organizations I listed above along with plenty of others can get the job done. There’s no point in just letting this argument be an argument, a we’re-better-than-you-are discussion, because that’s not constructive.

Doug called for solutions and progressive movements forward, and I’m calling for them as well.

I’m also calling for collaboration and partnerships to get the job done. We’ve got the people, we’ve got the brainpower, and we’ve got an awesome city, with awesome people in it.

So let’s do it.

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