Red Sox, Patriots and Massachusetts High Tech

The Red Sox win the World Series against a team that keeps its baseballs in a humidor and wears uniforms that are knockoffs of the outfit worn by Colonel Sandurz in the 1987 science fiction parody Spaceballs. The New England Patriots run up a basketball score of 52-7 against Washington and show all the signs of repeat Super Bowl stardom. Can the New England tech community be far behind?

Well, yes, those tech companies can be behind, but that doesn't mean they can't catch up. I don't hear envious stories about the New York, Washington or Denver technology scenes, but California is a different story. There is talk and more talk about Google that often leads to people crying in their beer that AltaVista (owned by Digital Equipment Corp.) in 1995 shoulda been a contender. And now with social networks all the rage and Microsoft buying a $240 million sliver of Palo Alto-based Facebook, which, multiplied forward, values this startup with Harvard roots (wait, didn't Microsoft also have Harvard roots?) at $15 billion, the fear is that Massachusetts and New England are being left without invitations to the latest high-tech party.

Not to worry. Just as the Red Sox shook off the World Series curse in 2004 and now have won the second series title in 2007, the East Coast is starting to get the feeling that all those social networking sites in the SoMa area of San Francisco are probably about 10 times as many social networking sites as the world needs. Maybe it is time to look at some of the East Coast, and in particular Massachusetts, all-star veterans and up-and-comers.

Of course I am in Boston typing this as the city prepares for one big Red Sox party, but I do think there is starting to be some overdue recognition for companies that actually make things people can use to improve their businesses and lives. Call me a Boston optimist.

First up: the rookie that ate the company. Who knew, when EMC bought VMware, that virtualization would be more than a passing IT fancy? Is there any better example of an acquisition that made everybody look smart, made everybody a lot of money and changed the parent company? I don't think so. Two related items. EMC is also smart in sports and holds a commanding brand space and primo box at Fenway. Other virtualization companies have recognized that they need some of that EMC/VMware wisdom and have started picking off the EMC execs, with two execs just now headed for Virtual Iron.

Second up: Highest pop fly. The IPO with the biggest one-day "pop" of the year wasn't some Silicon Valley marketspeak company, but Athenahealth, based in Watertown, Mass. Athenahealth saw its initial offering rise from $18 to nearly $36.

Third up: Companies tying the old world to the new. StratBridge, in Cambridge, Mass., is bringing business intelligence to the business of filling up stadium seats at sports venues in the most efficient manner. Exit41 in my hometown of Andover is bringing Web-based speed and efficiency to fast food ordering. A couple of towns over, Desktone is trying to do for desktop virtualization what VMware did for server virtualization. The list goes on.

A few years ago and right after the 2004 World Series, I had a chance to talk to Red Sox Director of IT Steve Conley. He talked about having the world's greatest job in IT, and the challenge of bringing an old park like Fenway into the digital age and making sure the players got all the stats, video and immediate information they needed to win another Series title. I guess Steve did a good job. I mean to give him a call after this week's celebration dies down. Meanwhile, the East Coast celebration of high-tech companies that mean something is just starting.