What I Like About Innovation in New England


Xconomy Boston — 

There is a lot of great stuff going on in Boston right now. Granted, there are still many signs of paralysis throughout the system, but there are also many high-quality entrepreneurs in the marketplace attempting to change the world with exciting, innovative solutions to some very large problems.

June 2009 has been dubbed “Innovation Month in New England,” so I thought I would tick off some of the investment themes we are excited about today.

* My favorite theme is the convergence of IT and life sciences (we dub it “technology for healthcare”), as that manifests itself in smart devices, important advances in healthIT, and the promise of personalized medicine and sophisticated diagnostics. The parallel developments in bio-informatics, computing power, material sciences, microfabrication, power management, and imaging modalities have dramatically advanced our ability to diagnose, manage, and cure many chronic diseases. I am particularly intrigued with the “connected health” paradigm—and who will be the winners and losers as this model becomes a reality.

* I am spending a lot of time with robotics entrepreneurs these days. There are exciting and very obvious applications in the industrial, manufacturing, medical, and consumer markets. And Massachusetts has a world-class robotics ecosystem already in place.

* Developments in mobile applications as well as wireless infrastructure are very exciting.

* We are seeing a number of important consumer infrastructure opportunities which will better optimize the allocation of advertising dollars and improve marketing efficiencies. We are particularly excited about advances in video infrastructure and distribution.

* Tech-enabled business services, particularly in the financial services industry, show great promise. Banks and insurance companies simply need to be more efficient in how they do business.

* We still see compelling opportunities in the enterprise software space, although admittedly fewer than in years past.

* Since 9/11 we have observed that the government—on a massively parallel basis—has been subsidizing numerous technologies in the name of homeland defense through non-dilutive grants and contracts. We have been pursuing an investment thesis which is centered on the ability to redirect some of these technologies to large industrial or commercial applications.

* We have been pursuing a number of exciting opportunities in the platform semiconductor space, which drives many of our other investment themes above.

* And lastly—and most recently—we elevated cleantech as a new investment theme. We do so cautiously, recognizing the many challenges these companies now face. Our principal focus is on demand-side energy management, which is more akin to business models found in the above themes. We have avoided supply-side, generation companies, which require extraordinary amounts of capital, have very significant technical risks, uncertain business models, and extended development timelines.

We are always happy to engage with great entrepreneurs, particularly if they are focused on some of the themes above. Several important events in June will take on these issues, including the Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship, or XSITE 2009, an all-day conference at Boston University on June 24. Many of these themes will also be discussed at an event Scott Kirsner is hosting on June 25, also at Boston University. Please come and join in the debates.

[Editor’s note: This column also appears, in slightly different form, on Michael Greeley’s blog, On the Flying Bridge.]