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Making Boston Awesome for Entrepreneurs | Step one

Offer more ‘awesome’ cash

May 1, 2011

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Amanda Peyton, 27, MIT Sloan School, 2010, founder of MessageParty, New York

My cofounder Jason Gavris and I left MIT in June 2010 to build a consumer technology company in New York City, with a short detour in California. The company, MessageParty, is a Web and mobile geoblogging service — a way for people to create and view messages, photos, and links about places in their immediate vicinity.

When I left Boston, I could feel its early stage start-up momentum growing. The Entrepreneurship Center at MIT had a new managing director, Bill Aulet, who covered the walls with dry-erase paint and encouraged students to map out kooky start-up plans on those very walls. We spent hours at the Muddy Charles Pub brainstorming. TechStars, Dogpatch Labs, Venture Cafe, and events held at Microsoft NERD showed a community growing in both size and influence.

But where was the cash money? When a check for $20,000 came from Y Combinator, a start-up seed fund in Silicon Valley, we packed our bags and moved to California, ending up in New York three months later.

One reason we left Boston was the gap between students with “projects’’ but little experience, and more mature start-ups positioned to raise money from established investors. There’s no obvious transition between the two in Boston.

Things are starting to change, but it will require wider availability of few-strings-attached, bureaucracy-free cash.

One Boston organization emblematic of this shift is the Awesome Foundation. The group, started in 2009, has the mission of awarding $1,000 a month to a project that fulfills the singular qualification of “awesome.’’

Although many investors understand that the most innovative consumer products are the ones that few people want to invest in, sometimes you need to fund projects that don’t fit any particular investment criteria other than “awesome.’’

Many times these creative endeavors never set out to be companies in the first place, and they shouldn’t have to be. Building a community where creative ideas can grow into large companies requires this borderline philanthropic distribution of small amounts of capital for people with no track record, or with ideas that are too crazy for Boston seed funds like TechStars or MassChallenge.

Developing a creative class is necessary for a forward-thinking start-up ecosystem, but this creative class has been financially under-supported in Boston. There’s a thriving community centered around established start-ups, but how do we encourage people who aren’t quite ready for that route to stick around?

More “awesome’’ money.