Goodbye, Boston

Who was it who wrote, “If Silicon Valley didn’t exist, Boston would have to invent it in order to have someplace to feel inferior to”?

Oh wait, that was me. It was a snarky thing to say—but it was back in February 2009, and I was feeling piqued at the time about calls for a state-sponsored branding campaign to persuade high-tech businesses to set up shop in Massachusetts rather than California. It worried me that the state was about to put a lot of time, energy, and money into a big marketing push, when real problems like a lack of funding and support for early-stage stage startups were going neglected.

Well, the branding campaign eventually morphed into something much more useful (, a rich online directory of business resources). And in the last eighteen months, the community of entrepreneurs and investors around Boston has been busy coming up with all sorts of new ways to boost innovation and startup activity—TechStars, Dogpatch Labs, DartBoston, Greenhorn Connect, the Venture Cafe, Start@Spark, Mass Innovation Nights, MassChallenge, MassTLC’s Unconferences, 12 by 12, the Cambridge Coworking Center, Technology Underwriting Greater Good, the BU Kindle mentoring program, Angel Boot Camp, the burgeoning Web Innovators Group meetings, and the nearly nightly tech gatherings at Microsoft’s NERD Center, to name just a few.

I’m not too worried about Massachusetts anymore. And I don’t think Boston innovators have anything to feel inferior about.

Comparisons between Boston and the Bay Area have been on my mind a lot lately. On a very concrete level, I had to decide earlier this spring whether I wanted to say goodbye to all my friends in Boston and move West to operate Xconomy’s planned San Francisco bureau. (We would have opened the new office either way; the question was whether to send an Xconomy insider or hire someone new.) And as a writer, I had to decide whether I had gotten close enough to achieving my own personal journalistic goal when I moved here—discovering the most interesting and ambitious technology innovators in New England, and telling their stories to the world—to consider leaving with many of those stories unfinished.

The first decision was really hard, and I agonized over it for weeks. As an unofficial Bostonian (I went to school and worked here from 1985 to 1997), I had lots of friends to reconnect with when I came East to join Xconomy in mid-2007. And I’ve made so many more friends over the past three years. The technology community around Boston has been incredibly welcoming, both to me and to Xconomy in general. So it’s difficult to leave at the exact moment when I feel like I’ve gotten to know everyone here. (I think my colleague Greg Huang, who’s leaving Xconomy Seattle soon to become the editor of Xconomy Boston, feels the same way about the city he’s been covering.)

The second decision was a little easier, especially after I came to see that the stories of innovation and innovators in New England will never really be finished. I could write about one major technology player transforming its industry or one hopeful new startup every weekday for years and years, and never catch up. That’s how inexhaustible the supply of ideas has become around Boston. Not to mention the supply of investors with the courage to back these ideas, and of mentors and advisers, mostly people with a successful history of entrepreneurship, willing to put in the time to nurture them.

A couple of years ago, the situation seemed much more dire for the local technology community. A deep recession was settling in, people were losing their jobs by the thousands, capital seemed harder to come by, and memories of the Route 128 glory days were growing increasingly distant.

But entrepreneurs here, being entrepreneurial, have taken matters into their own hands, capitalizing on Web 2.0-era innovations to bootstrap new ventures for far less money than used to be required, and getting more creative about the whole funding question. (That’s what the recent Angel Boot Camp, and our “Angel Tsunami” panel at yesterday’s Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship, were all about.) Entrepreneurs have been building on the technologies this region knows best— networking and storage, telecommunications, robotics, security, and healthcare IT, to name just a few—while also creating brand-new epicenters of innovation in areas like advanced batteries, biofuels, gaming and entertainment, mobile apps and advertising, e-commerce, and business-to-business applications.

But the Bay Area has its own areas of technological strength and its own styles of entrepreneurship, and Xconomy wants to tell those stories as well. I’m going to miss writing about Boston (and believe, me I plan to take a dose of New England’s hard-headed skepticism with me to San Francisco). But I know that I’m leaving at a time when the region is on the upswing, meaning that whatever small contributions I’ve made won’t be missed much. Moreover, I know that Greg, along with Ryan McBride and Erin Kutz and all of the great reporters who contribute to our Boston pages, are going to continue to cover the stories of New England innovators with all of the breadth, depth, and insight that Xconomy strives to provide.

And I’m not really disappearing. Xconomy is a national network now, and I’ll still have a hand in our coverage of mobile technology and other areas where New England shines. So if you’re tempted to think of my departure as yet another example of Silicon Valley vacuuming up Boston’s talent, don’t. It’s really the opposite: a case of a company born and bred in Boston that’s now poised to export its business model to the Bay Area. For me and my colleagues, this isn’t an ending—it’s just another beginning.

[Editor’s Note: Xconomy readers are invited to an open party to welcome Greg Huang to Boston and say farewell to Wade. It’s at 5:00 p.m. next Tuesday, June 22, at the Cambridge Brewing Company at One Kendall Square, Cambridge.]

For a full list of my columns, check out the World Wide Wade Archive. You can also subscribe to the column via RSS or e-mail, and you can download Pixel Nation, an e-book version of the first 80 columns, as a free PDF file or a $4.99 Kindle edition.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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9 responses to “Goodbye, Boston”

  1. Jon Pierce says:

    Wade, it has been an absolute pleasure reading your stories and getting to know you these past years. You’ve made a huge impact on the community and will be sorely missed. Best of luck in San Francisco!

  2. Maia Heymann says:

    I’ve enjoyed your writing and insights, and your enthusiasm and “hard-headed skepticism.” Coverage of the Bay Area’s tech scene will benefit from all that you bring to it. Best of luck! Change is good.

  3. Wade,
    You somehow take “hard headed” and make it appealing, rather than destructive. You told me you are going to weave in national (and of course Boston) stories into your San Francisco coverage. And that there is a natural, but amplified, tendency towards insularity in the Bay Area coverage. If you can draw noticeable attention to the innovators in your four other Xconomy bureau areas, your move to SF will be a public service to all of us.

    I can’t come Tuesday. I told the Branded in Boston people I’d come to their speaker shindig. But I will raise a glass to you and Greg there.

  4. Wade,

    Congratulations on the move out west!

    Thank you again for all your help and support with DartBoston, especially early on. We’ll miss you here in NE!


  5. Wade:
    It has been a pleasure getting to know you and your excellent work. Best of luck in the Valley. Don’t forget your friends back East.

  6. Wade, congratulations on the new venture. You’ll take the Valley by storm, for sure. (And if you get there by this weekend, you can see the Sox play the Giants.)

    Greg, welcome to Boston. You’ll soon discover why Wade found it so hard to leave here.

    I’ll not be able to attend on the 22nd as I’m out of state. Enjoy what will be the first full day of official summer.


  7. Congratulations as you embark on an exciting new chapter of your career in SF, Wade!

    Big loss for Boston! We’re going to miss you!


  8. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    Wow, thanks everyone! I’m so grateful for all of your compliments and good wishes. It’s just one more sign of how friendly and welcoming the Boston innovation scene really is (counter to the old Yankee stereotype).

    I’ll miss you all. I hope you can come to our party (5 pm 6/22 at the Cambridge Brewing Company).

  9. Wade, thanks for the great insights into the tech community in Boston. We’re better for your efforts!

    At least promise to keep cheering for the Red Sox!