This morning I had coffee with an entrepreneur working on a consumer internet startup. It made sense to do the company in Boston, I was told, because at its heart it’s really a data play.

More and more, I hear the local community recognizing Boston’s unique position with respect to big data. We have a history of excellence in tech infrastructure, and thanks to universities like MIT, Harvard, and Northeastern, we’ve got the human capital to excel in analytics.

Tomorrow night marks a huge step for Boston’s big data community, with the launch of hack/reduce, the big data workspace launched by Chris Lynch of Atlas Venture and Fred Lalonde of Hopper.

I checked in with Lynch late last week about the project and as always he exuded not only a passion for the subject but an urgency. The aim of hack/reduce isn’t just to get Boston to step up its big data game; it’s to do it in a hurry. But the thing that really stood out from our conversation was that unlike some community startup efforts, Lynch isn’t prioritizing inclusiveness, at least not at first. In fact, he’s explicitly being exclusive with who he makes a part of the core of hack/reduce through an ongoing application process. As the site describes it:

hack/reduce membership will be a meritocracy based around community and innovation. You can become a member by either being among the best at what you do (Fellows), because you’re working on a project with the potential to make a big impact (Resident Hackers), or because you’re passionate about big data innovation and want to help us build the hack/reduce community (Contributors).

I’m personally a fan of this approach. While it’s important that any community be open to newcomers, there’s a lot to be said for focusing on bringing together the best data scientists and hackers from around Boston. And in the case of hack/reduce, this doesn’t come at the expense of the larger community. Rather, it’s to its benefit.

Part of what Lynch told me he’s asking of those who join hack/reduce, in exchange for the resources it provides, is a commitment to give back to the wider ecosystem. (He’s not taking any equity in the companies.) And because of his focus on engaging Boston’s academic community, he’s providing a service in helping to bridge the divide between universities and startups. The plan for supporting the community requires a laser focus on drawing in the best talent around.

Oh, and Lynch is promising that Thursday’s sold out event at the hack/reduce space in Kendall will be memorable.

Making Boston More Data-centric

Chris Lynch, Atlas Venture

If hack/reduce can become a focal point for big data expertise in Boston, there’s still the problem of what Lynch refers to as demand. Supply is about data hackers and the solutions they’re building; demand comes from the businesses that will become customers for these solutions.

Just as important as corralling Boston’s substantial big data talent is stoking that demand, which includes encouraging more data literacy within local companies.

Anyone who followed the absurd attacks on political forecaster and New York Times writer Nate Silver was reminded of the data illiteracy of, in this case, a sad number of political pundits. But, unsurprisingly, last night’s results confirmed the basic utility of statistical forecasting.

One might quibble that this was hardly a victory for “big” data, but my point is this: lots of well educated professionals in prominent positions still have little to no ability to make sense of data and statistics. Any sector that hopes to embrace big data needs to confront that fact.

In the context of Boston, that means ensuring that our startups, our larger companies, and our government are staffed by data literate professionals who can create the “demand” for big data solutions coming out of places like hack/reduce.

Lynch is clearly thinking about this side of the equation, and told me he plans to host off-hour educational events at hack/reduce regularly. (You can see the already scheduled events here.)

Boston’s got the potential to excel in big data, pairing data hackers from academia and the private sector with strong demand for data insights from local firms. Hopefully, hack/reduce will play a big part in that, starting with a great party tomorrow night.