Boston, Massachusetts, home to Harvard University, Sam Adams and the Red Sox, has maintained a reputation of excellence and entrepreneurial American spirit since its first epic Tea Party in 1773.
Boston is defined by its prestigious universities and its vibrant new marketing space. While New York may lead in PR, buzz and consumer adoption, there is no doubt that Boston breeds great technical talent coming out of its 74 local universities including Harvard University, Boston University, Boston College, Tufts University and MIT.
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Last year, Facebook's VP of Design thought the TNW Conference main stage was the best she'd ever been on.
All in all, Boston is home to over 350,000 young, tech savvy students. In 2008, Boston led the pack for VC investment per capita at $457 per person in comparison to NYC at $67 a person and California at $388 a person, accounting for its large investments in bio-technology and enterprise services.
A little company named Facebook started in Boston, as did ZipCar, TripAdvisor and Kayak; meanwhile Cisco, Microsoft and Google all have offices there. With all its talent it wasn’t hard to round up a list of exciting Boston startups that you need to know about, it just took quite a bit of digging. I present you with Part One of Best of Boston.
Every scene needs a voice, and BostInnovation, owned by Streetwise Media, is its tech scene’s soapbox. 26-year old Chase Garbarino and Kevin McCarthy founded BostInnovation last year as a means to specifically help Boston startups succeed by connecting local innovators and increasing startup buzz.
“The media followed the flight of Facebook to the West Coast. The AP has 6 tech reporters focused on the Bay Area, but there’s not one in Boston. Thankfully, we have BostInnovation,” says David Gerzof, the founder of BIGfish and a professor of social media and marketing at Emerson College.
BostInnovation is a robust hub of information about what’s new in Boston. In order to keep BostInnovation reporters informed about content from other sources, Garbarino and McCarthy built a slick curation platform called Pinyadda, which aggregates thousands of sources in real time and is a technology that many major media outlets are trying to get their hands on. Garbarino hasn’t yet decided whether he wants to sell it or give it away for free yet. Readers can find curated posts in the middle column of all of the section pages, powered by Pinyadda.
While many news outlets are moving towards a paywall model, “We are taking a very different approach to how we will provide the news and information our community members want to consume, discuss and share. It boils down simply to community and curation, ” writes Garbarino. Streetwise Media is about to expand with its new mission for creating “the new city news network.” The company plans to expand into NYC very soon. For news about wicked Boston start-ups, follow them here @BostInnovation.
At first glance, RunKeeper is a simple running app competing against the likes of Nike+. But the company’s tech potential for measuring fitness will keep RunKeeper miles ahead in the race. Their latest app update features heart rate monitoring, selective sharing, mobile and web sync.
At the start of the new year, in a well-timed promotion, RunKeeper Pro offered their usually $9.99 app up for free. In its first four days, it boasted an impressive 1 million downloads. Towards the end of the year, RunKeeper decided to just simply give away their app for free, for life. It will still make money off of its RunKeeper Elite, a subscription web-based service with fitness alerts and real-time workout sharing for $4.99 per month or $19.99 per year. Over the past year, RunKeeper’s team has grown from 4 to 11 people. Looking forward they will move onto more devices and develop more functionality around those devices. Expect features like coaching, fitness classes, running training programs and more in race functionality. Also, look out for more key partnerships to emerge as RunKeeper’s strengthens its existing partnerships with Foursquare, Polar and Wahoo. I had the opportunity to chat with CEO Jason Jacobs just before his wedding earlier this month.
Healthy living has always been important to me. Looking towards the future of fitness and technology, I believe sensors will proliferate so that more and more interesting data will be collected in a frictionless way. Just by doing your activities there’s more you can learn about those activities. And when you have that information, you can be more proactive in making changes to improve your performance.
As the physical and digital world continues to blend, Jacobs believes this data will drive healthier behavior.
In the future, I will literally just slap on my shirt and running shorts and head out the door and not have to do a thing and then have all my data waiting for me when I get back that would be a great future. The same with weight lifting, food I eat, how I sleep at night, walk around, etc. It sounds big brotherish but in the future we will have the capability to track your every move.
Springpad is a free app that “helps you manage the noise,” essentially it’s a seamless online experience connecting a user’s PC to their mobile devices. Think of it as your digital catch all that automatically organizes and enhances what you save with useful links and relevant offers. Their alert service is a real win. Let’s say you save a book, Springpad will tell you when it’s available in paperback. If it’s a product they’ll alert you to the price drop.
“It’s not a digital filing cabinet but a digital assistant,” says Jeff Janer the CEO of Springpad. This year, they earned significant recognition in TIME Magazine as a Top 10 iPhone Apps for 2010 and a 50 Best Websites of 2010. In the Google Chrome Marketplace they are the 10th most popular app. The app’s user base grew from 40,000-750,000 users in just 9 months last year. And in the aftermath of Yahoo! sunsetting Delicious, their app registered 4 million bookmarks. One user imported over 30,000 bookmarks into Springpad.
