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You can't tell how the innovation economy is doing without a scorecard

Posted by Scott Kirsner  January 26, 2010 07:17 AM

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How do we know if we're building the strength and enhancing the vibrancy of the innovation economy in New England? 

Talking with Avid Technology founder Bill Warner earlier this month, we decided that a scorecard might be handy. "If you can get people talking about things using the same terms, measuring things the same way, that's a first step to making progress," Warner said over cappuccinos at Simon's. It was the week after Quattro Wireless had been acquired by Apple for $275 million, and we were debating whether that will ultimately be a positive or negative deal for the local tech ecosystem: could Quattro instead have matured into a standalone company, a significant player in mobile media and advertising? How long will Apple keep the Quattro office in Waltham open?

So here's my draft scorecard. Let me know how your scorecard would be different by adding a comment. (Here's Warner's blog post, from last night, about the scorecard concept.)

> Single: You start a boot-strapped or venture-funded company that creates something innovative, provides a useful product or service to customers, and hires at least a few employees.

> Double: You strike a chord with your customers, and grow sales over $10 million. Quattro was probably in this category when Apple bought it.

> Triple: Sales surpass $100 million. Company may go public, stay independent, or be sold.  I'd chalk up a triple for Starent Networks, bought last October by Cisco after it had gone public, and EqualLogic, bought in 2007 by Dell. Constant Contact, the publicly-traded e-mail marketing firm in Waltham, is a triple, too.

> Home Run: You build up a globally-influential company here in New England, with local leadership. You employ hundreds or thousands of people, recruiting some from outside the region. Your market cap hits or surpasses $1 billion. Ideally, these companies are spawning other innovative start-ups in their space.  Akamai Technologies and Analog Devices are in this category.

> Grand slams. Locally-led companies with a market cap greater than $10 billion. You may acquire companies in other regions and open your own offices there. EMC is in this category, as are Genzyme, Biogen Idec, Thermo Fisher, and Raytheon. 

Companies like LogMeIn are doubles that could become triples (stolen base?). Battery-maker A123 Systems, with a market cap of $1.8 billion, is already (amazingly) a home run, less than a decade after it was founded, as is Athenahealth, A123's neighbor in Watertown ($1.42 billion market cap.) iRobot is still a triple, on its way to stealing home -- its market cap is about $430 million, but already it is spawning other robotics companies. EnerNOC, which helps utilities manage their customer's energy demand, is a triple with potential to get to home plate: $750 million market cap, though still a bit shy of $200 million in revenues.

We're reliable in New England when it comes to hitting singles, doubles, and triples but weak when it comes to knocking the ball out of the park and clearing the bases.

How can we coach more entrepreneurs (and their backers) to think of themselves as power hitters, capable of home runs and grand slams?

(Photo from Wikimedia. Photo credit: Frettie.)

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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