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!

The Wonderful World of Twitter

I created a Twitter account last spring when I was on co op in New York City. My boss was obsessed with Twitter, and would almost always open up our daily meeting with “I saw on Twitter today…” followed by an excerpt from an interesting article or comment about a newsworthy event that had occurred that day, though once or twice it was a ridiculous statement by a celebrity (cough, cough, Lindsay Lohan).

Then, I used Twitter to publicize the press releases my company was releasing, to follow the companies my public relations company was representing, as well as to follow updates from my favorite celebrities. It wasn’t until this summer that my sister started using Twitter, and I began using the site as more of a social network like Facebook.

Today, I use Twitter for a variety of reasons: To promote articles that I write myself, to share interesting articles with others and find interesting articles from others, to read updates from my favorite celebrities, and to communicate with my friends and family. On Tuesday, in my Reinventing the News class with professor Dan Kennedy, we were taught how to use Twitter to find valuable resources for our beat topics. By searching terms such as “entpreneurs,” “entreprenuialism,” “entrepreneurship” and “startups” on Twitter as well as Twitter accounts through Listorious, I was able to find multiple contacts and Twitter feeds that were tweeting valuable information related to my focus on entrepreneurs and the businesses they create.

Here are 10 of the many great Twitter feeds I found that I hope will help provide me with valuable resources for future use in this blog:

@StartupWeekend: Hosting the tag line, “Create Communities and Companies in a Weekend,” Startup Weekend’s Twitterfeed tweets about the actual event of Startup Weekend, which is a 54-hour event focusing on startup companies that provides networking, resources and incentives for individuals, helping them to go from the idea stage to the launch stage. However, the feed also includes updates about different startup companies that have stemmed from Startup Weekend.

@VC20 (Venture Capital 2.0): This Twitter feed represents the Grow Venture Community, the first crowdfunding platform for seed funding startups. Here’s an interesting Tweet from their feed: “What Is The Value Of An Idea? http://grow.vc/h2NojV #startups,#vc#crowdfundinghttp://bit.ly/fhx0Bq

@IncMagazine: Inc Magazine’s tag line reads, “The magazine for entrepreneurs. Broadcasting live from New York City.” I’m surprised this didn’t come up at #1 when I searched “Entrepreneur” on Twitter! The feed links to articles within the magazine’s website, however it also links to outside sources and polls its readers, provoking participation.

@33needs: 33needs, which is a Twitterfeed for a social investing project, came up on my search because it tweeted, “What exactly is a Social Entrepreneur? http://ow.ly/4bQui.” The feed includes a lot of information and links to articles relevant to social entrepreneurship, for those “green” entrepreneurs. It also encourages others to invest, invest, invest!

@BusinessCait: Caitlyn of @BusinessCait is a self-proclaimed “startup addict.” Her feed links to videos, statistics, articles, polls and other outsides sources related to entrepreneurship, venture capitals and branding. She encourages others to get out there and make their ideas become reality, and enjoys hearing about what other people are doing with their ideas. Find out more about Caitlyn by reading her blog.

@MyPROStart: “Here to assist entrepreneurs get a head start in creating their own life by design,” reads the Twitterfeed of MyProStart, the Twitter account of PRO, a virtual community of entrepreneurs looking for alternative ways to accomplish their entrepreneurial goals. Tweets include links to articles, such as the top 50 startups in Washington state, and commentary about what is going on within the world of startups.

@CEOWannaBe: “Should Your Startup Offer Virtual Internships? http://rww.to/gNo7De” is a question Tweeted by CEOWannaBe, who describes him/herself as a successful executive in a Fortune 500 company that is looking to make it to the top of leadership–through entrepreneurship and creative business. The feed features advice and commentary about the world of entrepreneurship, along with the account holder’s individual experience in their quest to make it to the top.

@eRoundTable: Entrepreneurs Roundtable is a non-profit global organization that helps entrepreneurs succeed, and eRoundTable is their Twitter account. The feed includes information about networking events, small business tips and posts information about their Accelerator Program, which helps entrepreneurs succeed in their business.

@youTern: YouTern helps connect emerging talent (aka, the entrepreneur) with startup companies, non-profits focusing on social change, and human resources through internships. The Twitter feed posts information about available internships for individuals looking for the right opportunity.

@Danielbru: Daniel Brusilovsky is an 18-year-old entrepreneur. He is the founder of Teens in Tech Labs, a company that focuses on helping connect and provide entrepreneurs to resources and tools. Already an accomplished young adult, Brusilovsky tweets about his success as an entrepreneur as well as about his company and new happenings in the technology world.

Without Twitter, I probably would not have come across any of these people or organizations except for the two I was already aware of (Inc Magazine and Venture Capital 2.0), proving the value of Twitter accounts and how they can help spread and share information. I think by continuing to follow these accounts, I will be provided with not only more information, but more diverse information that is easily accessible.

You can keep yourself up-to-date with what I’m doing by visiting my Twitter account!

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.