Enhancing Boston’s Startup Scene with Greenhorn Connect

Jason Evanish came up with the idea to launch Greenhorn Connect while attending the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) unConference in Boston in October 2009. The unconference (a participant-driven meeting) is an event for newcomers to veterans involved throughout the Boston entrepreneurial community to join together, share ideas and improve the Boston startup scene.

In a session called “Turbocharging the Culture in Massachusetts,” the panelists, Tim Rowe, founder of the Cambridge Innovation Center, and Scott Kirsner, a Boston Globe reporter, led a discussion on how to make the Boston entrepreneurship ecosystem stronger.

“[The panelists] talked about how there was so much was going on in the ecosystem and how no one was keeping track of it,” Evanish said. “They said, ‘We need a website to do that!’ and I raised my hand at the end and said, ‘I’ve worked on that  … we’re going to do that!’” 

The panelists and audience members were surprised by his announcement, but offered to support Evanish with his project—if he could launch the site by the following week.

Evanish, who was studying for his Master’s in Technical Entrepreneurship at Northeastern University, immediately got the ball rolling, teaming up with his friend Ashkan Afkhami, also a Northeastern student (making up the second half of the “we’re” Evanish had promised would create the site). Together, the pair began producing what would come to be known as Greenhorn Connect.

Previously, Afkhami and Evanish had teamed up to create a wiki, or an online collaboration space, to figure out what was going on within the Boston entrepreneurial ecosystem, a system that remained confusing to many entrepreneurs. The wiki listed and categorized events happening in Boston for entrepreneurs and individuals interested in the startup community in attempts to make the system less confusing for entrepreneurs.

The final product of Greenhorn Connect evolved out of this wiki, becoming a full-scale website available to the public.

“We started simplistically, trying to categorize events, what to go to and what not to go to, figuring out what were the biggest things going on in Boston that people should be aware of, and so on,” Akfhami said. “Jason started going to events, kicking tires around, and I was basically in charge with finances—but in a small startup, everybody does a little bit of everything.”

Greenhorn Connect launched on Oct. 13, 2009, and has been expanding based on the entrepreneurial community’s needs ever since, Evanish said. Though Afkhami has since left Greenhorn to concentrate fully on his own startup company MobiquityInc, a mobile computing professional services firm based in Boston, Evanish has continued to work on Greenhorn Connect in addition to his fulltime job. He also recruited more members for the Greenhorn team, bringing both Ian Stanczyk as product manager and Pardees Safizadeh as social media director for the site.

“Greenhorn Connect is a website that’s meant for entrepreneurs, that’s made by entrepreneurs,” said Safizadeh. “[The site] helps entrepreneurs move their businesses forward and gets them to wherever the next point is for them, whether it’s getting funding, finding new team members or just going out and meeting people and being part of the Boston startup community.”

DemoCamp Boston, a showcase of startup companies, is just one of the many events listed on the Greenhorn Connect Event Calendar. Click the image to see more photos from the event.

The website consists of resources and news for entrepreneurs, a job board for startup companies and  those seeking positions within startup companies, and an event listings board that describes what events are going on in the Boston community each month, accompanied by a summary each week highlighting the most valuable events individuals can go to each week. Events pertaining to the interests of entrepreneurs such as DemoCamp Boston, which is a showcase of new startup companies in the Boston area, are common on the event calendar.

The name ‘Greenhorn Connect’ was coined after the same info session Evanish attended at the MassTLC unConference that led to the idea for the website.

“[The panelists] made a list of things that entrepreneurs needed to do better in our ecosystem, and one thing was ‘Take more chances on greenhorns,’” Evanish said.

After looking up the definition of ‘greenhorn,’ which essentially means a newcomer, Evanish realized it made perfect sense as a name for the site.

“The problem we were initially trying to solve with Greenhorn was to help new and young people who have no way of knowing how to get integrated in the startup community,” Evanish said. “So the idea was to connect greenhorns to what they needed.”

Today, the Greenhorn team is trying to foster a sense of community in Boston through the website, pushing information out through Twitter and Facebook daily, Safizadeh said.

“I’ve integrated Greenhorn into my everyday life,” Safizadeh said. “Basically, you have to go to these networking events to be part of the company, to be part of the entrepreneurial community. Because if you’re fostering a community, you need to be part of the community you foster. There’s no other way to do it!”

Going to all these events is particularly challenging, because all member of the Greenhorn Team have fulltime jobs—at startups other than Greenhorn. Evanish works at oneforty, a social business software company located in Cambridge. Safizadeh works as an account manager at Harron and Associates, a non-profit public relations firm in Boston, and Stanczyk is in the process of building a new product within the social fundraising space.

To juggle their full-time jobs, social life and responsibilities with Greenhorn Connect, the team members do a lot of work individually after their day jobs are over, and try to meet once at least once a month, Safizadeh said.

“[The team] tries to talk whenever we can,” Safizadeh said. “We try to have a once a month meeting where we all sit down and talk about the state of everything. We go through what we want to change, what’s been working and what hasn’t been working—and we’re just constantly analyzing how we can make this easier for ourselves.”

Aaron Gerry, president of Northeastern University’s Entrepreneurship Club, says he uses Greenhorn Connect on a weekly basis, as do many of the general members in he Entrepreneurship Club. He looks for Greenhorn TV, a weekly feature on the site that lists the best and most-anticipated startup events in Boston for that specific week,

“Greenhorn TV is one of the better ways to figure out what is going on in Boston,” Gerry said. “There’s over 15 to 20 events every week in Boston, so it’s difficult to figure out which ones you should be going to. Some are really good and highly educational, but some are awful. [Greenhorn Connect] is good for vetting out what events are worth going to.”

Michael Champion, vice president of engineering at oneforty, said the job board on Greenhorn Connect is unique and one of the website’s best features because it gives applicants an idea of what the actual company culture is like.

“It’s not just a list of requirements, like, job applicant must have X, Y and Z, but it’s a bit more about what’s interesting about this company,” Champion said. “It’s a great resource for young people trying to understand what it would be like to work at these companies.”

As for future plans, Evanish hopes to monetize the job board featured on the Greenhorn Connect website, which has been a free feature in the past, as well to increase usability of the site and make it easier for visitors to comment, using their Twitter, Google or Facebook accounts to log in.

Increasing usability will also increase more commentary, audience participation, and more site users in general, helping to accomplish what Evanish set out to do: “Make it easier for people to get things done with their startup.”

To learn more about Greenhorn Connect, visit www.greenhornconnect.com.

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