To understand how geography plays a role in high tech, I divided Boston and its suburbs into concentric rings, each emanating outward from downtown Boston. Three of these rings are delineated by our two major beltways: Route 95 and Route 495
Here is a brief summary of the rings (see map):
- Ring 0 - Cambridge, Boston
- Ring 1 - Suburbs inside Route 95 and close to Boston, such as Somerville, Watertown, Arlington and Brookline
- Ring 2 - Suburbs straddling Route 95, such as Woburn, Lexington, Burlington, Waltham, and Needham
- Ring 3 - Suburbs between Route 95 and 495, such as Billerica, Natick and Danvers
- Ring 4 - Suburbs straddling Route 495, such as Marlborough, Westborough, Framingham and Lowell
- Ring 5 - Everywhere else
Ring 0 - Cambridge, Boston
Ring 0 is the epicenter of Boston high tech. You could argue about the specific coordinates on the MIT campus that represent the center of the epicenter, but few would dispute its location is at MIT (sorry Harvard). MIT is both the heart and soul of our high tech community, engaging directly with entrepreneurs and startups through its organizations, programs, staff, and students.
Ring 0 companies have access to the greatest talent pool, allowing them undue access to the “rock stars” of Boston high tech. Accessibility to Boston and the T further increases the attraction. Sample startups in ring 0 include Akiban, Basho, Carbonite, Goby, HubSpot and Yottaa. Sample VCs in ring 0 include General Catalyst, .406, and Flybridge. Akamai is one of the larger high tech companies in this location.
Companies that locate in ring 0 tend to be younger, hipper and more on the cutting edge of industry trends. For example, of the 29 Boston startups in the social networking industry, almost all are located in ring 0, a handful are in rings 1 and 2, and none are in rings 3 to 5.
Ring 1 - Suburbs Inside Route 95 and Close to Boston
Ring 1 companies usually could have located in ring 0, but chose not for cost or convenience of the management team. For example, Somerville has many of the benefits of Cambridge but is much less expensive; and Newton retains the proximity to Boston, accessibility for commuters, but provides a much more suburban feel that is often attractive to entrepreneurs with families that are not quite ready to give up the city.
Ring 1 companies are slightly less young, slightly less hip, and slightly less likely to be on the cutting edge of technology. Sample startups in ring 1 include Cloudant, Mimecast, PatientKeeper, PeerApp, and SimpleTuition.
Ring 2 - Suburbs Straddling Route 95
Ring 2 attracts the second greatest number of high tech companies to ring 0. These companies locate on or near Route 95 in towns such as Burlington, Waltham and Needham. Route 95 is the closest Boston equivalent to Route 101 in the Silicon Valley, with the names of notable high tech companies visible from the buildings alongside the highway.
Ring 2 companies are a more serious and conservative lot. They made a conscious decision to locate themselves in the suburbs, and so are more likely to have staff that are older and with families. These companies have good accessibility to Boston, can tap most but not all of the talent pool, and are more likely to be focused on enterprise customers than ring 0 or 1.
Sample startups in this ring include Active Endpoints, Bit9, CloudSwitch, InnoCentive, LogMeIn, Memento, RatePoint, Sonian, Veracode, and Verdasys. Most of the venture capitalists in the Boston area have located on Winter Street in Waltham, right in the heart of ring 2.
Ring 3 - Suburbs Between Route 95 and 495
Ring 3 companies have given up the quick accessibility to Boston of their closer ring 2 cousins. They draw their talent pool from the more distant suburbs such as Lincoln, Bedford, Concord, Acton, and Medfield. These companies are usually located here for the suburban convenience of their employees. Some also choose this location to be near Route 495 (ring 4), which is the home of the hardware companies in Massachusetts.
Typical locations in ring 3 include towns like Billerica, Natick and Danvers. RSA and Progress are two of our larger ring 3 companies. Sample startups in this area include Nasuni, Vertica Systems, TwinStrata and VoltDB.
Ring 4 - Suburbs Straddling Route 495
Ring 4 is the home of the “box companies” such as EMC, HP and Cisco. Before their acquisitions, Data General was located in Southborough, and Digital Equipment in Maynard. We’ve also had our share of networking companies that have come and gone in this area. When I first moved to Boston after college, I used to attend my Novell user group out this way (yes Virginia, there once was a Novell user group).
I’m not sure if it is the hardware DNA of the area, but there is a higher density of biotech, medical devices and clean energy companies in Ring 4. Startups in this area include Accell Systems, Boston-Power, BurstPoint Networks, ExaGrid, GenomeQuest, RedTail Solutions, and uTest.
Ring 5 - Everywhere Else
Ring 5 is everything outside of Route 495. This includes New Hampshire locations such as Nashua or Manchester, Worcester and the towns on Cape Cod. Companies locating here are a mixed bag, usually locating for convenience of their founders and management teams. They have the least accessibility to Boston and Cambridge, and have the least access to the talent pool. Startups in this area include AutoVirt and eCopy.
There is no one right location for all high tech companies in Boston. But the location a company chooses often reflects both who they are and who they aspire to be. Location also has a direct influence on the type of talent a company can attract, which will directly impact its organizational DNA.
You can see location best when large high tech companies move to Boston. Microsoft, Sun, and Oracle chose to locate in in the more conservative and suburban ring 2. HP, Cisco, and Computer Associates decided to locate in the hardware-centric ring 4. And Google... well, Google decided to locate in ring 0, directly across the street from MIT.