What Boston needs to jumpstart more startups: Better transit, connectivity, t-shirts

Boston skyline

Despite a pretty good week in the world of sports (actually an awesome decade in that respect) Boston continues to nurture a huge inferiority complex when it comes to hosting and retaining tech startups.

That was in evidence Friday at the annual MassTLC Unconference, where the first session I attended was “How to make Boston better.” Ideas for improvements came from industry vets — entrepreneurs, VCs and PR pros — but also, and probably most importantly, local college students who are weighing their post-graduation options.

Here are the main takeaways from the session hosted by Michael Morisy of the Hive. Some we’ve heard before, some surprising — like the need for more tchotchkes.

1: Better transportation — Specifically of mass variety — was top of mind.  Car commutes from the burbs into the South Boston’s Innovation District and Cambridge’s Kendall Square are abysmal, the MBTA is stressed, and parking is ridiculous (says one who’s about to pay $30 for the day.)

Unconference session on building a better Boston

Unconference session on building a better Boston

Update: One attendee, a Boston College student Mike Lapointe, echoed concerns of many who say riding a bike here can be hair-raising — in his views the fewer cars the better. One suggestion (by me) was to augment the stretched MBTA with more industry-sponsored busses to run between outlying tech sectors — Waltham, Framingham, the North Shore — and Boston-Cambridge. Google and Facebook subsidize employee buses to connect their valley headquarters with San Francisco.

2: Better, criisper marketing: Local companies need to do more to promote themselves and each other. Meredith Ripley, CIO of Cambridge-based HeyWire, would like to see billboards along Route 93 and other highways that companies could use to bolster their messaging.

Connor McEwen, a senior at Boston University, said local companies need to tell their stories louder and better. “You know the Twitter and Dropbox and Facebook stories. We have tech companies but they’re not telling their stories. Where are the T-shirts?”

3: More mentoring and funding for baby startups:  Everyone knows about Mark Zuckerberg moving from Harvard to the Valley to start Facebook and these folks would like to keep the next Zuckerberg here. One way would be if more local VCs, many of which tend to be enterprise focused, were willing to back mobile and consumer-startups. “I want to stay in Boston, I need things to keep me here… I’m from here I’d like to find winning arguments for Boston,” said a BC senior who left before I could snag his name.

4: Better private-public partnerships: Whoever is elected next week to succeed Boston mayor Thomas Menino should work with tech companies to foster better relationships and communications. Perhaps even bring fiber optic connectivity to Boston — a sore point with many is that while Google is wiring up Austin and Kansas City, Boston is falling behind.

5: Pitch Cambridge-Boston as a tech entity. Make the two cities worker better together instead of at cross purposes. Angel investor Jay Batson recommended that the overall tech area stretching from Cambridge’s Central Square to South Boston be designated the Red Line Tech Corridor, after the  Red Line subway route that runs below it.

“The heat in tech has moved from route 128 into the Red Line … we should embrace that,” he said. “Language matters. we should give it that name and use it.”

Note: this story was updated at 8:58 a.m. PST to add the name of the Boston College student Mike Lapointe.

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