Cluster Activities (Continued)

The Massachusetts Tech Leadership Council is a really great organization.  I’m not sure how they get their members to pony up for the services that they provide (I’d like to know for my activities in Pittsburgh!), but having a professional cluster organizer like Elizabeth Newstadt and an organizational hub for promotion of the entire industry is fantastic.  I’ve heard that there are some frictions from the fact that the cluster crosses state lines and it is the “Mass TLC” as opposed to a New England-wide organization.  Still, the degree of organization that the cluster centered on Boston has is astounding.  A good deal of credit for this goes to the Mass TLC.  As an example, the survey they do of the robotic cluster is fantastic.  The other clusters should undertake similar surveys which would increase the value of Boston’s survey exponentially.

On the other coast, the San Francisco Bay Area is clamorous and still fairly ill defined–by which I mean there are a lot of people who may or may not be a part of the robotics industry.  Many robotics people think of themselves as being in the medical device industry, software, or electronic hardware–but not necessarily robotics per se.  On top of that, tons of people in the Bay who are not in robotics professionally provide the clamor and enthusiasm.  For example, all of my personal friends that build and fly drones for fun live in California.  I’m from back East, so the selection bias should run against the Bay.  They just love technology, nerdiness, and doing “your own thing” in the Bay–and robots fit the bill perfectly.  In fairly short order, I suspect that Andra Keay and the other folks behind the Silicon Valley Robotics Cluster and Robot Launch Pad will provide some of the rally flags to bring order to this energy–then the valley will be a sight to behold.  The Silicon Valley robotics people I’ve met think that their community needs to catch-up to Pittsburgh and Boston, but this probably only makes them dangerous since my data is starting to show that they are equal anyone.

Pittsburgh is a small community.  It is really great–everyone is super friendly and if you’re in robotics everyone knows everyone.  If you find yourself in Pittsburgh, I would be happy to introduce you to them and they will be nothing but good to you.  Things can happen really quickly because there is high degree of trust and community spirit.  My personal take on the robotics community in Pittsburgh is that there are things that need to be done collectively to get to the next level (VC education, a robotics incubator, more diversity of academic research, etc.).  The personal dealing model is going to be helpful, but not sufficient, to get the Allegheny robotics cluster to grow to the size that the region wants it too.  More formal organizations, supported by bottom-up enthusiasm for things like happy hours, meet-ups, and demos is going to be required for the Pittsburgh robotics cluster to scale.

Cluster Activities

How do we judge the quality of a robotics cluster’s activities?  The point isn’t actually to have a lot of meetings.  The point is to spark those interactions which can create or advance enterprises whether through ideas, collaborators, or resources.

Since we can’t measure that directly, I propose the test.  It is a crude metric, but should serve our purposes.  The idea is that the number events coming up with relevant key words should serve as a rough proxy for how many people are out after work trying to create the next thing.

By this metric, Silicon Valley is crushing the rest of us.  Not only do they have more money, and better weather, but also they are out having more drinks.  Data is in the following the link. test performed June 2, 2012.

Accordingly, San Francisco is the only place I’ve ever been served a martini made by a robot–by the Drinks Advanced Research Projects Agency no less.   Fortunately for getting girls back to my place, my gin martinis are still the best.  But the John Henry moment in robotic drinks is coming…

VC Activity

Travis Deyle at Hizook has some widely cited data about venture capital activity in robotics.  I’ve sorted his data to make a cluster comparison.


  • Pittsburgh is further behind in the venture capital race than first appearances would indicate if the $25 M growth round from ABS Capital is not included in venture capital. No other deal in the data would qualify as “late stage growth capital.”
  • According to this data, the rest of the robotics world (not in Western PA, New England, or Silicon Valley) combined got $37.3M in venture capital funding– about 19% of total identified funding–or almost exactly what Boston got.
  • Silcon Valley got 49% of total identified robotics funding …and they have the best weather.  Not fair!

Relative Strengths of Robotics Clusters

Helen Greiner has kindly circulated a slide about the relative strengths of robotics clusters.  It compares Pittsburgh, Silicon Valley, and Boston to one another.  She circulated the slide with the cautions that it was based on nothing more than her perceptions and that she was trying to be controversial.

In summary her slide basically shows that Boston is in the lead in developing a healthy robotics ecosystem in most dimensions.  Silicon Valley is nipping at Boston’s heels in the race to be the best robotics ecosystem with leadership in some areas such as investments by high net worth individuals.  Pittsburgh lags in most ways with some notable exceptions in government support.

It is all fine and dandy that someone as esteemed as Helen Greiner thinks these things, but we should be able to measure most of them.  Here are the dimensions that Helen uses:

Employee Base

Cluster Activities

Venture Capitalist Interest

High Net Worth Individual Interest

Gov. Investment

University Pipeline

Corp Lab Research


State Support

Other categories that I’d like to propose a least proxy measures for are:


Access to Customers

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be trying to measure these items.  Here is the link to the analysis of the dimensions.