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Boston – a city of innovators

February/March 2013

Writing in 1858, Oliver Wendell Holmes referred to the Massachusetts State House
as “the hub of the solar system.” While that may or may not have been true, over the years the part about the solar system got dropped, and the remaining part – “the hub” – came to refer not just to the State House, or even its tony Beacon Hill neighborhood, but to all of Boston itself. Founded in 1630, Boston quickly became the leading seaport in the northeastern United States. Much of the commerce between the Old World and the New World passed through the East Coast city.

From its earliest days, Boston has been a leading hub of innovation, an international business and shipping center, and the locus of vast commerce originating or ending up almost anywhere in the world. If anything, it is more so today than ever before.

In addition to the world-class research conducted in nearby Cambridge, home of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (as well as the cutting-edge Cambridge Innovation Center), Boston has an officially established “Innovation District” that is home to hundreds of emerging companies. Boston and its surrounding area are a hive of networking and deal flow, from numerous events scheduled for entrepreneurs and innovators from across the area to several top-quality business incubation programs.

A great deal of research, development and technology transfer take place in Boston itself, both university-related and otherwise. Why else would PayPal, for instance, choose Boston as the site of its newly opened business incubator and business accelerator? And PayPal is far from alone. The city in many ways resembles a vast coworking space, where people from all entrepreneurial disciplines meet, share ideas and collaborate.

Boston’s Innovation District is home to the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology. Fidelity Investments, a leading innovator in financial services, has established here what amounts to a theme park featuring the company’s foreign and domestic operations and services, as well as labs, meeting spaces and other 21st-century business development tools and displays.

NBIA ReviewBoston is, therefore, the perfect spot for NBIA’s 27th International Conference on Business Incubation, to be held April 7-10 at the Sheraton Boston Hotel. While the multitude of conference sessions and networking events are must-attend highlights for conference goers, the Boston area itself offers vast opportunity for the incubation professional seeking new and exciting methods and deals. Some of the highlights will be included in tours that are optional add-ons to the conference itself – and that are a great way for international or domestic incubation professionals to take measure of the place, both in terms of learning new approaches to assisting entrepreneurs and in making valuable contacts.

During the day, Sunday conference goers not attending the Preconference Institute will have the opportunity to take a trolley tour of Boston’s famous Old Town. The tour will allow you to get off and on the trolley as often as you wish, so you can take a closer look at the many sights, some of which are described below.

On Monday evening, April 8, NBIA sponsors a tour of MassChallenge, the start-up accelerator that offers $1 million in cash awards and $10 million in in-kind support to companies that undergo rigorous judging and emerge victorious. It is an enormous program, with 125 finalists each year in a range of general and technological disciplines. And that’s just the most visible part of what MassChallenge does from its home in the Innovation District.

Late Tuesday afternoon, interested conference attendees will have the opportunity to visit and tour Cambridge Innovation Center, which The Boston Globe has described as a place “that may just be the brainiest address in town.” Located in Cambridge’s Kendall Square, CIC is home to 450 companies, many of them start-ups derived from Harvard and MIT research, as well as numerous support companies for promising fast-growth ventures. The seven-story building and the companies it contains have transformed the entire neighborhood into one of the area’s most prestigious addresses and a place likely to spawn the next big thing.

Wednesday’s tour includes stops at North Shore InnoVentures, located 22 miles north of Boston in Beverly, Mass., and the Venture Development Center at the University of Massachusetts Boston. This post-conference tour will take all of Wednesday afternoon and early evening, but will give conference goers a view of incubators of eastern Massachusetts.

There’s a lot more to see in Boston as well. It is home to the Freedom Trail, where one may view many sites significant in the days leading up to American independence. The walking tour typically takes two or three hours and includes Boston Common, the State House (Holmes’ “hub of the solar system”), Granary Burial Ground (where Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, John Hancock and other figures of the American Revolution are buried), the Old South Meetinghouse (whence the Boston Tea Party was launched), Paul Revere’s house, Old North Church (where, according to American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, it was “One if by land, and two if by sea”), The U.S.S. Constitution (“Old Ironsides,” the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy), and the Bunker Hill Monument (which commemorates a battle that actually took place on nearby Breed’s Hill). There are numerous other sights along the way, but it’s something no student of history would want to pass up.

Nor should conference goers miss downtown Boston, which has one of the most impressive skylines in the world. A good place to see it is the Skywalk Observatory atop the Prudential Center (known to locals as “The Pru”). It’s part of a thriving shopping and business district within easy walking distance of the conference hotel.

Boston is known for its mild weather in early spring. The average high temperatures for the second week in April are in the low 50s Fahrenheit (10 to 12 Celsius), with lows on the upper 30s Fahrenheit (1 to 4 Celsius). That having been said, it has been known to snow there as late as mid-May, so it’s wise to check the forecast a few days before traveling.

And, as you can imagine, it wouldn’t hurt to add a day or two to your trip – to see the sights and perhaps to discuss deal flow with some of the leaders in innovation who now, as always, reside in Boston.

Keywords: client services – general, NBIA events, NBIA programs, best practices, incubator management – general, leadership development, professional development, networking

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