Saturday, December 1, 2007

An “interesting” soirée

A gathering of founders, CEOs and VCs called "Think Big" was held on Wednesday night at the amazing apartment of Wendy Caswell, President and Chief Executive Officer of Zink. The event was organized by Scott Kirner, Innovation Economy columnist for the Boston Globe, with the best of intentions -- to identify ways to improve Massachusetts' competitive positioning versus other tech magnets, especially California. (This has become a theme in my life.)

Attendees included Dharmesh Shah, CTO of HubSpot (blog posting); Bob Weiler, CEO of Phase Forward; Bill Warner, founder of FutureBoston, Avid and Wildfire; Russ Wilcox of E Ink; Jonathan Seelig of Globespan Capital Partners; Bill Schnoor; David W. Baum of Stage 1 Ventures; Misha Katz; John Landry, the always avuncular angel investor from Lead Dog Ventures; Frank Moss of the MIT Media Lab; and Noubar Afeyan of Flagship Ventures among others.

Founding partners Michael A. Greeley of IDG and Paul Maeder of Highland Capital Partners were the featured speakers.

The event was sponsored by Boston Search Group, Goodwin Procter LLP, and KMC Partners. Kudos to these guys.

Almost all attendees left the party saying it was “interesting.” Translation: “I'm glad I attended. It was a top-shelf gathering of diversified, high powered people. I loved the views of the Boston skyline, but the event was bemusing”.

Most of the individual conversations addressed the Massachusetts-California divide more concretely and genuinely than the featured speakers did. Why can’t an honest public conversation be had with a bunch of VCs in the room? Maybe that’s the problem with Boston.

Here are my takeaways from the evening:

  • Massachusetts-based VCs sitting on venture boards should take the long view and support entrepreneurs who want to hold onto promising companies. In the process, the Boston-area will produce companies with greater enterprise value.
  • Many large-scale California companies are built on a foundation or in subsequent stages on purchases of East Coast companies.
  • MIT competes with Stanford in the entrepreneur area, but Harvard doesn't compete at all.
  • Massachusetts' software industry is done, and our leadership in life sciences is ours to lose. Maeder asserted that Massachusetts can take substantive small steps each year for the coming years and catch up to California in the life sciences.

All in all, I have to agree with the scuttlebutt -- it was a very “interesting” soirée.

But don't take my word for it. Dan Bricklin published both a blog posting and podcast of the event. (Maximum kudos to Dan.) Have a listen and let me know what you think.

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