Boston Startups Hope To Learn Scale, Longevity Lessons From GE

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No specific site has been announced for GE's Boston headquarters, but the vacant lot across from the Boston Convention Center in the Seaport District of South Boston is a potential location. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
No specific site has been announced for GE's Boston headquarters, but the vacant lot across from the Boston Convention Center in the Seaport District of South Boston is a potential location. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

You might say that GE is not moving that many people to Boston — around 800. Plenty of companies here are bigger, including some barely a couple years old. But none of those made a profit of $15 billion in a year, despite being so old that it has a name as boring as General Electric. For a company founded in 1889 to still be on top of the commercial world is a rare business accomplishment.

News coverage has centered around how General Electric’s leadership wants to be in Boston because it’s an innovative city, with smart and tech-savvy college students. But many people in Boston’s tech sector are excited for the move too — because they want to learn from GE.

“GE is a great company. They’ve always figured out a way to reinvent. And they do it through really smart people and really smart technology,” Vance Loiselle, CEO of Censio, said. The 30-person startup makes phone apps to help people show their insurance companies that they’re good drivers.

Taking a break from looking at Seaport District office space, Loiselle says the idea of having General Electric next door is pretty exciting.

“GE sets an innovation agenda,” he said. “And just having initiatives come out of that kind of company, people of that caliber, I think there’s just a lot of opportunity for all companies in Boston related to that move.”

After all, the 800 GE employees manage more than 300,000 people in 170 countries. Those managers oversee the creation of jet engines to power plants to MRI machines, serving complex and regulated international markets. That is an organizational feat, to say the least.

“This is huge,” Bill Aulet, managing director of MIT’s entrepreneurship center, said. “And I’m not sure people really understand how big it is.

“So, we’re in Boston — really good at getting companies going, and getting 10, 20, 30 employees. But do we get those companies to get to become billion-dollar companies? And to do that you need strong managers. And that’s what we’re going to get out of this new partnership with GE.”

And it won’t just be the top managers. GE plans to bring in thousands of up-and-coming leaders from around the world for training and collaborations. The prospect of bumping into a deep sea project manager or molecular design team leader at Barrington Coffee on Congress Street will be a huge attraction, says Scott Bailey.

“GE will definitely be a place for people to go,” he said. “It’ll also be a place for people to stay.”

Bailey is the managing director of MassChallenge, the startup accelerator on Drydock Avenue. He helped make official pitch to GE executives a few weeks ago. He says having GE’s headquarters here will make his job easier.

“With all of those activities, there’s going to be a great opportunity for us to attract a whole new set of companies, and it puts us on the map in a new way,” Bailey said.

General Electric has had the longest continuous presence on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. There’s no guarantee that success will rub off. Still, tech leaders here hope that having GE in the neighborhood will help Boston companies learn how to get bigger and better for a long time.

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