Venture

Some Thoughts On Why Boston Won’t Be The Next Silicon Valley

After spending a week with the startups, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurial advocates that make up Boston, I’ve come away with a few thoughts. For one, Boston doesn’t want to be the next Silicon Valley, it wants to be Boston. Just more well known.

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One VC described it as such: instead of waving the Boston flag high, the community wants a flag to be planted here in general.

While not to discount the amazing work happening at the Boston Globe and BostInno, my experience is that the tech community here often expressed a lack of national interest in the home that grew companies like Wayfair, Toast, Biogen, Sanofi, and beyond.

Of course, there was a Twitter exchange about this, but long story short: in the week of October 23, there were at least six exits of Boston-based companies: Clypd was bought by Xandr, OwnerIQ was acquired by Inmar, Onshape was acquired by PTC, dataxu was acquired by Roku, SessionM was scooped up by MasterCard, and Social Fulcrum was acquired by Target Data.

We only wrote about one of those deals, in a week that even by Silicon Valley standards, was quite busy. This had me wondering, what else am I missing?

So I did an event with the folks over at Underscore VC and First Star Ventures, and walked away with some broad themes on what this startup scene cares about.

Boston’s Strong Eye

Often when writing about a city, local love comes strongly into the narrative. A city like Boston, with a talent pipeline boosted by prestigious universities, is no different — for the most part. After all, as the spurn of unicorns teaches us time and time again, in order to grow to higher valuations and greater worth, you have to have a demand greater than the city you are headquartered.

That’s why when a few entrepreneurs I met mentioned an outward gaze, beyond Boston but internationally, it was refreshing. One Way Ventures, for example, had 50 percent of its investments in the Boston area, but beyond that, it also had investments all over the world, including Canada.

The firm, which claims it is one of two in the world that explicitly invests in immigrant founders (the other one is Unshackled Ventures, and OneWay is an LP in that firm), said its focus makes it of international interest. One Way’s managing partner Semyon Dukach told me that he’s not just interested in funding immigrants that want to be in the United States, he’s looking to invest across the border as well.

Then there’s Vested, which helps startup employees better understand their shares and equity stake. When we met at the Underscore and First Star event, Boston wasn’t even mentioned. I consider that a plus, as it’s easy to flout a city (especially if it’s not in the Valley) as your differentiator. But with a billion dollar competitor in San Francisco — Carta — it’s probably best that Vested keeps their hunger beyond Beantown.

The co-founders, Matt Venables and Tom Hennessey, told me they’ve onboarded 10 startups to their website so far, including Snowflake and Brex, both San Francisco startups. There’s more to come.

Honorable Mentions

I have to end with a few startups that reminded me how the future of Greater Boston’s tech scene is more than just biotech. While worthwhile, those are not the full story. So, let’s meet a few.

  • Radix Labs was started by Dhasharath Shrivathsa, who dropped out of school and worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s labs and found a pain point: lab operational error. He recruited his dad, and created what he defines as an operating system for labs. In his light words, Radix is the Walter White of labs, nodding to the Breaking Bad character that tests drugs. Radix tries to limit human error, tapping into a $28 billion industry.
  • Whoop creates sports performance technology, and in this past week, raised a $55 million Series D round in a combination of equity and debt (the company declined to breakdown the total). Investors include Foundry Group, Silicon Valley Bank, and Two Sigma Ventures. A Whoop membership, per the company, comes with hardware and a specialized coaching platform.
  • Tranquil Data wants to make sure WeWork never happens again. The early-stage company, started in 2018, helps companies scale responsibly with data and all the concerns that come with having loads of customer information. When I caught up with Seth Proctor, CEO and founder of the Boston-based company, he said that unicorns these days are more like “one trick ponies” and need help growing sustainably.

And that’s a snapshot of my interactions this week in Boston. For any other Boston startup tips, deals, or trends feel free to e-mail me at natasha@crunchbase.com, or @nmasc_.

Now, on route to Philadelphia!

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

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