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.

NEXPO 2011: IDEAs All Around

Last Wednesday, Feb. 9 I had the privilege of attending the second annual Northeastern Entrepreneurship Expo (NEXPO), which I blogged about a few weeks ago. However, now I have created something more exciting: A video news segment exploring the event.

The second annual NEXPO event, held by the Inter-Disciplinary Entrepreneurial Accelerator (IDEA) student group on Northeastern’s campus is a celebration of the entrepreneurial ventures throughout the Boston and Northeastern communities. Startup companies and new businesses that work with IDEA (the group connects students and startup companies with resources, coaches and funding) were able to showcase their ventures, giving the founders an opportunity to network with one another as well as meet industry professionals.

In the video, I had the opportunity of speaking with Chris Wolfel, CFO of IDEA who helped run and organize the event, Chuck Svirk, co-founder of University Apparel LLC, Cory Bolotsky, a member of the Northeastern Entrepreneurship Club, Sean Castro, founder of Rummagers Group, LLC and Tyler Smith, founder of Brewspy.com. The companies, from Svirk’s apparel businesses to Castro and Smith’s online businesses, were all really interesting and showed an incredible amount of entrepreneurial spirit. I am very excited to see which businesses take off in the future!

Please take the time to check out the video, and feel free to follow the companies online!

Want to Visit Facebook at Work? Now You Can!

My co op advisor at Northeastern is always reiterating that students should NOT, under any circumstances, go on Facebook at work. It is considered unprofessional to check your personal social networking site, and not to mention the fact that by checking what your “friends” are up to, you are probably neglecting your work duties.

However, things may be changing. Today, you might even be required to visit Facebook at work–just not your personal page.

A new article from Entrepreneur.com Daily Dose details Facebook’s major updates to its Pages platform, making it easier for business owners to use the site to engage with consumers online. Feature changes and enhancements will go into effect for all Pages on March 10.

Facebook is a popular site for entrepreneurs and start-ups, because the site is relatively simple to navigate and it is free to use. People of all ages have a Facebook account, which guarantees that business owners can reach out to their niche audience and target markets through the site. Using Facebook as a business strategy is an even easier choice for young entrepreneurs, because young professionals are typically using Facebook to network with their friends already and know the ins and outs of the site.

So what are some of these changes, you may ask?

Facebook will implement simplified page navigation that compresses the page navigation links into one scheme, located at the left-hand top of the page. Instead of a list of several navigation links, there will be just one, which is a popular best practice for websites and make it easier for users to navigate the site. Facebook will also be enhancing their email notification system for page administrators, ensuring that users receive instant notifications when someone posts on their wall. For individuals or business owners using Facebook as a business, this is extremely important so that the site can remain professional and clean.

Placement of photos will also be changing. Business page photos will appear at the top of the page, just like personal profile pages. The article recommends that business owners post a series of new images that they want to be associated with first and foremost when customers and fans land on the page.

I think these changes are a great step in the right direction, however, I do not think Facebook fan pages of business pages should be a substitute for an actual business website. Though there is room for pictures and information, I do not think there is nearly enough space for all the important information to be present–plus, it is not organized in any special way on Facebook to make it interesting or stand out. If anything, a Facebook page should be the connection between the fan and/or consumer and the company’s actual website. If someone sees something they think is “cool” on Facebook, they can automatically check out the Facebook page which will lead to the company website. The company website should also have a link to the Facebook website, making the transition circular and allowing fans and/or consumers to come back to the Facebook page and engage in discussion with other fans and/or consumers. That being said, I do think Facebook is a great (and free!) tool for entrepreneurs to build their fanbase and engage with their consumers.

A great example for how entrepreneurs should use Facebook for their business can be seen within the Facebook page for Mini Pops, an air-popped & seasoned Organic Sorghum grain that resembles popcorn, but is apparently “healthier.” Mini Pops is the entrepreneurial venture of Ari Taube, formally in the pharmaceutical business. The Facebook page includes a brief background of the food as well as what flavors it comes in, yet designates customers to the company website to learn more.

Igniting Ideas at Boston 8

Ever been to a conference where you wish the presenter would just get to the point already?

Perhaps we all have. However, at “Boston 8 — Globate Ignite,” held at Microsoft New England’s Research and Development office tonight (Monday, Feb. 7), long and boring presentations did not exist.

