I participated in the Idea Mill event at the beautiful modern Open Square office, retail, and event space in Holyoke, MA. Thanks to the quality of the speakers, participants, and organization, it was a world class event. If you missed it, here are some highlights.
Idea Mill Concept: To introduce modern office space converted from mills in Holyoke, MA and to position Western Mass as a great place for companies to build their businesses similar to the way that businesses did on Route 128 outside of Boston (less expensive but still accessible to metro areas).Holyoke aims to be the next great startup center with modern office spaces, fast internet, and a balanced, quality rural/urban lifestyle at a lower cost than would be available in Boston. Specifically, the Idea Mill event showcased a mill that had been converted into a versatile loft style office, retail, and event space with fiber-optic connection, completely remodeled interior, and gourmet local food. Presenters were a great mix of entrepreneurs from Western Mass, startup and tech gurus from the Boston area, Rhode Island, and New York State.
Steve Porter (of PorterHouse Media) presents ‘dry’ business ideas in an entertaining way with memorable, eye-catching videos. Steve, originally from Amherst, MA, came back to Holyoke, MA about two years ago after DJing around the world. He has since produced an international business remixing videos for large companies (IBM, Cisco, etc.). Steve is committed to bringing more business to Holyoke, MA.
Baer Tierkel — Moved to Western Mass from California to enjoy a more balanced life style and, here, co-founded tech startups including Otalo and Localocracy (recently acquired by Huffington Post).
Anita Brearton — Member of Golden Seeds (4th largest angel fund investing group in the country). Anita is spearheading various initiatives for women to enter the business world. She observed that there were not enough (~20 in Boston) organizations supporting women in business so she helped them collaborate and organize SH-EO: The Capital Network.
Jack Tamplin with Providence Geeks and Richard Frederick, Director, Emerging Ventures Ecosystem (EVE) at RPI . Jack Tamplin shared how he and his peers are helping to form a startup community in Providence, saying to keep young enterpreneurs in town, you need to create an environment to ”Keep them made, paid, and laid” (creating a social scene for the young enterpreneurs to stay after they graduate from colleges).
Bo Peabody — Founder of Tripod (later sold to Lycos) and Managing General Partner of Village Ventures. Bo shared his experience building Tripod in Williamstown (population 6,000) and how he focused on developing his team and creating a family environment.
Ben Einstein, Brainstream Design, – Shared his vision about creating Maker College in Holyoke. He and his friend are looking to aquire a mill building in Holyoke where they want to create a startup hub (like Y-Combinator) on the second floor with a materials shop on the first. On the first floor there would be 3-D printers and other machinery for those startups to model what they’re making (in the case of a physical product). In addition the local community will be able to use the first floor resources for a membership fee. Maker College will be sustained by contributions from the startups they help create and the first floor will generate revenue from community memberships. The college may ultimately become a nonprofit but that is yet to be determined.
Brian Kalma, A UX guru, formerly of Zappos talked about developing great UI experiences and that ultimately “good UI means making people smile”.
Colin Angle — Founder of iRobot (founded in 1990, originally in MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab). Ever since he saw Rosie the robot on The Jetsons, Colin wanted to create a real life version of Rosie, the friendly cleaning robot. Colin began with an engineering team while at MIT and started designing robots, however his team didn’t have the experience in manufacturing or cleaning at that time. His team partnered with a company that makes industrial cleaners and learned the cleaning aspect of the business, and then partnered with Hasbro to develop lifelike robot baby dolls and in the process learned how to manufacture. At that point, they learned how to design, clean, and manufacture and were in the position to release their own robot (first called CyberSuck then DustPuppy then finally named Roomba). Sales were flat until Pepsi had a commercial where a Roomba-esque gadget sucks a man’s pants off while he drinks a soda and sales tanked. It was not until David Letterman did a Top 10 list featuring a ‘Woomba’, a tiny robot cleaning your ‘lady business’ that they realized Roomba had become a recognizable part of American homes. iRobot have since shipped over 1.5 billion Roombas.
Holyoke has the location, the facilities and the leaders to become the next great startup center. Their impressive invitation to entrepreneurs and venture groups is poised for success.