An upper floor in an old factory building or a converted warehouse somewhere in Cambridge, Massachusetts, housing a new technical company founded by several people associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and driven by the spirit of entrepreneurship--this describes the beginnings of numerous high-technology enterprises in the Boston area. Most of this book focuses on lessons learned broadly from investigating several hundreds of these firms. But aggregate statistics on the formation of spin-off companies from a great research university or even extensive details on the personal backgrounds of their founders do not provide a sufficient picture of the formation and growth of a new technological enterprise. A technical idea and a set of circumstances are not enough. The formation and the survival of an organization depend on unique people who take the risks of leaving their established organizations to start and build a new firm. This chapter presents a brief backdrop of early entrepreneurship at MIT, followed by four in-depth histories of an entrepreneurial founder and his technical company. In each case I have combined objective research with personal involvements as co-founder, director, or consultant. Each company is substantially different from the others. Together, they reflect the diversity that is high-technology entrepreneurship. The main themes of the book follow these cases along with a preview of the chapters.
The first modern technology-based companies in the Boston area seem inevitably linked to MIT. A number of unique faculty, who sensed needs or opportunities, or both, to transfer their technological skills and know-how to the marketplace, became the early technological entrepreneurs of Greater Boston. EG&G, Inc., for example, is a case of a "pure" and early MIT spin- off, with all three founding partners associated with the Institute as staff or faculty both before and after the start-up of their company. Faced with a