Startup Hubs Around The World: Boston
When considering a list of startup hub cities in the United States, most people can come up with Silicon Valley or New York. Rarely, however, is Boston, MA on the list. Among startups, it is a well-kept secret that Boston has been quietly collecting the pieces it needs to establish itself as an entrepreneur’s dream location.
To find out what is attracting startups to the Massachusetts city; we’ll explore 1) the location, 2) tax incentives, 3) legal incentives, 4) investors, 5) local resources, 6) specialization, and 7) startups to watch.
Nestled in the northeast corner of the United States, Boston is not only the largest city in Massachusetts, it’s the capital. As one of the oldest cities in the US, Boston has a long history of being in the middle of the action and nothing about that seems to have changed.
From its earliest days, Boston has been a manufacturing hub and port (the famed Boston Tea Party was hosted in the harbor), as well as a cultural center and education headquarters. The geographical benefits for selecting Boston as home have not changed much in the last 200 years. As the United States’ third most populated city, Boston still claims the title of being among the best cities to live in.
Adding to the reasons why Boston consistently ranks high for livability is their dedication to green spaces. As one of the top three cities for park systems in the US, there are established parks (including the oldest park in the nation) that are dotted throughout the city. These parks provide opportunities for weekend recreation, as well as much needed distraction during the day.
Situated between rivers, the Boston peninsula has expanded into the surrounding countryside. The city’s location in the north provides for a mild climate: winters hover in the low 30’s (F) and summers remain in the mid 70’s (F). The city, however, is famous for rain, snow and fog, requiring an adjustment to the wildly varying weather patterns. For entrepreneurs though, the weather is easy to overlook when taking all of the other benefits of the city into account.
Advantages of choosing the city
Within the city is a network of services that all contribute to the desirability of moving to Boston for a startup. Logan Airport is the city’s international airport and is surrounded by several smaller, municipal airports throughout the city. The easy access to air travel means that entrepreneurs and investors have direct flights around the world. An intricate network of roads is available for vehicles, although the roads do not follow a planned structure, making it difficult to navigate for those unfamiliar with the city. With the fifth highest rate of public transportation being used in the city, there is a well-developed system of trains, buses, subways and water shuttles. Additionally, in spite of being named one of the worst cities in the US for bicycling, Boston has one of the highest rates of commuting via bicycle. The presence of established transportation options adds to the list of advantages that Boston possess.
The Boston area is also home to some of the most famous universities in the country: Boston University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brandeis University, and Harvard University. Claiming over 100 colleges and universities, higher education draws students, employers, researchers and innovators to the area. Due to the high number of colleges in the area, there are also a large number of hospital and healthcare facilities – the majority of them associated with a medical school.
Cultural opportunities are equally as accessible: Boston has produced musical groups in a variety of genres from contemporary classic, hardcore punk, classical and opera. Festivals, historic re-enactments and other activities are prevalent through the year and offer residents and tourists ways to experience the best of Boston. For the entrepreneur, these events add to the reasons why moving (and staying) in Boston is an attractive option.
Boston’s startup scene – catching up to Silicon Valley?
There are a variety of tax incentives available to the entrepreneur who is establishing a startup in Boston.
One of the most impressive incentive packages is the Life Sciences Initiative (LSI). The LSI program is a $1 billion dollar list of incentives that are available to companies working in the biotechnical life sciences industries. To take advantage of these incentives, a company must apply to the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and become a Certified Life Science Company. Within this initiative are nine incentives: an exemption for construction sales tax, a deduction for clinical testing of orphan drugs and a sales tax exemption among them.
Early stage companies can take advantage of the Life Sciences Accelerator with financing of up to $750,000 available for early stage companies. This additional capital can provide a means to leverage funds for establishing a successful startup. Companies that have reached the next phase of business development are eligible for small business matching grants through the LSI program as well.
Through the state of Massachusetts, there are tax credits available for research and development companies, manufacturing companies and for companies that are located in specific areas. These credits benefit companies that set up in ‘Gateway Communities”, and hire at least 100 employees. Companies that are involved in research and development can apply for a tax credit of up to 15% for costs related to research that is based in the universities.
Along with the tax incentives that are available for Boston startups, there are some legal incentives for startups. Boston has assembled resource centers specifically designed with the startup in mind. These facilities offer more than office space, they offer support and encouragement. Typically well very thought out, these enterprise zones can accommodate flexible environments, co-working spaces, equipment and resources. Much needed support structures for startups are essential to the future successes of the company, and Boston wants to do everything it can to continue to encourage growth in this area. Financial advice, legal information and startup necessities can generally be found in these centrally located zones.
Through community events, workshops and specific events for entrepreneurs, the startup founder never needs to feel as though they are alone, experiencing problems that no one else has. There is a sense of community within the groups and camaraderie among those who venture into the world of entrepreneurship.
Legal specialists provide startups information about the tax incentives, as well as the legal incentives available to them. Understanding the specific legal requirements of the City of Boston is essential for anyone who hopes to navigate the work of game and intrigue. This is why it is advisable to contact a legal professional to ensure that all of the necessary documents are filed, the process of setting up the business has been handled correctly and any other important issues have been completed.
Boston seems to be at the top of several lists: best place to live, worst biking city, number of park places. Yet another factor in the incentive to use Boston as a startup is this list: Leading Venture Capital Cities. Boston is ranked number three in the United States for venture capital funding, controlling almost 12% of funding in the nation. Changes in the economy have led to a new reality in the area of venture funding. As a result, Boston has consistently increased the amount of funding they offer, while the rest of the United States as decreased the amount of funding available. Venture capital firms recently tripled the amount of capital they have available to help startups, making more money available to invest within the city of Boston.
