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!

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!

Greenhorn Connect: Connecting Entrepreneurs, Not Enviromentalists

Upon reading the name Greenhorn Connect, many minds shift to the environmentally safe connotation many have come to associate the word “green” with. Yet Greenhorn Connect has nothing to do with being enviromentally safe–unless, of course, it’s featuring a “green” startup business or entrepreneurial venture.

Pardees Safizadeh from Greenhorn Connect at NEXPO 2011

Greenhorn Connect is actually a community website that helps to build connections within the Boston entrepreneur ecosystem. The site connects Boston startups and entrepreneur enthusiasts with the many resources, events and even open jobs available in the Boston area. It’s mission is “to deliver relevant content to entrepreneurs and help channel the energy and enthusiasm of ‘greenhorns,'” which are newcomers–or in other words, entrepreneurs.

I first came across the name of Greenhorn Connect when attending Northeastern Entrepreneurship Expo that I blogged about a few weeks ago. I saw their booth showcasing their business and went over to talk to Pardees Safizadeh. The most interesting thing, it turns out, is that Greenhorn Connect is actually a website for entrepreneurs, made by entrepreneurs. The founding “Team” consists of two Northeastern graduates and Safizadeh, a graduate of Boston College. They created the website in order to serve the challenges faced by young entrepreneurs trying to learn from and connect with the resources, organizations and events available in the city of Boston.

The website contains a journalistic element with its Blog feed that contains relevant articles summarizing event recaps, interviews with startup founders and advice articles. The site also has a “news and announcements” element where site visitors can check up on what events are going on as well as enter various contests to win free tickets and access to events, and prizes that may help with their entrepreneurial endeavors. The site also allows community members to comment on posts and submit their own content, making it a real collaborative product.

In addition to the journalistic elements, Greenhorn Connect includes an event calendar so visitors can easily see what is happening throughout the week, get a brief summary of the event, and go to the event page right from the site to sign up. The site has tons of resources, providing learning guides, how-to articles, and lists organizations and companies that may be places of interest to entrepreneurs, such as 406 Ventures.

For the entrepreneur in us all, the site also has a job board where visitors and members can look for available jobs with startup companies and entrepreneurial ventures, or put up a posting for their own business.

I love the fact that the website is local and specifically for Boston-based entrepreneurs. I also love the combination of the journalistic elements along with learning elements, and that it is a community site, so anyone can contribute.

However, there are some things I would also improve. Members of the site have the opportunity to post feedback, yet from looking at the site, I did not see much feedback. This could be due to the fact that I myself am not a member, so I cannot see the comments. Another thing I thought that the site could improve was its visual appearance–pictures from events would be a great contribution, and having journalists cover all of the events they post would be extremely helpful. Perhaps a rating system of these events for community members to comment on different events would help other site members know if they should attend a weekly meeting from the reviews from the previous week.

Websites that can be compared to Greenhorn are BostInnovation, a website that also features articles about local entrepreneurs and new businesses in the Boston area. However, BostInnovation also features “What’s New in Boston,” so it is not specifically focused on entrepreneurs, making Greenhorn Connect unique.

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.