Has Silicon Valley’s tech industry begun to reach the top of its adoption curve? A report by Valley boosters this year found that for the first time, residents are starting to leave the region faster than new people arrive. That seems like good news for Boston, but not so fast.
Boston is either the world’s second or its third largest pool of tech talent and capital, depending how you measure it. But for people in the world’s largest tech hub, the rest of the world tends to resemble a reverse of that New Yorker cover, titled, “View of the World From 9th Ave.” Boston is… on the other side of Ohio, somewhere. How to put Boston on the map that talented people are using to plot their escape from Silicon Valley?
Rob May, a serial tech entrepreneur who migrated here from Louisville, Ky., and Michelle Wu, the newly minted president of the Boston City Council, have an idea they’ve been discussing: Build a meeting space like District Hall, somewhere in San Francisco, and call it “Boston House”–or something like that–anything to bring Boston to the forefront of people’s minds.
Boston-based founders would have a pied-a-terre in the Valley to work and take meetings with the locals, where they’re likely to run into a familiar face or two. If you take the District Hall concept in its entirety, it would have a healthy calendar of events.
May said he believes people in Silicon Valley are beginning to cast their eyes elsewhere. They’re looking for ideas and talent, not just lower rent, said May.
May, who founded Backupify and sold it to Datto, has considered moving his current co., Talla, out West. Bay Area investors tell him to stay put, he said. “It’s become this thing where you used to move there because you were an iconoclast and that was one place where iconoclasts were accepted. And now people move there and there’s a lot of lemming-like behavior,” he said. “Some of the more interesting things I read now… are things coming not out of the Bay Area. They’re coming out of Chicago. They’re coming out of Florida.”
There’s a different view of San Francisco from the outside looking in, Wu said. “The San Francisco of today we think about in many ways as a warning example of gentrification and really taking economic success from jobs and tech and the giants of the tech field, but not necessarily being a place that those who don’t have tech jobs can afford to stay,” Wu said.
At this point, “Boston House” is just a coffee-house napkin sketch between Wu and May. But she sees it as a way to strengthen the support network that keeps those economic successes in Boston and attracts new ones–while Boston has time to figure out how to avoid repeating Silicon Valley mistakes. With support from private companies, the project could get off the ground without taxpayer funding, she said.
For May, who moved Backupify to Boston to satisfy the company’s growing demand for tech talent, it’s also a way to get rid of the sense of a geographic barrier that fills the conversation about Boston’s tech cluster vs. the rest of the world.
“Where I disagree with some people is they think Boston needs to be Boston first and pro-Boston,” he said. “I think the way you help Boston is you tie yourself closer to the Valley ecosystem. You make it irrelevant where the ideas come from.”
Wu and May are planning to start a broader conversation about Boston House. If you’re interested in joining it, email Wu’s City Hall office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell her you read about it in BostInno.