Can Boston become the #1 global cluster for mobile?

  • June 2012
  • Posted By Nitzan Shaer

By Nitzan Shaer

Earlier this week, Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Gregory Bialecki, also known as the person driving Boston as the hub of the innovation economy, convened a roundtable of mobile leaders.

The topic: the potential for Massachusetts to become the leading global cluster for mobile.

We were hosted by Walt Doyle, GM of PayPal Media Network. The event was organized and produced by Mass Tech Collaborative.

Boston’s heritage is an instructive starting point for this discussion. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone here 136 years ago, and Rich Miner and team created Android, the world’s #1 smartphone platform, just 10 years ago. But more important than the iconic heritage, Boston is home to some of the leading people, companies and educational institutes in mobile.

A few real world examples: Mobile advertising has been redefined by Boston-based Quattro Wireless, which Apple purchased to create iAd. Mobile voice recognition was led by Vlingo, which was purchased by Nuance (both firms are based in Boston). Some of the top location based services call Boston home, including Where, which was purchased by PayPal and Skyhook Wireless, which is powering over 100 million phones. Boston claims the #1 card rewards provider nationally (Cartera) and some of the leading mobile payments solutions, such as LevelUp, Aislebuyer and Modiv Media (which was purchased by Catalina and is now expanding rapidly in Boston). To that you need to add Nokia’s recent selection of Boston as the #1 national center for innovation, Cisco’s acquisition of Starent for $2.9 billion and relocation of its mobile HQ to Massachusetts, and Verizon’s center for innovation. Staples, Akamai, TripAdvisor, Kayak, RueLaLa, and startups such as Crashlytics and Localytics are all leading their fields in mobile with HQs in the Boston area.

And the list goes on and on. MassTLC assembled a list of 400 mobile companies in Boston’s mobile cluster.

That is an unprecedented cluster from a diversity, talent and leadership perspective by any account. To top this all off, we have the world-leading expertise of MIT CSAIL and MIT Media Lab in mobile, not to mention the other 65 universities in Massachusetts that are increasing their participation in this sector. And finally, Boston has world-class associations, such as MassTLC and MITX, that are generating deep collaboration across the industry players.

In the lively discussion that developed around the table, the panel put forth a number of ideas on how to further strengthen the mobile cluster. Here is a sample of the ideas we discussed:

  • Run a Darpa-like competition focused on mobile to drive the excitement and collaboration in this field to a new level. There’s nothing like a competition to drive innovation.
  • Encourage mobile operators to build an unmatched mobile infrastructure in Boston – in and out of buildings and throughout the public transportation infrastructure, with developer access (APIs, etc.) to the latest technology.
  • Support internships and other programs to nurture and engage young people in the mobile sector.
  • Provide affordable and plentiful space for mobile startups, in locations close to talent pools.
  • Encourage new grads and recent grads to stay by running the “T” 24/7, keeping bars and coffee shops open later and making the city friendlier to the people at that critical point in life.
  • Make Massachusetts the most attractive state for immigrants. Immigration made America great and it can help Massachusetts become the center of mobile as there is so much innovation in this field around the world.
  • And finally, come out with a joint declaration of government, industry and academia, clearly stating that we are jointly planting the flag of mobile firmly into Massachusetts soil.

I believe that the benefits of a mobile cluster here in Massachusetts would reach far and beyond its borders. The innovations that will arise from the mobile cluster here will have a profound effect on companies and people around the globe. This is one of the only places in the world where such a concentration of proven technology leaders – across the full spectrum of mobile ecosystem – exist in such proximity.

As the panel came to a close, Secretary Bialecki echoed, in his own words, John F. Kennedy’s famous rallying cry: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” The underpinnings are in place for industry, government and academia to come together. If Boston solidifies itself as the leading mobile cluster, there will be positive externalities not only to the local US economy but also to the lives of people around the world who will benefit from rapid advancement in mobile innovation.

Now it’s up to our business, academic and government communities to deliver on this tremendous opportunity.


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