From 24-28 June 2019, we whisked away a delegation of 30 ecosystem builders for a 1-week mission to Boston, Massachusetts. Immersed in the local ecosystem, this bright group of serial entrepreneurs, investors and ecosystem representatives (from accelerators, incubators, innovation centres to local governments), took away insights about how to scale up a European startup in this fascinating ecosystem. Let’s take a look at what they learnt!
1. Prioritise connecting with local talent (find mentors, consultants, students, partners)
“One of the biggest assets of Massachusetts is definitely its talent pool. There are over 300,000 students from all over the world, eager to learn and innovate.”
Olla Jongerius, Boston alumni
Did you know how the Boston innovation scene got started?
Since the 70’s, Boston has produced a plethora of creative graduates from top universities (Harvard, MIT, BU, etc.). The pleasant nature of the city (historical highlights, climate, coastal location, family-friendly feel), and its highly collaborative atmosphere, have convinced many of these bright, innovative minds to stick around. Over the years, this has snowballed into the development of more and more innovative companies, often run by pioneers in their field.
In 2019, the process continues. Innovation labs are commonplace at Boston universities, with students being openly encouraged to create with very little guidance (the ‘hands-off’ approach). Students are encouraged to find a problem and solve it in a revolutionary way – i.e. not just slightly differently than before, via a radically new approach. As we were told on our visit to MIT, “if you’re not making a difference, you shouldn’t be doing it”.
All of this means that whether you’re looking for advice from a local consultant or a new member for your team, whoever you meet in the innovation sphere in Boston is likely to offer you a wildly new perspective to your business. Get connected!
2. It’s easy to network across sectors – but get ready to follow up fast
“Networking is crucial. People are constantly looking for new connections. Some local communities are very open (e.g., you can easily go to see a Nobel prize winner in MIT if you work there).”
Ricardas Valanciauskas- Boston alumni
There are plenty of opportunities to make new connections and network in Boston. From visiting spaces like Venture Cafe, to finding weekly meetups, there is an environment of cross-collaboration between sectors and fields. When we visited the MIT Nano, we learnt about how no-one ‘owns’ the offices there – the space is completely open, including shared ‘clean rooms’ for experiments, to walk-in galleries.
When you’ve made a new connection, expect to follow-up in a few hours, to avoid losing the contact. Unlike within Europe, sending an email next week might be too late. Expect to follow up within the next 24 hours.
3. What impact can you offer the market?
“European technology is at least as good as American technology, however, the US tends to exploit it commercially much better.”
Ricardas Valanciauskas- Boston alumni
While in Europe we pride ourselves for our technological developments, we can often get stuck at this point and miss the chance to fully explore the economic impact.
If your product is pushing boundaries, great – but what impact will it bring for the customer? What is it’s full commercial value?
When presenting your solution to new partners or investors in Boston, this is a crucial aspect to highlight in your pitch or presentation. Don’t get lost in the research behind your solution!
4. Legality: Set up locally and protect yourself with patents
“A common trend in the U.S. as well as in Europe is that VCs only invest in local companies. Although a few VC funds are investing internationally, most of them request foreign companies who are looking for financing in the U.S. to establish a Delaware Corporation.”
Samantha Michaux – Boston alumni
Investors in the US prefer to invest in what they know – either American startups, or foreign startups that have set themselves up locally. As we learnt at Cooley, a law firm with extensive experience of supporting European startups as they soft land in the US, you can jump over this hurdle by opening a subsidiary in Boston, a process which is simple to complete and offers favourable conditions.
Then – are you protecting yourself with the right patents? You don’t need to have all the patents under the sun, just the ones that matter. Think about the various ‘layers’ of protection that you might need, i.e. which specific elements of your product/solution, in specific groupings, need protecting. Don’t forget you can leverage your patents as collateral when negotiating with investors.
5. Be less humble and more practical
“To attract capital for ventures you need to provide a positive outlook. Europeans tend to be too humble.”
Daniel Szemerey – Boston alumni
A final pearl of wisdom imparted to us at Cooley refers to one of the main ‘business-cultural’ differences between Europe and the US. When negotiating with investors, European startups and scaleups tend to be on the humble side when it comes to stating how much funding they need, with American investors being used to bigger numbers.
This was an important takeaway for our delegation. Don’t be shy in asking for more for your long-term growth, just make sure that you can reasonably justify your plan.
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