Investors typically prefer to invest their money in companies that are local to them, so generating more funds for venture capital means that more money can be funneled back into the startups of Boston. This cycle of investment and ROI is beneficial, not only to the startups, but to the overall community. Developing a sense of innovation and excitement within Boston helps to drive entrepreneurship to new heights and help to generate interest in starting a new company.
The ecosystem within Boston is thriving. A healthy amount of funding being funneled into entrepreneurs who are being innovative and exciting, which in turn produces opportunity for the entrepreneur to feed back into their community by becoming an investor.
Within the city of Boston, there are established resources that can help make the jump from startup to success. Due to the fact that Boston has such a high number of colleges and universities, the population seems to be in a constant state of turnover. It can be difficult for companies to maintain consistency and almost impossible for new entrepreneurs to know about the available support structure. Plugging in to the almost two dozen meet-ups that occur weekly and monthly through the city can be a great way to connect to other entrepreneurs, as well as learn valuable skills in navigating the startup road.
The sheer number of students available is another resource that Boston entrepreneurs can take advantage of. A young, vibrant and innovative workforce is ready and willing to work. They are educated, up to date with the latest tech products and methods and genuinely excited to have the opportunity to work on a new startup.
Co-working spaces and incubators are easily accessible and provide another avenue of support for entrepreneurs. The entrepreneur in Boston will not have to recreate the wheel; there is a network of support and resources already in place and ready to help the new startup succeed.
Another primary resource in Boston is the city itself. The rich history of the city, as well as the (relatively) moderate weather patterns and the livability of Boston make it attractive as a home base, offering cultural and social opportunities that generate interest for living in or around the city.
Boston is quickly becoming known for its tech startups, and has a history of successful companies to add to its repertoire. Facebook had its beginnings within the Boston city limits, as well as Zipcar and TripAdvisor.
Boston’s Innovation District, an area that is undergoing revitalization, was developed expressly for the purpose of bringing startup entrepreneurs to Boston’s shores. Approximately 1,000 acres of workshops and factories have been converted and remodeled in hopes to bring development to the area. Interestingly, most places develop a name after the location is developed. The Innovation District, however, was named by the Mayor of Boston who was hoping to draw attention and entrepreneurs to the spot – based on the name he created. His efforts are working – new startups are moving into the district on a regular basis. Within the district, the city holds a MassChallenge, an annual competition for startups located in the Innovation District. The winners of these challenges can receive money, free space in an office for up to a year and other incentives to remain in the District.
With so many buildings outdated and in need of repair, winning a competition like the MassChallenge and receiving free rent would be a pivotal moment in a company’s life. Even trying to get reliable internet signal is in peril, and some entrepreneurs have begun to offer internet to their neighbors at low prices. There is a sense of collaboration among the startups, making it easy to share ideas, technology and office space.
Another area that Boston seems to be developing is in the field of medical sciences. Surrounded by teaching hospitals, universities and other health care services, it is not surprising that one of Boston’s strongest specializations is in the health field. Apps that share pictures of medical procedures and results among doctors, fitness apps that help motivate and educate, companies that track medical information such as fevers and other symptoms are all being developed in the city.
While the tech startups are exciting and innovative, startups are not confined to the tech side. Entrepreneurs are moving to Boston to begin a micro-brewery, work in the fashion industry and other industries. The rich environment of Boston ensures that startups of every kind are welcome and have the resources they need to be successful and competitive.
Boston – An Entrepreneur’s Wonderland
STARTUPS TO WATCH
Runkeeper: A new mobile fitness app, Runkeeper is the latest in personal fitness tools to emerge from Boston. This user friendly app tracks your walking, running and other fitness activities providing you real-time information about your workout. Recently touted by Mark Zuckenberg, founder of another Boston startup company (you may have heard of it, Facebook?), as one of the promising new startups, Runkeeper can be synched with the newly released smartwatches.
Rethink Robotics: Designed to help move America into a more competitive position among manufacturing companies, Rethink Robotics is developing affordable robots that can work with humans performing automated tasks. Baxter, their first robot, can unpack boxes, put boxes on conveyor belts and inspect and test parts. Ultimately, Rethink Robotics wants to develop the technology that will allow the robot to communicate with other devices and manufacturing equipment.
Mystery Envelope: Determined to take the mundane out of the mailbox, Mystery Envelope is the brain child of three friends who have a background in innovation and design. The monthly subscription service offers users a monthly surprise in the form of a mystery envelope. The envelope is packed with thematic surprises, specifically selected by the entrepreneurs to bring joy and happiness into an otherwise boring day.
Plastiq: Thanks to modern technology, an increasing number of companies are accepting credit card sales in the most unlikely of places. It is becoming more common to go to craft shows, flea markets or roadside produce stands that accept plastic payment. The founders of Plastiq, however, want to make accepting credit card sales the norm for non-traditional venues such as government services, tuition payments and rent. The use of Plastiq eliminates the need for these companies to develop the infrastructure they’d need to accept online payments, making it accessible to everyone.
Mobee: A new take on using technology to collect information in the retail marketplace, Mobee is a form of mystery shopping. Users are assigned missions to perform in specific store locations and are paid in the form of gift cards or cash. The information they gather is then reported back to the company for a ‘bird’s eye view’ of what really happens in their company.
What’s Your Take on Boston’s Young Entrepreneur Community?
The northern city of Boston has much to offer the entrepreneur – no matter which stage of business the startup is currently at. From the earliest beginning to the possibility of IPOs, there is support and funding and a team of people who are committed to their vision. Governmental support for the entrepreneur is strong, and there is a concerted effort to encourage innovation and design in the startup.
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