Boston’s Numerous Academic and Institutional Resources Make it a Prime Startup Ecosystem

March 14, 2014

1:00 pm

Northeastern, UMass, Emerson, BU, BC, Tufts, Harvard, MIT…

If you’ve ever visited Boston or have ever considered attending a college in the Boston metropolitan area, then I’m sure you’re aware that when it comes to higher ed, Boston is a powerhouse teeming with institutions. From traditional undergrad and graduate institutions to conservatories and research hospitals, the Boston area literally has anything you can imagine when it comes to academic institutions. And, according to the participants of 1776’s Challenge Cup Boston Regional Competition, it’s the top competitive advantage that Boston’s startup ecosystem has over others in the country.

“Boston is known for its universities, and this vast deposit of brainpower certainly impacts the startup arena,” says Sarah Haig, co-founder of Silverside Detectors. Silverside was one of the winners at Boston’s Challenge Cup competition, winning in the “smart cities” category for their neutron detector that aims to reduce the global threat of nuclear terrorism. According to Haig, there are two advantages to this direct access to Boston’s robust academic scene:

“1) Hiring–there are technical skills in this city like nobody’s business, often coupled with an age demographic that’s hungry for impact and the risk that inevitably comes with pursuing high-stakes missions; 2) Lessons learned–MIT, Harvard, BU, and other universities have been spawning high-tech, energy, bio-medical, and other non-software startups for many years. New companies can take advantage of this legacy, and the know-how that comes along with decades of experience.”

Boston is the center of academia, with close to 60 academic institutions in the Boston metro area, not including the numerous grad schools. Because of these vast resources, Boston startups are empowered to pursue some of the most innovative ideas. “Everywhere around here, people are achieving great things. We’ve got everything from Biotech to Nanotech. Everything from a Fusion Laboratory at MIT to food startups like Clover,” says Dipul Patel, the founder and CEO of ecoVent Systems, the winner in the competition’s energy category.

The proximity to such resources gives startups access to well-known experts in various fields, a talent base that is nonpareil, and even physical capital that can’t be found anywhere else (e.g., in the form of research labs). “The talent base is enormous with many prestigious colleges and also a mecca of successful entrepreneurs, thought leaders and educators to help support the leaders of new startups,” says Ann-Marie Bland, the founder of ThinkGood.

“I…see [Boston] as a place where education technology companies can thrive. Where else can we have access to innovative public/private schools, leading publishers, top-notch universities and committed government officials, all within a 30 mile radius?” said Sheela Sethuraman, founder and CEO of CueThink.

With access to all of these academic institutions, there’s an obvious advantage particularly for education startups to find a home in the Boston ecosystem. “On the education front, Boston has a unique ecosystem that includes the largest education companies, hundreds of startups, a strong VC community, the world’s best universities, and a strong K-12 system. If there’s another city that matches Boston in this regard, I’ve yet to come across it,” said Jeff Dieffenbach of Cognii. This was made apparent at the Challenge Cup Boston – Cognii was just one of the six education startups that competed in the education category, the largest category at the competition.

Aside from education startups, Boston has had a great track record with bio-tech and healthcare startups. “Boston offers many advantages for healthcare startups due to its high concentration of world-class medical centers,” says Jason Hill, the co-founder of BeTH (Benevolent Technologies for Health), the winner in the health category. Indeed, with top-notch research institutions like Harvard Medical School and Mass. General Hospital, it’s easy to see how health startups can fit into Boston startup landscape.

But, whether it’s education, bio-tech, or whatever else, Boston’s extensive resources enable startups to succeed:

“What we have is concentration – a concentration of highly talented knowledge workers, of world-class universities, of tier-one venture capitalists, and of model startups. On a per capita basis, no city in the world indexes higher on any of those things. The cross-pollination between all those strengths is really, really powerful,” says Nick Zeckets, founder and CEO of QuadWrangle.

The Challenge Cup is produced by 1776 in partnership with Tech Cocktail and iStrategyLabs.

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.

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