Top 10 Highlights From UnConference: Boston’s Big Data Cluster, Content Vs. Commerce & More

This year’s MassTLC Innovation UnConference, in Boston on Friday, was as overwhelming—and inspiring—as ever. Apart from the “secrets of scaling startups” session, which I recapped in a separate story, there was a lot going on. Far too much for any one person to take in.

There were sessions on picking the right startup accelerator; building the right company culture; choosing board directors; common mistakes startups make; the talent and recruiting crunch; and the interplay between the New York and Boston innovation scenes, as well as sector-focused sessions on gaming, big data, analytics, mobile cloud, social marketing, and so forth.

To keep track of the main themes this year, I benefited from random chats with Lawrence Schwartz of Tokutek; Michael Raybman of WaySavvy; Gus Weber of Dogpatch Labs and Polaris Venture Partners; Semyon Dukach of SMTP; Vineet Sinha of Architexa; Jeremy Levine of StarStreet; Josh Bob from Textaurant; Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot; and many others. My colleagues Erin Kutz and Lilly O’Flaherty roamed the halls and sessions as well, so I will include some of their observations too.

Here’s a quick sampling of what we all learned about:

1. There are about 100 “big data” companies around Boston. That was the count given at one of several sessions focusing on big data and analytics, led by Steve O’Leary of Aeris Partners and Bob Zurek of Endeca (nice exit). For comparison, earlier this year MassTLC estimated the huge mobile/wireless cluster around Boston to be about 400 companies strong. Big data encompasses big companies like Netezza (part of IBM), Oracle, EMC, ITA Software (Google), Vertica (HP), and Progress Software, as well as upstarts like Hadapt, Jana,, Hopper, Kyruus, and Tokutek. The common thread is technology to help people and companies manage and make sense of tremendous amounts of data so they can make better business decisions.

2. If you’re tired of SoLoMo (social-local-mobile media) as a tech theme, try SoMoClo…the social mobile cloud. In case your eyes just glazed over, think of it this way: Google is mobile plus cloud (see Android). So is Apple (more mobile than cloud, but getting there). Facebook is social plus cloud. Whoever gets all three wins. Beyond consumers, an emerging sector for this technology is healthcare. Jeffrey Tingle of PolyRemedy talked about opportunities in making electronic medical records accessible by patients and doctors—along with the major challenges of privacy, security, and compliance.

3. Web content and advertising are becoming much more interactive—and that interplay leaves an opening for startups. “Traditional church-and-state separation of content and commerce is dying,” says Michael Raybman from travel site WaySavvy. “Sidebar display ads are totally 2005. Commerce and advertising are becoming personalized and contextual, while content is becoming increasingly actionable, where ‘share with friends’ is not the only action. This brings immense opportunities for the travel vertical.”

4. Just when you thought the engineering talent crunch couldn’t get much worse: Undergrads aren’t coming out of school with the right coding experience, and startups can’t afford the time or … Next Page »

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