Why? Because each presenter was only allowed five minutes to get across what he or she wanted to say. They had the opportunity to present 20 slides that automatically advanced every 15 seconds. So no matter what, their time with the microphone was short and concise.

Click here for more photos from Boston 8, 2011

Click the image for more photos from Boston 8, 2011

Boston 8 is part of a larger initiative through Global Ignite week. From February 7-11, over 100 cities will host Ignite events, made possible by community volunteers. Technologists, entrepreneurs, DIYers and creative  professionals have the opportunity to speak and listen to one another’s innovative ideas.

This year’s presenters in Boston included presentations about “Conception, Pregnancy, Labor, Deliver and Infants (For Geeks)” by Jacob Buckley-Fortin and “How to Start a Summer Camp,” delivered by Katie Gradowski.

Evan Sietz, 28, a disaster recovery planner,  said he heard about Boston 8 from a friend and thought it was a fun way to see what’s going on in the startup community in Boston. He said Boston is a great place to begin getting involved in entrepreneurship and startups.

Another attendee, JD Doyle, 42, heard about the event on Twitter and is looking to network with others interested in startups.

“I’ve been in the mobile communications industry for awhile and just left my company. If there’s any time to create a startup [company], nows the time to do it,” he said.

Mass Company Chosen for Obama Initiative

“We’re a nation that says, I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company …. We do big things.”

The above statement is excerpted from President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address, in which he referenced America’s history and future as a global leader in both innovation and entrepreneurship.

More big things are happening in the world of entrepreneurship (and Massachusetts) with the announcement that the White House has named MassChallenge Startup Competition and Accelerator as one of the most promising initiatives for supporting and encouraging entrepreneurs in the U.S. The White House also announced MassChallenge as a partner in the new Startup America Partnership, a White House initiative to reward and inspire entrepreneurship across the nation.

The United States does big things, indeed. And surprisingly, Obama is actually doing something to support entrepreneurs, rather than just saying he will.

The Startup American Partnership is an independent entity, co-funded by the Kauffman Foundation and the Case Foundation, focused on reviving America’s small business climate by promoting entrepreneurship and small business growth, leveling barriers to success for entrepreneurs and small businesses and investing in green technology. The partnership was jump-started on Monday with a week-long series of events encouraging U.S. businesses to invest in smaller firms. Leading corporations like Facebook, Intel, HP and IBM pledged to increase their investments within startup companies.

MassChallenge, located in Boston, tries to connect entrepreneurs with resources they need in order to launch and succeed by running an annual global startup competition, compiling key resources and organizing networking and training events.

As a partner of the Startup American Partnership, MassChallenge will continue to engage in a coordinated effort attempting to bring together and promote entrepreneurs, organizations, universities and other leaders throughout the country, while working with federal agencies to increase the presence and success of American entrepreneurs.

MassChallenge will occur this year on March 8, 2011.

Photo Credit to ceslava.com via Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.

Obama Gives a Shout-Out to Entrepreneurs in SOTU

Entrepreneurs got a big “thumbs up” from President Obama during the State of the Union address on Tuesday night, motivating entrepreneurs and small business owners to continue turning their ideas into successful companies. Those in need of a recap online can refer to this article from the Entrepreneur Daily Dose that breaks down what Obama had to say regarding entrepreneurialism.

Among Obama’s discussion about investment in biomedical research and clean energy technology, as well as defending the health care law, most viewers were most interested in what he had to say about economic recovery. To address the failing economy, Obama recalled the 1950s “space race” which created millions of jobs through new spending in research and education, citing it the “Sputnik moment” of our generation.

Also while addressing the issue of the struggling economy, Obama emphasized the role small-businesses and entrepreneurs aiming to create businesses could potentially have on the economy. ‘Small businesses can do big things‘ seemed to be the theme of the night.

“In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living.”

Referring to the success of small-business owners (as many entrepreneurs are) as an important “measuring stick” that will help get the economy out of its slump, he went on to stress the opportunities Americans have, and the potential for Americans to turn their ideas into profitable businesses (that can, in turn, help jump-start the economy).

“We measure the progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer. By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.

He then went on to motivate Americans who have big ideas even more, stating that America has more inventors and entrepreneurs who are creating successful companies, gaining grants and being awarded patents than any other country. And that, is why it is a great time to be an entrepreneur — even the president thinks so!

Photo credit to Robert Couse-Baker