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September 14, 2010

Back to School Blog: An Open Letter to Boston-Area Students

(Warning:  the following blog post will seem parochial for all readers outside of the Boston area.  Sorry about that.  The message applies to every aspiring innovation hub.)

Dear Boston-area student,

Welcome (back) to the Top City of the Global Innovation Economy!  It’s sure been quiet around here without you.  I know how excited you are to hit the books again – cram for exams, stress about your careers and freeze your butts off during the long winter months.  Good times.

But here’s what’s great about having you here.  You provide the fuel that makes our innovation economy hum.  Every year, you show up and shake up our assumptions about what’s new, what’s hot and give us a glimpse of what’s over the horizon.  And for that, we are super-grateful, even if we don’t always do a good job showing it.

So here’s a little advice for you – do us all a favor and plug in to the community that surrounds you.  Get engaged and integrated.  There are a crazy number of opportunities and venues for you to show up and network.  Close your laptops, turn off your iPhones, jump on the T and get out there and participate in the local innovation ecosystem. 

Here are a few of the things you should have on your must-do/must-see/must-read hit list:

  • Stay in MA – this is a mico-scholarship program that allows you to attend the incredible array of industry networking events for free.  Just sign up and show up gratis to get savvy in your favorite area of interest, whether it’s clean tech, bio tech, web 2.0, mobile, whatever.
  • DART Boston – The start-up game can be a lonely one.  DART Boston makes it social and fun.  It’s a group of 20-something peers who are engaged in the start-up game and hungry for knowledge, perspective, mentorship and dialog.  They get together periodically for social hangouts and learn sessions and are about as plugged in a group of young, ambitious folks as you can find in the city.
  • Mass Challenge – Our governor, Deval Patrick, has huge religion when it comes to fueling the innovation economy.  As such, he helped create Mass Challenge, “the world’s largest start-up competition”.  Go to the waterfront, swing by the Barking Crab and buy yourself a lobster roll, and then walk over to Mass Challenge HQ and see the open start-up haven that is forming.  They have multiple events and guests every day to fuel the young start-ups that are being incubated there.
  • Other blogs and Twitter tips – There are dozens of blogs and valuable Twitter streams from local VCs and entrepreneurs.  One of the best summaries of them is here, provided by a local Google exec.  We have more VCs per capita than anywhere in the US.  You can’t grab a tall decaf latte in Cambridge, Back Bay or half of the western suburbs and not bump into a VC or angel investor.  They particularly tend to hang out at Harvard, MIT and Babson, so don’t be shy about visiting those schools and attending those talks if you don’t see them happening in your neighborhood.  I did a talk last year at HBS entitled, “What Makes Boston’s Technology Start-Up Scene Special?” which might be a useful orientation for you as well.

Look, there’s a reason Boston is consistently ranked as one of the top innovation cities in the world.  We value geeks (Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt draw bigger crowds than Lady GaGa when they come in town to speak), encourage rebellious thinking (see:  Minutemen, American History), worship start-ups (why else would a World Championship winning pitcher, Curt Schilling, aspire to become a successful start-up CEO as a second act?) and generate our fair share of big winners (see:  EMC, Akamai, Genzyme, TripAdvisor).

But, honestly, the real reason so many communities try to emulate what we have is because of you.  You keep it fresh, every September.  Thanks for showing up.  Now get out there and mix it up.


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Jeff, must-read advice for any student - when I started thinking about entrepreneurship at Brandeis 2-3 years ago, 4 out 5 above resources didn't even exist.

To add a "call-to-action" to you post - ultimately, students, go start companies! Now, while you're still in school, is the absolute best time to do it with almost no risk. (Fab Bi put it nicely in his post: http://lifeoffbi.com/2010/06/13/dont-drop-out-take-a-gap-year/)

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Great sentiment, Michael, although I confess
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with joining a hot start-up – sometimes it’s
best to learn the ropes on other people’s nickel!


Thanks for the mention. I've already seen quite a few new and familiar faces from the student community thanks to big events like Startup Bootcamp. I hope more will get out there...and of course hope they can get pointed to Greenhorn Connect so that they can find all the great resources and events out there, many of which are tailored to help students (some of which you mentioned).


Thanks for all you are doing, Jason!


Boston really is a great town for innovation. We've got a super smart young population who demand the latest and greatest technologies which then spurs on even cooler "What if" ideas for innovation. And they are all highly concentrated in a small geographic area with all the top universities in Cambridge and Boston.

And today it's easier than ever for students to take those "What if" ideas and launch them as Alpha applications on the web. Cloud hosting, social media marketing, and student startup incubation programs like Microsoft's DreamSpark (www.dreamspark.com) allow them to do this for nearly free, which is perfect for a student's budget.

I also encourage students to attent the Boston BizSpark Meetup events where they can not only network with other startupers, but watch as founders do live pitches for real PE investment money every month. The URL is http://bit.ly/BOSSpark. And I'm happy to help and answer student questions and give referrals to others as well.

Marsh Sutherland
President | Co-Founder
SocialGrow Inc.
@MarshSutherland | @SocialGrow

Thanks, Marsh. So much going on here - a little something for everyone!

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