We are big fans of backing up our data here at The Next Web, which is why we’ve reported on Cambridge-based, Backupify from the start. The service backs up cloud-based data, offering an all-in-one archiving, search and restore for 15 popular online services including Google Apps, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and Flickr. Businesses and consumers can choose from two options- free, social media account backup and a Google Apps backup that costs about $3 monthly per account.
Since launching publicly in June 2009, the company has grown from 4 to 15 full time employees and boasted a 400% growth in user base in 2010 alone. With this growth behind them, the team raised $4.5 million in a series A round, led by General Catalyst. Backupify currently has 120,000 users and is backing up a total of 70 terabytes, including one billion emails.
34-year old Rob May was an electrical engineer who designed circuits for military applications and launched two failed start-ups prior to founding Backupify. May says, “Our goals are to continue expansion in the number of services that we back up and to expand the functionality such as search in 2011. ” With an open API coming, and plans to include more cross platform features, like data migration and syncing, such as moving all of your emails from Hotmail to Gmail or from Picasa to Flickr, the future of Backupify is looking solid.
In a similar vein as Backupify, CloudLock is a cloud data protection company that services businesses small and large that rely on Google Apps. The service provides permissions and access rights management to IT managers and CIOs using Google’s office suite. While it sounds dry in comparison to NYC’s club of flashy media start-ups, CloudLock’s CEO Gil Zimmermann wryly quotes Spiderman,
“With great power comes great responsibility,” he says, “With all the benefits of storing in the cloud, we must work to secure this infrastructure. Data is an asset, just like money is for a business. You have to make sure it’s not lost, stolen or exposed. Aprigo has enabled consumers and enterprise businesses to leverage the speed and collaboration of the cloud without sacrificing security.”
While CloudLock, (formerly Aprigo) used to focus on mid-size businesses, they’re now picking up large accounts like universities such as Boise State University, which has 20,000 seats on Google Apps. In 2008, Aprigo raised $3 million in a series A round of VC funding. They will be looking for a series B in the second half of this year. Zimmerman and his two co-founders, Ron Zalkind and Tsahy Shapsa are all from Israel and joke that they are part of “The Israeli mafia.” “While the high-tech industry in Boston is tight nit, it’s even more profound with Israeli entrepreneurs here,” says Zimmerman of the scene.
Digital marketing startup HubSpot is emblematic of Boston’s “new marketing” wave. Its B2B service helps small and mid-sized businesses get found online by more qualified visitors and provides tools and analytics to help make smart marketing investments.
The big vision is that marketing is changing; the traditional outbound marketing techniques are no longer effective. We’ve proven this through our efforts with our 4,000 customers. Our transformative inbound marketing is interruptive and engaging, revealing businesses as content providers through social media. We hope to help 40,000 or 400,000 companies engage in the same style of marketing someday.” Mike Volpe, HubSpot’s VP of Marketing.
Brian Halligan, the company’s CEO & Founder, has grown the company to 200 employees since it launched 4 years ago, but still runs it like a startup. With no vacation policy, employees can take a vacation whenever they’d like. Their “no office” policy means no one has doors, even Halligan sits at a desk in the middle of a room. Halligan even encourages napping because he thinks it makes people sharper around the office.
“Building software for big companies is boring. We think its more interesting to sell to thousands of small companies to make their comapnies better,” says Volpe. In response to a recent TechCrunch article, Volpe says the $200 million valuation and buzz about recent investors are just rumors.
TurningArt is like NetFlix for prints of fine art, but with an added option to purchase the original of works you love. Customers can choose from a sliding scale starting at $9.99 for one piece of art every 3 months up to $19.99, which is essentially new art whenever you want it.
Customers have a queue just like with NetFlix; once they’ve chosen art, the prints arrive, accompanied by frames in just one week. All of the subscription money can be used to purchase a piece of original art should you fall in love. Because TurningArt is essentially foregoing any commission, they only allow subscription money to pay for up to 40% of a single piece. The artist receives 60% of the original selling price and retains the copyright.
TurningArt features over 100 artists across the country and its collection is nearing 500 pieces. “We look for today’s emerging artists that meet our quality threshold,” says Gracilieri. “We get out there and hunt down artists on the Internet, as well as going to shows and studios. We also get a lot of inbound requests.”
Founder and CEO Jason Gracilieri, is a serial entrepreneur who was moving into an apartment with bare walls and didn’t like any of his options for getting meaningful artwork into his home. Particularly influenced by his wife who is both a painter and a gallery director, he launched TurningArt in August 2010. The bootstrapped business is run by 4 employees including a curator/artist community manager. In 2011, he hopes to continue to spread the TurningArt word and drive more artists to his platform.
The Best of Boston startup list grew into something more dynamic than I could ever have imagined. The tight knit community boasts some of the best and brightest intellect our country has to offer. I looked for innovative small companies, making moves in their specific niche. I purposefully left of bio-tech and clean energy companies; we will feature a complete list in this category in spring 2011.
For Part Two of The Best of Boston Startups, stay tuned to TNW early next week.