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.


BostInnovation and Future Blogging Plans

I originally created this blog due to a requirement for my Reinventing the News class with Professor Dan Kennedy, and chose to focus on entrepreneurs, startup companies and the entrepreneurial scene in Boston because, to be honest, I just thought it was cool.

However, my class met for the last time today, and this blog post will be the last one I submit for a grade. This deadline made me think about future plans for my blog, and I realized that I really do want to keep blogging. Though I want to incorporate more personal blog posts into the mix, and don’t always want to focus strictly on entreprenuers, I definitely will try to keep at it. So don’t worry — this blog isn’t going anywhere (and you can always check out what I’m thinking on Twitter)!

For my last post, I wanted to focus on BostInnovation, a website that focuses on startup companies, entrepreneurs, technological advances and more. With the tagline “What’s new in Boston,” BostInnovation reports a bit more on technological advances that can help startup companies, or startup companies that consist of mobil applications, than Greenhorn Connect, another website for startup communities I profiled earlier in the semester. However, the sites are similar in that they both focus on the Boston startup scene.

It’s kind of crazy how much material both Greenhorn Connect and BostInnovation have to cover just in the Boston area, which highlights just how much is going on in the Boston entrepreneurial scene.

BostInnovation has several tabs: Home (latest updates/most popular updates), Around the Hub (Boston-based news), Edu (student news), Mobile (mobile applications and technology), Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, social media tools and startups) and Tech (anything technological), covering many areas all related and relevant to entrepreneurs and those interested in the startup scene. Its best feature, in my opinion, is the BostInno Beat, or the compilation of the “best links” of the morning/day. I love that it rounds up what they believe is the most interesting links and news, so if a visitor to the site is looking to see the most exciting or need-t0-know news, it’s already compiled for them.

I definitely recommend checking out BostInnovation to see what’s going on in the Boston startup, tech and entrepreneurial scene. Enjoy!

Presenting Ventures and Successes at DemoCamp Boston

On April 6, I attended DemoCamp Boston at the Hult International Business School in Cambridge, Mass.

The event consisted of seven presentations of startup companies, as well as a kick-off speech by successful entrepreneur and president of Harkador Partners Brad Harkavy on “10 Things Entrepreneurs Should Know.”

What should entrepreneurs know, you may ask?

According to Harkavy:

  1. You are not the only one with your idea
  2. Timing is everything
  3. Secrecy rarely helps
  4. Your company will survive one or two direct hits
  5. Understand your market size (TAM)
  6. Media coverage is really fun, but also a huge distraction.
  7. Your business plan will change
  8. Patents are a marketing tool
  9. First to market is not enough
  10. More Oxygen in startup offices (a personal belief of Harkavy)

Representatives from startups peerTransfer, Rate It Green, InstantNightlife, DailyFeats, Innovation Nights, Embed.ly and Vizibility all had five minutes to present their venture, business plan and main goals and then had the chance to receive five minutes of feedback from the audience. After advice, critiques and ideas were exchanges, participants and audience members had the chance to stay, eat, drink and network with one another (which nearly everyone took advantage of).

Mariana Espinosa Kicked Off DemoCamp Boston with Hult dean Henrik Totterman. Click the photo for more.

The most interesting startup presented (in my opinion) was Vizibility, a company that uses SEO to enhance your visibility through Google searches. As a junior in college getting ready to apply to full-time jobs next May, I think this way of curating a top five list of Google links for myself would be a great way to help our future employers, as well as weed out any “bad” or “unhelpful” links individuals may get when they Google my name.

GoDaddy Founder Not So Fatherly?

Today I had to run ten excruciating miles on a treadmill because I am training for a half marathon. Typically, I like to enjoy these long, painful runs outdoors, but due to the rain I opted to put in the miles at Northeastern’s Bager & Rosen Center, a.k.a. the smaller gym on campus. The good thing about the treadmills there is that they have mini television sets attached to them, which offers a bit of a distraction to the pound-pound-pound of my feet underneath me.

Though there is no sound on these TVs, I typically turn the channel to CNN and read the scrolling updates on the bottom of the screen, and today I was especially surprised at what I read: The Founder of GoDaddy is under fire for killing an elephant.

I found this to be a peculiar update that led to many questions. Why was this startup founder out killing elephants?

Once I got home, I did some research: Apparently Bob Parsons was trying to help starving people in and stop elephants from destroying crops in Africa (he defended himself via Twitter). While I think this is an important issue, I also pity the life of the elephant.

However, I figured I’d write a bit more about GoDaddy and its founder while I was doing my research.

GoDaddy Founder, Bob Parsons

GoDaddy.com is the world’s largest domain name registrar and is the main company of The Go Daddy Group, Inc. GoDaddy was founded by Bob Parsons in 1999, and has since grown to include more than 47 million domains under management. Parsons got his degree in accounting and originally founded Parsons Technology, a software development company that provided packaged financial and accounting software for home and small businesses.

