Boston's frigid winters can't stop its piping-hot entrepreneurial scene, thanks to an endless supply of top-shelf talent from area colleges. Here's the tea on Inc.'s No. 15 Surge City

Startup Neighborhoods

Seaport: Overlooking the once tea-filled harbor, the fast-growing Seaport attracts new kinds of disrupters--like startup accelerator MassChallenge and business software firm Catalant Technologies. There's room for out-of-towners, too, like Glossier and vegan restaurant chain By Chloe. 

Allston: Harvard Business School's home base is known for its cheaper rents. Students can also benefit from the school's incubator and co-working space, Harvard Innovation Labs. Pop-up-card company Lovepop and A.I.-powered edtech firm Sophya are Boston-based alumni of the program.

Kendall Square: Thanks to MIT, entre­preneurial co-working space Cambridge Innovation Center, and satellite offices of Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon, Kendall Square is the "lifeblood of Massachusetts's innovation ecosystem," says Ari Glantz, a director at the New England Venture Capital Association.

$36.48
Average asking rent per square foot for Boston office space
Source: Newmark Knight Frank
$36 billion
Funding Boston companies received from the National Institutes of Health between 1992 and 2017--more than those in any other city
Source: Boston Planning and Development Agency
$98,968
Average salary of a software engineer here--4 percent below the national average
Source: Glassdoor

Companies to Watch

Toast MIT alumni Steve Fredette, Aman Narang, and Jonathan Grimm launched their restaurant- management platform in 2013. Valued at $2.7 billion, Toast makes kiosk hardware as well as point-of-sale and analytics software.

Whoop Harvard grad Will Ahmed, along with John Capodilupo and Aurelian Nicolae, launched the wearable-device company in 2012. Whoop tracks strain, recovery, and sleep; has raised just under $50 million; and can be found on the wrists of LeBron James, pro baseball players, and Duke University's basketball team.

ArtLifting Harvard grad Liz Powers and her brother Spencer launched an art curator that gives homeless artists 55 percent of the profit after their work is sold. Toms founder Blake Mycoskie is an investor.

Recent Exits

  • Online marketplace for new and used cars CarGurus raised $150.4 million from its IPO (2017)
  • Online pharmacy and medication-delivery service PillPack to Amazon for $753 million (2018)
  • Cybersecurity firm Carbon Black to VMware for $2.1 billion (2019)

Notable Funding

$250 million Toast (restaurant-management platform)

$45 million ClimaCell (weather-prediction platform)

$60 million Drift (conversational marketing platform)

The Players

Joseph Coughlin: As director of MIT's AgeLab, Coughlin researches ways to improve quality of life for older people. Other notable "age tech" success stories include wireless headphone startup Eversound and virtual reality platform Rendever. 

Katie Rae: In her role as CEO and managing partner of the Engine, a VC firm launched by MIT, Rae invests in startups like biotechnology firm Vaxess Technologies and A.I.-powered logistics company ISEE. The Engine also defrays costs by providing access to expensive resources like technical facilities. 

Niraj Shah: Under Shah's leadership, home-goods seller Wayfair's IPO in 2014 raised $304.5 million, solidifying Boston's reputation as a startup haven. Now, he acts as a connector for other entrepreneurs in the area.

Red Flags

High commercial real estate prices drive startups to set up shop in suburbs like Malden, Waltham, or Quincy. But, "if you're not in the city, it might be tough to get people to come work for you," says Matt Reiners, co-founder of senior- focused wireless-headphone startup Eversound.

"There is just a disgusting propensity for snow," says Kyle Rand, co-founder of VR platform Rendever. This means accepting that investors and potential partners may avoid the city between November and April.

Early-stage funding still lags behind that in hubs like New York City and Silicon Valley, which drives seed-seeking founders elsewhere, says Jodi Goldstein, executive director of Harvard Innovation Labs.

Where to Talk Shop

District Hall: Massachusetts outlawed happy hour in 1984, so founders flock to event space District Hall for its frequent conferences, hackathons, and workshops.

Tatte: If you're arranging a meeting at this café, be sure it's the right one: There are 15 Tattes throughout the area. The Third Street café in Cambridge, with its long communal tables, is especially popular with entrepreneurs.

OAK Long Bar: This Copley Square watering hole's $18 cocktails and luxurious decor attract clientele with pockets deep enough to invest in your latest venture.

Talent Pipeline

The strongest talent pipeline for Boston-based startups is the city's 30-plus colleges and universities, including Harvard, MIT, and Babson College. Many host entrepreneurial or business programs, along with their accelerators and incubators, to support young visionaries.

Prestigious local hospitals like Massachusetts General, Beth Israel, and Brigham and Women's attract medical students and professionals, some of whom go on to launch their own companies, like Ailis Tweed-Kent's drug-delivery platform, Cocoon Biotech.

When prominent local startups go public, like marketing software platform HubSpot, travel website TripAdvisor, and smart-vacuum manufacturer iRobot, employees often go on to work at other local enterprises.

Published on: Nov 4, 2019