Entrepreneurs like the sound of Boston ‘startup czar’

Mayor Martin J. Walsh (JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF)
Mayor Martin J. Walsh (JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF)

Boston’s tech types aren’t exactly sure what a “startup czar” does. But they’re pretty sure they like the idea.

Local entrepreneurs welcomed the announcement by Mayor Martin J. Walsh in his State of the City speech that he would soon name a startup czar to head a new program called StartHub.

“I think this is a big move by the city and has the potential to benefit the startup community if done right,” said Patrick Petitti, chief executive of HourlyNerd, an online marketplace for small businesses to find consultants. “Without knowing the job description, I would imagine and hope that he or she will act as a conduit between the community and the city, engaging with entrepreneurs to understand needs and challenges.”

Petitti’s conjecture is spot on, according to Walsh chief of staff Dan Koh, who said the new position and program is in response to a complaint Walsh heard repeatedly during his first year from entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and educators.

“One of the common themes we kept hearing was when people needed to interface with city government they didn’t know whom to go to,” said Koh, who previously served as general manager for the Internet channel HuffPost Live.

The czar could help young companies looking to expand, Koh said by way of example, or even help connect entrepreneurs with experienced mentors in the same field. Whatever the issue, if it involves a city agency —and sometimes even if not — Walsh wants tech entrepreneurs to have a guide to point them to the right people and permits. The ideal candidate would have extensive knowledge of municipal government workings and also be plugged into the startup scene.

“Increasing resources available to entrepreneurs can only be a good thing,” said Christian Dumontet, chief executive of Foodler, an online takeout ordering service.

Other large cities have created similar positions in the last year, including New York and Los Angeles. In each case the rationale appears to be that tech startups, whose ideas often veer into regulatory gray areas, need a point person to liaise between them and public officials.

Walsh stressed in his speech that the startup czar will be charged with promoting growth “all over Boston.” The mayor’s broad view heartened Gilad Rosenzweig, who last year opened a shared workspace for high-tech startups called Smarter in the City in Dudley Square, a neighborhood with one of Boston’s highest poverty rates.

“This is a good continuation, or consequence, of the momentum of the last year in terms of diversifying and decentralizing the Innovation District,” Rosenzweig said.

The StartHub czar also will coordinate with neighbors such as Cambridge and Somerville to stage regular networking events. While the czar’s primary focus will be on startups in Boston proper, Koh said StartHub will take a regional approach to marketing the entire Boston area as a tech center.

Cal Borchers is a business reporter for the Boston Globe. Reach him at callum.borchers@globe.com.
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