It’s interesting (and a bit ironic?) that Parsons is an entrepreneur who created a domain name registrar, since so many other entrepreneurs are probably buying domain names from GoDaddy to start their businesses and give themselves an online presence. The popularity of GoDaddy also shows how easy technology has made it for businesses to buy and grow their own websites.

Though I hope Parsons does not go out and kill anymore elephants, I do think he must be recognized for his entrepreneurial success, as well as his efforts to make a political statement.

Networking Through Northeastern

You’ve heard it before: “It’s all about who you know.”

And whoever is telling you that, is right. Networking can help open doors, and even get your first foot inside. You just have to get your name out there and make yourself memorable.

The Northeastern Entrepreneurs Club is giving students a chance to shake hands and share ideas with leaders from entrepreneurial clubs and other individuals interested in entrepreneurship at “The Real Social Network,” tomorrow from 5-8 p.m. at the Venture Cafe in Cambridge.

Check out this article from BostInnovation to learn more about the event, and be sure to stop by if you can!

Socially Awkward Fits Niche College Market

This week I thought I’d share a fun (to some, hilarious) project with you that my friend from high school has been working on.

Ricky Ryan and Blake Rice, both undergraduate students at Rowan University, have teamed up to create Socially Awkward, a new television show that parodies everything from the ups and downs of college life, to Morgan Freeman movies, to bodily fluids (yes, bodily fluids).

Socially Awkward, which consists of 30-minute episodes (really only 20 minutes, but 30 with commercials), has premiered only on the Rowan Television Network (RTN) to date, but many “teasers” have been posted on the Socially Awkward YouTube channel as well as their Facebook page.

In their teasers and sketches, you can watch Ryan and Rice pose as newscasters on Socially Awkward News to explain the “new craze” also known as “grinding” that is taking over college campuses. You can also watch “Bodily Fluids,” an Alcoholics Anonymous-like meeting where all the different bodily fluids in human-form (Blood, Tears, Phlegm, Earwax, Feces and even Semen), gather together to discus “orders of the day,” like Phlegm’s concern that people are “spitting him out” all the time. Thier newest teaser, about two campus security officers who think they’re real police officers (completing their official personas with mustaches and Boston accents), reminded me of the two goofy cops from Superbad–with an awkward twist.

Lef to Right: Ricky Ryan and Blake Rice of Socially Awkward

I think the themes they deal with are really relatable–and hilarious–to college students across campuses everywhere, and I think Rice and Ryan may have found a niche market that has been unexplored. Sure, Saturday Night Live is full of improvisational skits and awkward role-playing, but SociallyAwkward is for college students, made by college students. The humor is gross, crude, and just plain weird at times, but that’s what keeps it interesting. While their niche may change after Rice and Ryan graduate from Rowan, for now these guys are right where they should be.

Although Rice and Ricky may not be traditional entrepreneurs, they are exploring a new idea, creating a new genre of television, using social media to promote themselves, and making a whole lot of people laugh in the process. I’m excited to see what else they come up with, and hope you check out their YouTube channel to see their other sketches and previews, too.

Greenhorn Connect Round 2

Since this blog was created primarily as a tool for my Reinventing the News class, I must now share with you all what I am planning to do as my final project for the course. I can’t believe that it’s already time to start thinking about finals, but due to Northeastern’s wacky schedule, there is only about 6 weeks (or less?) left in the semester.

The final projects requires a feature story–in addition to creating a slide show, video and social media component–about an aspect of digital media. For my final project, I want to return on to a subject I visited earlier in the semester: Greenhorn Connect.

If you read my earlier post on Greenhorn Connect, you would know that Greenhorn Connect is a community website that helps to build connections within the Boston entrepreneur ecosystem. The site features resources, events and even lists available jobs in the Boston area relevant to entrepreneurs. It’s mission is “to deliver relevant content to entrepreneurs and help channel the energy and enthusiasm of ‘greenhorns.’” Their term of ‘greenhorns’ refer to are newcomers, or in other words, entrepreneurs.

I think for my project, I would like to write a profile on the founders of the site, Ashkan Afkhami and Jason Evanish, as well as their associates Pardees Safizadeh and Ian Stanczyk, about how they came up with the site, what they are doing with the site as well as what they plan to do with it in the future.

I would love to analyze and profile the way the founders and associates use the website as well as social media to inform entrepreneurs and those interesting in entrepreneurship about events, resources and different ways to network in the Boston community relevant to their needs and interests. I believe I could get video interviews with some of these people of Greenhorn Connect, because they are local, and perhaps a slideshow could be used to show a member of the team covering an event, or showcasing their business at an exhibit (which is actually how I first came in contact with the group, at NEXPO 2011). The social media component could focus on how the team uses Twitter to publicize their website and get their information out to the public.

Although I have already told you a great deal about Greenhorn Connect, I’m very excited to dive in, dig deeper, and provide you with even more information about the site in general as well as the founders and their ideas and plans for the future.