Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Two reasons why Route 128 may supplant Silicon Valley?

In my various ruminations on Silicon Valley, I have rarely dealt with the issue of sexism, only touching upon it once in a discussion of Goldieblox (back when the whole Beastie Boys thing was going on).

But Route 128 may have something to say about sexism.

Now some of you may not realize what "Route 128" means. Some of you may not realize what "Digital Equipment Corporation" and "Lotus" were. But the Boston, Massachusetts area has been home to technological innovation for a long time:

Massachusetts had a long history of technological innovation. The state could claim to be the birthplace of numerous industries, perhaps of the industrial revolution itself. In the early 1900s, many area scientists, inventors, businessmen, and investors were focusing on the new field of electrical sciences. Research labs at Harvard and M.I.T. pioneered technologies using electrical currents, magnetic fields, and advanced circuitry.

After World War II, when Route 128 was constructed in the Boston area and influenced the traffic of the region, several newer technology companies emerged, including Raytheon, Digital Equipment Corporation, Lotus Development Corporation, and many others. (And don't forget that Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and others were in Massachusetts before heading to New Mexico, Washington, and California.) It wasn't until the 1980s that people began ignoring the multiple technological centers in the United States and just focused on the one south of San Francisco.

But Route 128 is still chugging along, even if some of its most famous companies (DEC, Lotus) have been absorbed into other firms. And the Boston Globe (clearly not an unbiased source) claims that Route 128 has its advantages:

Could the Boston area become the more hospitable alternative to the Silicon Valley goliath, an innovation hub that supports women, values diversity, and champions work-life balance?

While the article bandies about words such as "superficial" - things that made me choke on my gluten-free organic alfalfa sprout sandwich - the article claims that Route 128 holds particular advantages.

Tech leaders say two factors are already working in Boston’s favor: The limited geography of its startup community makes close-knit networks inevitable, and experienced women have proved willing to extend a hand to younger peers.

And if you want to follow the money...

As the region works to differentiate itself from the Valley, more investors are noticing. According to the National Venture Capital Association, Massachusetts was the top VC fund-raising state in 2013 at $5.5 billion; California, usually the leader, came in at $5.3 billion.

When you consider the difference in population between the two states, that's significant.

Of course, if we all believe that we're moving toward virtual communities anyway, none of this should matter.

Or should it?
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