Business & Tech, Features

HUBweek 2017 examines Boston startup culture

Demo Day at HUBweek Boston showcased over one hundred local startups Saturday at Boston City Hall. PHOTO BY BRIAN SONG/ DFP FILE PHOTO

A successful startup is heavily dependent on its founder’s ability to combine passion, vision and strategic decision-making, particularly in Boston’s business environment.

HUBweek’s Saturday Demo Day events kicked off with a panel titled “Intro to Startups and Entrepreneurship in Boston,” which contemplated Boston’s strengths as a business environment, particularly for those wishing to catalyze their entrepreneurship.

“The state of the city has really facilitated the infrastructure changes needed for startups in new areas,” said Kevin Wiant, executive director of Venture Cafe, concerning governmental cooperation to stimulate economic activity.

Another aspect of Boston success stems from the college and university network of the city. Isaiah Kacyvenski, co-founder and managing director of Sports Innovation Lab, labeled the students as “a pipeline that is very difficult to create” anywhere else.

The panelists also spoke about the pressure businesses face when comparing Boston’s business landscape to that of Silicon Valley’s. Kiki Mills Johnston, managing director of MassChallenge’s Boston flagship, said that though the city may want to lead in everything, realistically, that is impossible.

“We have some innate strengths that are really propelling this region forward,” she said to the audience.

Kacyvenski echoed the superiority of Boston’s scene in areas like technological and academic innovation, if not consumer-based products, which are closely tied to Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurship.

“It’s not necessarily all about building the next shiny object,” he said to the audience.

Matt Marx, associate professor of strategy and innovation at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, agreed on the frustration with entrepreneurs not being as attracted to business to business solutions as business to consumer solutions.

“We need to get past the mindset that it’s not cool unless it’s consumer-based,” Marx said to the audience.

Marx, though enthusiastic about initiating entrepreneurial ventures while in college, gave warnings when choosing business partners.

“You will find some examples of companies that were started by friends in college that went really, really well. We can think of some big names, like Google and Facebook,” Marx said after the event. “What you don’t hear about is the ones that didn’t go well, and it’s a lot of them.”

Some challenges facing startups, especially for those still pursuing a degree, include an overlap of skill among founders and a higher tolerance for error for the sake of friendship.

“You get, what we call, the ‘mini-me effect,’ where you have four co-founders but they’re all, you know, they all have consulting backgrounds and they’re all from Northern California, and you all went to the same college and Wow, do we really need a fourth person like that?” Marx said.

The higher risk is that friendships can be put at stake in favor of the business.

“It’s not just about the company failing, it’s about the friendship failing,” he said. “Then disaster happens, and that’s actually the Facebook story.”

Olga Laur, a Class of 2020 resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, praised the collaborative nature of the event.

“I’m in medicine, and I have to study a lot, and it’s just hard to think about these issues on your own, so it’s a great way to see what’s out there and what people do in your field,” Laur said. “It’s definitely inspiring, and I guess it gives you some tools.”

With several students in attendance, Martin asked if students should be concerned with startups while still pursuing a higher education degree.

Mills Johnston said MassChallenge sees many young entrepreneurs of varying backgrounds.  She mentioned that even a 12-year-old entrepreneur participated in a MassChallenge event.

“We have a lot of our entrepreneurs coming in that are maybe still in college, but that might be a little bit rare, though typically they have graduated from college,” she said to the audience.

Wiant also said that having internships as a student is a potential source of inspiration for startups down the line, if not a direct involvement with one during higher education.

“You have four years to do internships and dip your toe in, dip your toe out,” Kacyvenski said to the audience. “Use this time to explore whatever you want.”

Guillaume Hert, a project coordinator at La French Tech Alsace, was invited by the city of Boston from Strasbourg, France, to facilitate a startup activity.

“The idea is to get inspired by what is going on here and perhaps inspire within our ecosystem in France, and then to share links between companies and startups,” Hert said. “We are very happy to be here and we are happy to rapidly exchange things between startups from France and from Boston.”

Although startups and entrepreneurship may originate from different sources, the passion is the ultimate motivator of success at the end of the day, Kacyvenski said.

“As an entrepreneur, if you feel so strongly about an idea, you’ve thought about it over and over again, you’ve talked to tons of people, and if you get to a point where you see the world so clearly it’s crazy that the world does not see it how you see it, and you’re absolutely convinced about it, you’ve gotta go,” Kacyvenski said to the audience. “That’s the type of person I invest in.”

Petr Adámek was also an international attendee of HUBWeek, hailing from Canberra, Australia, where he is responsible for managing innovation.

“The biggest enemy of an entrepreneur is the risk,” the CEO of CBR Innovation Network said. “It’s uncomfortable to take those risks, but I think that I’m inspired by the idea that doing something innovative and entrepreneurial is going to be always uncomfortable, and the ecosystem should surround you with the resources and the support you need to find that strength within you to do this uncomfortable thing.”

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