Who’s Hiring, Who’s Starting, and Who’s Dead: A Pre-Labor Day Roundup of Tech Tidbits

Here in Boston, September 1st brings about quite a bit of change: students migrating back into town, moving trucks and furniture in the streets, and street cleaners around my office (all cutting down on parking options, sorry to say).

We’ve weathered Tropical Storm Irene and a roller-coaster stock market, felt the mild rumblings of an East Coast earthquake (OK, most of us here didn’t), and are waiting to see how the Red Sox-Yankees series plays out tonight. And football season. Did I mention football season?

It’s also a time of change and opportunity in the tech-business community, as we look forward to a high season of events and news. Here are some quick hits:

—Joi Ito has officially started as the new director of the MIT Media Lab (he succeeds Frank Moss). In a blog post, Ito writes, “The awesome space that the Lab lives in, and the somewhat tricky issues around IP and confidentiality, have kept a lot of the great things going on at the Lab out of the public view. I’d really like to have the Media Lab be more involved in the conversation that is the global Internet, and to invite everyone to participate in what we do.”

—CSN Stores is now officially Wayfair.com. No surprise there, as the Boston e-retailer (think Amazon for the home) has rebranded its 200-plus sites under a unified name. Wayfair, which has long been profitable, recently raised its first round of outside funding, and it was a doozy: $165 million from Battery Ventures, Great Hill Partners, HarbourVest Partners, and Spark Capital. It sounds like a lot of the money will go towards marketing and building the new brand.

—A number of Boston-area companies are hiring up a storm in a seriously competitive job market. HubSpot is among the usual suspects, coming off its recent acquisitions of Performable and Oneforty. The company is 285 employees going on 2,085. (We’ll be keeping an eye on how it manages its growth and integrations.) Other firms looking to hire include Gemvara, PeerTransfer, and a bunch of TechStars Boston companies—plus giants like Verizon and Pfizer (both are setting up R&D beachheads in the Boston area). I’m guessing Google and ITA Software aren’t exactly sitting still in Kendall Square either.

—While on the topic of Kendall Square tech icons, I should mention that Akamai has formed a partnership with fellow Cambridge startup Happy Cloud to speed up software downloads via Akamai’s content delivery network—in particular, downloads of high-quality PC games. Happy Cloud came out of beta with its on-demand game store in July.

—In the “dead” category, consider U.S. solar panel startups. This week’s news about Solyndra, the Fremont, CA-based company that said it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, is another nail in the coffin. Solyndra raised nearly $1 billion in private equity financing (and borrowed $500 million-plus from the U.S. Department of Energy), making it one of the largest failures in venture capital history. Solyndra was backed in part by Boston and Silicon Valley-based RockPort Capital and a number of other firms, including Madrone Partners, U.S. Venture Partners, CMEA Ventures, and Redpoint Ventures.

The news comes on the heels of Evergreen Solar’s bankruptcy—which Black Coral Capital’s Rob Day says isn’t the end of the story for the Marlboro, MA-based firm. And last week’s bankruptcy filing by Intel-backed SpectraWatt, in upstate New York. The broader consensus seems to be that U.S. solar investors didn’t look out far enough on the cost curve and didn’t have deep enough pockets to keep supporting companies trying to compete with cheaper solar overseas. There are still big opportunities to innovate in solar, of course, but the investor climate is looking pretty dour.

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