The Rappaport Institute at Harvard’s JFK School of Government and MassChallenge teamed up yesterday to provide a lively discussion on how the City of Boston can foster growth. There was a range of discussions, as you might have guessed, over how to provide help for start-ups and Boston start-up companies.
Personally, while I thought that Ed Glaeser, a Professor of Economics at Harvard’s Kennedy School, had many interesting points to offer on how zip code clusters foster innovation, I don’t think anyone sent him the message that this was not an academic conference. The people in the audience – like yours truly – were looking to find out what other entrepreneurs think needs to happen to make Boston a more inclusive, start-up city. Glaeser had a McKinsey-consulting length PowerPoint document and only 15 minutes worth of time for delivery. The result was a rushed and hard-to-follow presentation. However, I am sure if Professor Galeser had slowed down I might have some interesting take aways.
Outside of having more Boston start-up events, what needs to happen so that Boston doesn’t just live off the laurels of its great universities? How does Boston become a dynamic city like San Francisco and New York, which seem to have entrepreneurs – real and aspirational – flocking to their city gates?
As Jennifer Lum of Adelphic Mobile put it, when she lived in New York or San Francisco, there were at least 9 social activities going on every night that she could participate in. In Boston, it’s not that easy. In Boston, you really have to work to find that night life and make a community. In essence, Boston needs to be more than about start-up business ideas. It also needs to be about fun and how to attract an interesting night life to the city.
For me, though, the most inspirational words of the day were brought forth by former Gemvara CEO Matt Lauzaon. I told Matt after his talk that “while some of these guys have PhDs in sciences and liberal arts, you have a PhD in life.” So practical were Lauzon’s words that they touched me. Matt made many fine points and I am not sure this blog will do him justice. However, here are two of Lauzon’s messages that made an impact on me:
1. Make sure the city provides PAID internships
Lauzon noted that when he was a college kid at Babson College, he was a didn’t have the means to have his parents support him through the summers. During those summers, he had to work. So the concept of an unpaid internship was a non-starter. He needed money to pay off loans and save for his expenses. Thus, Matt said that companies should really think about what type of message they send when they offer unpaid internships. Do they really only want kids applying for those positions whose parents can afford to support them? Probably not.
Payment would not be a great hardship for these companies. Also, just think of the type of opportunities they would be offering students from lower-economic strata backgrounds?
2. We need to encourage growth in EXISTING businesses
While many exiting university want to be founders of the next Facebook or Microsoft, the
reality is that they don’t often have the skills or fully formed ideas to make this a reality. Instead, the city should encourage more growth in existing businesses. So, rather than trying to feed every start-up – which is unsustainable – focus on nurturing the 15 and 20 people start-ups and try to make them successes.
I don’t think Lauzon was advocating that we cut the lifeline to incubator stage businesses. I think the existence of institutions like MassChallenge and TechStars ensures that won’t be a reality. However, I think Matt makes of point of where the City should also think about putting its resources
Perhaps I was moved by Lauzon’s words because I have been to so many start-up events in Boston but have never heard an entrepreneur say these messages so clearly and succinctly. My thought to the city of Boston: find more men like Matt Lauzon to be in charge.