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Mass Innovation Nights: Great, but Not for Young Entrepeneurs

Mass Innovation Nights has always been one of those events I intended to check out, but never did.  There were a lot of reasons, but the biggest was it’s out in Waltham.  Like many young people in the city, I do not have a car and so I depend on public transportation.  To make it to Waltham requires about a one hour trip each way, which is certainly not something I look forward to.   Last night, I finally decided to make the trip.

One of the reasons I finally decided to go was because a member of Mass Innovation Nights told me that they are, “steps from the commuter rail station.”  While that statement is technically correct, it is not obvious to find them.  I ended up walking up and down Moody Street multiple times in both directions, completely perplexed as I watched the street numbers jump from 138 to 200 (The event location, the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation is 154 Moody St). I finally noticed a sizable industrial-looking complex (it looked like a bunch of old factories) tucked away before the bridge over the Charles River.  It was there that I met Dan, a fellow young entrepreneur, who upon parking his car, could not figure out where to go either.  After more searching we finally stopped at the local movie theater and got directions.  As it turns out, you head down a dark pass between some buildings, walk around a corner along the river and then a modest entrance to the museum appears.

Entering the museum was an interesting experience as we were surrounded by giant, old machines and barely heard any talking.  As we wondered deeper into the museum, we finally found some people chatting in an open room.  It turns out, all the action is on the second floor, so we both went up there to check things out.

On the second floor of the museum is a large, open room.  Like many other events, it has tables set up along the walls for each presenting company.  The crowd is then free to move around and interact with the companies and other visitors.  While this set-up is the same as events like WebInno’s “side dishes” and TechCocktail, the crowd and company types is definitely different.  The vast majority of the crowd was much older than I and most of the presenting companies were in the B2B and enterprise space.  The crowd seemed much more serious than others I’ve found at events like these, as many of them quickly moved from table to table and had closed off conversations with specific people.  There is nothing wrong with this; I’m sure many were setting up meetings that could lead to important business deals. However, this is certainly not the kind of open discussion I’m used to seeing at many Boston based events.

After quickly moving through the company tables, I moved over to check out the “Experts Corner.” In this area, there were experts in venture capital, finance, banking, PR/marketing and more.  Visitors could reserve a 15 minute slot to talk to any one of them.  I had a great conversation with two members of Square 1 Bank, who specialize in the banking needs of startups.  I also noticed a few familiar faces from other Boston events on the experts side such as VC Ready Law Group and Launch Capital.   This “Experts Corner” is a great idea. It brings together groups of people that may otherwise have difficulty finding each other: new businesses and the services that can help them.

In the end, I think that Mass Innovation Nights is a great event; it’s just not for young entrepreneurs.  There is a laundry list of organizations in this area, and many of them go to great lengths to attract a younger crowd.   With so many choices, there is no need for every event to focus on the same types of businesses or groups of people.  Mass Innovation Nights represents a different look on new businesses in the area, focused on an older crowd starting small businesses.

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