As the developing cleantech cluster in Massachusetts continues to grow in size and stature, an increasingly common question is whether the City of Boston proper will be home to a large contingent of cleantech companies. Or will Boston be the hub, but not the home, for start-ups as it was during the various IT revolutions?
Boston Mayor Tom Menino kicked off an infrared scanning project for the city that I was lucky enough to attend (for details on the event, check out the coverage by the Boston Globe or the blog entry from another start-up at the event). At a meeting before the event, the Mayor challenged the dozen or so Boston-based start-ups to help him promote Boston as an attractive home for high-growth job-creating cleantech companies.
During the ’70s, ‘80s, and 90’s the minicomputer, networking, and Internet waves made Massachusetts their East-coast home. As a short-hand, we all said that we were from Boston, but relatively few of us were – Digital was in Maynard, Wellfeet in Billerica, and Akamai in Cambridge. Eventually most of the VCs migrated from Boston to the ‘burbs to be closer to the entrepreneurs.
So what is different with cleantech that was not true of the prior waves? And what can Boston do to maintain momentum. What will it take for Boston to lure and retain cleantech companies and how will it brand itself in the bustle of the innovation economy?
As CEO of a Boston-based cleantech startup, I can speak to why we located in downtown Boston. Hiring. Commuting options. Peers. Proximity. It is important that our growing company be attractive for potential hires at all levels – from engineers and executives to interns and co-ops. Being in the city offers numerous benefits, from a range of public transportation options (T, bus, commuter rail), to bike routes, to easy access to the ever-improving urban landscape (like the Rose Kennedy Greenway). What is more, cleantech companies, unlike in previous technology revolutions in the area, are more engaged with government and utility policy development, so locating in close proximity to city, state, and federal resources and decision makers is also important.
So how can Boston build off its early momentum as the home for cleantech companies? Actively promote the vibrancy of this new community – such the event mentioned above. Continue to find ways to assist early stage companies plant roots in the city – like the emerging Fort Point innovation district. Actively build bridges between these young companies and the resources of the City? And finally, work hard to make sure that our most important asset – the young people of the city – feel comfortable and can afford to live where they work.