Achieving Success: The Key to Building Startups in Boston

Just last year, Klaviyo went public, adding to the parade of startup success stories. But they all showed what’s possible for the many people who dream of building a successful business in the Boston area. When you put it all together, Lyman says, you get some of the primary building blocks for a successful startup ecosystem. And what Boston may lack in nightlife, it surely makes up for in brain power and long history of startup success. As Seseri says, success begets success.

When it comes to building startups in Boston, success begets success. Hubspot, the market-dominating inbound marketing company, is just one story of what’s possible in this thriving East Coast ecosystem. From Wayfair to Acquia, iRobot to Carbon Black, Boston has seen its fair share of successful exits over the years.

When Hubspot founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah began their journey as MIT graduate students in 2004, they had a groundbreaking idea in an industry that was still in its infancy. But with the support of their prestigious university and the region’s experienced venture investors, they were able to turn that idea into a thriving business that eventually went public in 2014, with a current market cap of over $30 billion.

Boston’s success as a startup hub can be attributed to a variety of factors. According to Emily Knight, president of The Engine Accelerator, which works with tough-tech startups emerging from research labs, the 35 colleges and universities in the Boston area provide a unique breeding ground for innovative ideas.

  • The Engine Accelerator: a spinoff of MIT, providing support for “tough tech” startups.
  • Boston’s universities: home to 35 institutions, including Harvard, MIT, and Tufts.

But it’s not just ideas that thrive in this region. Lily Lyman, a partner at Boston-based investment firm Underscore VC, notes that the wealth of talented individuals flowing out of these institutions is a major appeal for their firm.

“The combination of tech, R&D, and talent in Boston is unparalleled. In fact, about one-third of Underscore’s portfolio comes straight from the university system, with a focus on schools like Harvard, MIT, and Northeastern,” Lyman explains.

And with the recent addition of Boston-born company Klaviyo to the list of successful startup “parades,” the city’s entrepreneurial spirit continues to thrive. Rudina Seseri, managing director at Glasswing Ventures, believes that this success breeds more success.

“As these companies generate wealth for their founders, it creates a self-sustaining cycle of successful startups. And with each new success, more and more entrepreneurs are inspired to take the leap,” Seseri says.

This momentum can be seen in the growing number of venture investments in the Boston area, which PitchBook reports as fourth in the nation in Q4 of 2023. That’s no small feat for a relatively small city nestled in an even smaller state.

But while Boston may be punching above its weight on the venture investment scale, it does face some limitations, particularly in terms of attracting young founders. The city is infamous for its high housing costs, deteriorating public transit system, and early bar closing times.

“Every city has its challenges, but what’s truly important is creating a supportive environment for startups to thrive,” says Seseri, referencing the many incubators and accelerators, like MassChallenge, Greentown Labs, IDEA, and Roxbury Innovation Center, that are popping up to foster early-stage ideas.

Indeed, Boston’s rich history of startup success speaks for itself. And as Seseri notes, this success begets even more success.

“To keep the wheel turning, we need to continue supporting founders and celebrating their successes. The more success we see in this region, the faster the cycle of innovation and growth will spin.”

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Ava Patel

Ava Patel is a cultural critic and commentator with a focus on literature and the arts. She is known for her thought-provoking essays and reviews, and has a talent for bringing new and diverse voices to the forefront of the cultural conversation.

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