Scaling successful companies and nixing noncompetes: Two initiatives for 2015

Secretary Greg Bialecki, left, with Governor Deval Patrick at the September Mass Scale meeting. (Photo: Eric Haynes / Governor’s Office.)
Secretary Greg Bialecki, left, with Governor Deval Patrick at the September Mass Scale meeting. (Photo: Eric Haynes / Governor’s Office.)

A group of local CEOs held a rather quiet meeting back in September. The invite-only conclave included the chief executives of public companies like iRobot, Constant Contact, and LogMeIn, as well as fast-growing startups like Fiksu, Formlabs, and Acquia. Governor Deval Patrick and Greg Bialecki, the secretary of housing and economic development, even showed up. The focus? How to help those startups grow into big successes.

The event was called the MassScale CEO Roundtable, and it took place at the offices of Communispace in Boston. (Communispace chairwoman Diane Hessan, now CEO of the Startup Institute, was among the attendees.) Scott Savitz of Data Point Capital, one of the prime movers behind the event, tells me that this was the second gathering. The first roundtable took place earlier in 2014 at LogMeIn, and the Mass Tech Hub Collaborative has been helping to organize the gatherings, along with people like Savitz; Andy Ory, former CEO of Acme Packet; Michael Greeley of the VC firm Foundation Medical; and iRobot CEO Colin Angle.

The sole purpose of MassScale is to focus on scaling startups into anchor companies — our next generation of EMCs, Akamais, and Wayfairs. According to a press release put out about Governor Patrick’s participation in the September meeting, “This industry dialogue begins to foster a culture that values and celebrates the scale-up of tech companies, and helps identify ways the state can support the conditions for their growth.” The group plans to continue meeting in 2015, though the next date hasn’t been set.

“The ultimate goal is to find ways to catalyze a culture for ‘scale-up’ in Massachusetts that is analogous to what already exists for ‘start-up,'” says Pamela Goldberg, CEO of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, which is supporting the initiative.

Patrick_roundtableMassScale’s September meeting; a list of the CEOs who attended is below. (Photo by Eric Haynes/Governor’s Office)

And before the Patrick administration ends, Bialecki was meeting earlier this month with a group of entrepreneurs and investors strategizing about how to revive the legislative push to eliminate employee noncompete agreements under the next governor. These contracts between employee and employer, typically signed at the start of a new job, limit the places an employee can work at next, until a specified “cooling off” period has elapsed, often a year. I’m among those who think the agreements — which aren’t legally enforceable in California — keep talent from moving where it can be best utilized, and keep big company employees from pursuing their own startup ideas. (Patrick and Bialecki had proposed a complete ban on the use of noncompetes, but it fell out of this year’s economic development bill.)

The informal noncompete brainstorming group, convened by the New England Venture Capital Association, had an initial meeting in mid-December, and plans to meet again in January. C.A. Webb, director of NEVCA, ran a session about noncompetes at the MassTLC Innovation Unconference in November; that trade group decided not to stake out a position on the contentious issue during this year’s hearings on it. Governor-elect Charlie Baker said during the campaign that he doesn’t think the pro-noncompete and anti-noncompete groups are “that far apart” and hoped for a compromise.

Worth a read is this blog post by angel investor Joe Caruso, spelling out his ideas about a non-legislative way to create more mobility for workers.

I’d argue that the issues of scaling and noncompetes are connected: if companies want to be able to get big fast in Massachusetts, they need to be able to attract great employees, quickly. And we’ve no doubt got people locked up by noncompetes who’d like to start the next fast-growth company in the Bay State…

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Tech CEOs who were at the September 2014 MassScale meeting:

Colin Angle, iRobot
Gail Goodman, Constant Contact
Diane Hessan, Communispace
Andy Ory, Acme Packet
Scott Savitz, Data Point Capital
Michael Simon, LogMeIn
Micah Adler, Fiksu
Raj Aggarwal, Localytics
Kirk Arnold, Data Intensity
Zaid Ashai, Nexamp
Michael Bird, NetProspex
Bob Brennan, Veracode
Ric Calvillo, Nanigans
Tom Erickson, Acquia
Bennett Fisher, Retroficiency
Bettina Hein, Pixability
Steve Kokinos, Thinking Phone Networks
Maxim Lobovsky, Formlabs
Barry Morris, NuoDB
Tom Pincince, Digital Lumens
Fred Shilmover, InsightSquared
Brian Shin, Visible Measures
Daniel Wallace, NutraClick

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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