entrepreneurship, Innovation unConference, unConference

Talking Innovation with Dailybreak’s Ryan Durkin

Enthusiasm radiates from Ryan Durkin, Operations VP at Dailybreak.
That much is clear even to strangers. Ryan loves people – watching them develop
their potential, watching them learn, and watching them tackle exciting,
intimidating projects. Ryan returns to the unConference
this year as the Connectors co-chair.
What makes Boston an
innovation hub? 
Several elements
constitute Boston’s unique innovation epicenter. First, we have entrepreneurs with an overwhelming desire to build and create. Plus, we have young people graduating from school systems that are nationally recognized as being from one
of the best states in the U.S.
We have an unusual
amount of experienced entrepreneurs, inventors, builders and mentors willing to
dedicate time to young people. And finally, the weather: we have a lot of
available time to spend indoors during snowstorms and Frankenstorms to think
about problems people have and problems we can solve. I’m happy we have the
climate we do.
How is innovation
evolving in Boston? Where is it heading next?
It’s important to me
to keep a pulse on the budding entrepreneurial scene here – those that are 18-22
year olds on greater Boston campuses. From these conversations, I think two
things are going to happen:
1. People feel the
need to start diving DEEP into research and becoming experts in their
respective industries sooner in the life cycle of the business. Look at what
the team at LEAP Motion (computer control with natural movements) and imagine the
research and development + focus their team must have had to create what
they’ve created. And at the same time
2. A rise in unsexy
businesses. After speaking at a number of campuses in Boston over the past six
months, I’ve seen a reduction in the “startup hype” we saw over the
last two. Entrepreneurs are becoming more grounded. Young people realize that
they can solve core problems and make a lot of money, in a way that does not
require swinging for the fences with a $100+MM exit every time.

Are there elements we are lacking that would make our ecosystem thrive even
There’s one area I
feel strongly about:  all the talk about
the Boston “brain drain” of talent. This idea that students come to
colleges in Boston, get their education, and then leave to pursue other
opportunities. Meanwhile, at my alma mater, UMass Amherst, 90% of the people I
met grew up here and ended up STAYING in Massachusetts.
UMass has a very large
local student base (74% Massachusetts’ natives). If I were building a business
that focused on recruiting talent (which I am), I would immediately focus on
people I know WANT to stay in Massachusetts. The last time I spoke at Boston
University, there were three people in a room of 25 who grew up here, likewise at
Boston College, where five people in a room of 25 grew up in Massachusetts. But
the last time I spoke at UMass Amherst, 22 people out of 25 people grew up in
If the question is
whether or not UMass Amherst students are talented enough to be recruited and
hired by tech / innovation companies, I’d suggest you ask Nikhil Thorat (UMass
Amherst ’12 alum) hired by Google as an Engineer, or Tom Petr (UMass Amherst
’10) alum hired by Microsoft in 2010 and Hubspot in 2011 as an engineer, or
Mike Miklavic (UMass Amherst ’09) hired by Dailybreak as an engineer, who then
Founded his own company Clearview Digital, or Sam Erb (UMass Amherst ’11 alum)
hired by Cisco as an engineer, or Brad Durkin, Jesse Morgan, Chris Ziomek, Jack
DeManche, Colby Marques, Matt Holmes, John Federman, Jared Stenquist, Boris
Revsin. A small sample of UMass alums who grew up, pursued higher education and
stayed in Massachusetts.
My suggestion: bring the
big behometh of UMass Amherst into discussions more. Its students will rise to
the challenge. They simply need more help seeing all that exists in Boston.
After all,  “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

What draws you back to the MassTLC unConference each year?
I’ve met and stayed
friends with about two-dozen new people at the unConference. I’m drawn to the
strong quality of people and stories / experiences you hear about. I also like
the “mentor-mentee” format to the event. It encourages “young
people” to meet “older people” with the right war stories and
experience. It also allows seasoned vets to meet the future leaders of their

What do you enjoy most about mentoring up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
In one word? Potential. I love the idea of finding students who
will do anything they can to “get the deal done.” I like meeting
people who pride themselves on becoming Renaissance Men and Women; those who excel
academically, athletically, musically, professionally, etc. I like people who
value productivity and happiness, and I like seeing young people who are
working towards both. I feel like I always get far more out of my conversations
learning about young adults and their focus on their own visions, than I am
able to give them in return.
How can entrepreneurs make the most of this year’s unConference?
Map out on paper who you want to meet with and one line about
why. Then, when you get there, find that person and tell them your one line:
“Hi Dave. I want to meet you because I’m really interested in the company
X you invested in. Could we talk about it?” If you don’t have a plan for
the day, the day is going to come and go. You’ll miss out. You’ll end the day
saying: “That was a lot of fun.” BUT, I think the real value in this
event lies in the opportunities to meet a bunch of people you’ve wanted to meet
all year. They’re all in one place after all.

What advice would you give to students or young entrepreneurs who are just
starting their journey?

Read. Read. Read. Read
and read some more. Ask everyone who impresses you about their favorite book and
then go read it. And then ask them what their second favorite book is. And then
go read that one. Read alllllll the time.

As for Ryan’s favorite books, he’d recommend Ayn
Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence

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