Speaker Series TEC@FoleyHoag to Solve Entrepreneurs’ #1 Networking Problem

Foley Hoag, one of Boston’s largest law firms, is perhaps the most frequent sponsor of entrepreneur events in Boston, and they offer meeting space to a number of startup groups as well. I had a chance to speak with Paul Sweeney, Co-Chair of the firm’s Technology Practice, about their new speaker series and networking forum, Technology & Entrepreneurship Collaborative, also known as TEC@FoleyHoag, which will hold events in their Boston office.

“The idea is to host regular monthly events that have both educational and networking components,” Sweeney said. “We’re not limiting it to the innovation district but in our ten years of being headquartered here we recognize that the innovation district (near Seaport in Boston) is living up to its name, becoming one of the epicenters of emerging companies. Together with Kendall Square in Cambridge, the innovation district is where entrepreneurs are locating, meeting, and sharing ideas. It’s the center of the energy and the excitement of what’s happening in emerging businesses.”

Although Foley Hoag is a law firm, Sweeney said that the monthly TEC@FoleyHoag events will be meant for entrepreneurs and investors, and not overly stocked with lawyers and other service providers. Instead they will offer relatively short educational presentations, between 15-25 minutes, followed by a longer networking event. “The idea behind TEC@FoleyHoag,” Sweeney said, “is to give entrepreneurs and investors the chance to meet each other in a relaxed and cooperative forum that we’ve designed to encourage a free-flowing sharing of experience and ideas, discuss common challenges, and collaborate.”

Boston already has a number of entrepreneur forums. Will TEC@FoleyHoag be any different? “TEC@FoleyHoag will be by invitation only,” Sweeney said, although he also indicated that getting an invitation by reaching out to your network won’t be as challenging as getting invited to present to an angel forum. He aims to fill a middle ground between a totally open group that anyone can attend, and totally closed angel forum where you need to have a crisp business plan and all your ducks in a row to get your foot in the door. “What we add to the ecosystem is our network of very high quality people, not only to speak at the event but to fill the room.”

In so doing, Foley Hoag may solve the biggest networking problem of many startup groups, which is to meet people of influence. Influencers are often rare at events that have no screening. Going to other groups, you may find two people in the room who can help your business with an investment, a partnership, or to join your team. Foley Hoag aims to increase that ratio, inviting those who can be useful to others. “The attraction for the investor,” Sweeney said, “is the high quality of the entrepreneurs who are there, because every investor who’s in this space is looking for opportunities to meet with the area’s most promising entrepreneurs.”

Sweeney said that TEC@FoleyHoag is also aware that sometimes even the most prestigious speakers are not necessarily skilled at engaging an audience, and so Foley Hoag is actively looking for “presenters for upcoming meets who are not only good speakers but can also bring value to the folks who are in that room.” Will TEC@FoleyHoag succeed in bringing something new to the dozens of existing startup groups in town? Find out on February 28th at their first meeting, showcasing speaker Scott Kirsner, Boston Globe columnist and writer of the Innovation Economy blog.