, Led by Balter & Hodges, Wants Boston to Learn New Tricks

At first I thought this might be a joke. Some fine wool pulled over the eyes of overworked, underslept journalists.

The same week the “Bostlandia” video spoof comes out (shouldn’t it be Bostonia?) and there are all sorts of rumors flying around at Ruby Riot, surely this thing called “” isn’t for real. First of all, there’s the “.ly” which looks like a parody of tech startup names. Second, is this yet another incubator, accelerator, or co-working space for techies around town? Do we really need that?

To get some answers, I talked with Sarah Hodges (see photo above), digital marketer extraordinaire at Boston-based FitnessKeeper, who is heading up in her spare time with Dave Balter, the CEO of BzzAgent (part of Dunnhumby/Tesco). Yes, she assured me, is for real. And yes, we need it.

Just one thing: Don’t call it an incubator. Or an accelerator. Or a co-working space. Instead, try “peer-to-peer learning” center, Hodges says. Indeed, its name is meant to evoke the idea of “cultivating new skill sets,” she says. is a community space in Boston in which entrepreneurs and innovators of all types can hang out, collaborate, take classes, and create new stuff. The space is on the third floor of 500 Harrison Avenue in the South End, in the same building that houses BzzAgent, Smarterer, ProctorCam, Help Scout, Promoboxx, Eat Boston, and Alphabet Arm Design.

The project is loosely modeled after New York City’s General Assembly, whose “campus for technology, design, and entrepreneurship” started in early 2011 and has supported startups like Postling, Profitably, and Yipit. But no office space or funding is being offered here in Boston. Instead it’s all about sharing and learning—and doing it in person, with one’s peers.

“People want to help each other here, and we have a tremendous amount of talent around Boston,” Hodges says. “But it’s hard to connect people who are eager to learn with people qualified to teach.”

Short classes at will cost about $20 to $50 each, to cover the costs of running the program and to pay instructors for their time. Topics will include the basics of branding, marketing, public relations, product management, and programming. Most of the teaching will revolve around the broader spheres of entrepreneurship, leadership, and professional development.

What’s more, the space isn’t meant to appeal only to Web or mobile tech startups, say—or even startups alone. “We want it to be an open forum. Our passion is growing the startup community. But it can extend beyond entrepreneurship,” Hodges says, to include business education for companies in any sector and at any stage (for example, topics like e-mail marketing or customer development).

“The course schedule will evolve pretty dramatically over the next couple months. We see this as a community project. We see this snowballing as people come to us,” she says. “It will morph into its own animal when people step up and see what they want to learn and share with the community.”

The existence of TechStars, Dogpatch Labs, Cambridge Innovation Center, MassChallenge, Intrepid Labs (also inspired by General Assembly), Greentown Labs, newer projects like Bolt (for hardware companies) and Boston Startup School (for college seniors and recent grads), and university-based efforts such as the Harvard Innovation Lab and Experiment Fund, means Boston-area entrepreneurs have no shortage of gathering spots to connect with their peers, hold events, attend seminars and classes, and get work done (oh yeah, that).

But Hodges sees a big opportunity to complement existing resources. “I think we can add additional mentorship,” Hodges says. To that end,’s advisors and instructors also include Mike Troiano from Holland-Mark, Christopher O’Donnell from HubSpot, and Aaron White from Boundless Learning. And many more are sure to sign on in the coming weeks. In any case, it’s all a side project for Hodges and Balter, who are keeping their day jobs at FitnessKeeper and BzzAgent/Smarterer, respectively.

“For us, this is not about building a cash cow. It’s about helping the ecosystem evolve,” says Hodges. “I want to see the community get smarter and build stronger connections. By bringing people together, who knows what ideas will be born? Anything could happen.”

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