Aaron Levie, Box see drones and Internet of Things as data sources of the future

Aaron Levie talking with Jason Pontin at EmTech MIT hosted by MIT Technology Review
Aaron Levie talking with Jason Pontin at EmTech MIT hosted by MIT Technology Review

Aaron Levie, the founder and chief executive of cloud content storage company Box, is in Cambridge today to talk about “Mobile Collaboration” at EmTech MIT hosted by MIT Technology Review.

Before his talk, I caught up with him about what’s next for Box, as well as the company’s presence in Boston.

I was surprised to find out that Levie and Box are most interested these days in the Internet of Things and drones, which kind of seems odd for a content storage company.

That is until Levie explains that its not the drones or IoT devices like the Nest thermostat, but the data, some might even say Big Data, that the new devices and systems are collecting.

“For us, basically, anywhere that new data is going to be created, we’d like to be a platform that can store and manage and work with that information,” Levie said. “Whether that’s a drone or a new sensor…even some of the new satellite imaging companies are interesting to us.”

As an example, Levie talked about how an industry like farming can now leverage data and content in new ways. He said that agriculture businesses need a “large view” of their businesses, such as weather patterns and crop yield. “They are going to have all this new data that they are going to have to work with, that they are going to want to share, that they are going to load up from mobile devices,” Levie explained.

“We want to be the content platform for all that information,” he said.

“There is a lot of cool stuff happening in the future happening around healthcare, manufacturing, agriculture, and construction, where you have all these new use cases for data,” Levie said.

“Anywhere that new data is being created, we want to store it,” he added.

Great draw of Greater Boston
At one point, Box had an office in Boston. It was led by Jeff Seibert, who ended up leaving Box to start Crashytics, which was acquired by Twitter in 2012. Eventually, Box closed up shop here.

“When we started that office, we were at a stage where it was really hard to manage multiple sites, unfortunately it never gained the critical mass it needed,” Levie said of the Boston office.

“We actually have more employees in Boston today than we did previously, we just don’t have a centralized office,” he said. “We are investing in the area, we just don’t have a full on office.”

With Harvard and MIT, Boston is one of Box’s biggest recruiting sites. “Obviously it’s an incredibly experience and knowledge rich environment as it relates to technology,” Levie said.

Box acquired MIT-founded company Crocadoc in the spring of 2013 and was supposedly one of the suitors for DocTrackr before it was acquired by Intralinks this year. Although he didn’t name any specific companies, Levie said that there are many companies that “interest” him here in Boston, especially those in the healthcare, life sciences, financial services spaces.

Levie believes that Boston needs to leverage the local talent and needs to “keep the stuff here” in order to become a thriving startup ecosystem. “Unfortunately, the Valley this gravitational pull,” he said. “The key idea is investing in this area and being able to incubate and develop incredible companies that stay here.”

Dennis Keohane was a Senior Staff Writer for BetaBoston.
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