Boston's not a one-trick pony

Image of Boston Skyline

Boston sometimes has a reputation that it’s a science town. And the reality is there’s some truth to it — but it’s far from the only thing Boston has going for it.

Massachusetts is loaded with research institutions that produce engineers in some of the top emerging technology fields. Life Sciences is one of the most important growing research and engineering fields. New technologies like machine learning are enabling cutting-edge research into some of the most difficult problems in the modern era. But like any city across the United States, that doesn’t mean it’s a hub for only one industry.

So, where does Boston really stack up across major regions when it comes to life sciences?

To get a closer look, we examined Brex customer data across a few states. California and New York represent our largest markets, while Massachusetts (effectively Boston) represents an emerging market with a bit of different behavior. In this, we can see that startups identifying as Healthcare and Biotechnology, Engineering, and Science (as a combined group) represent two of the top three industries found in the Boston area. Software represents the second-largest, though there is likely some overlap between that and companies working in Life Sciences.

Still, the notion that Boston is just a science town still isn’t the whole picture — just a part of it.

Home-field advantage for life sciences

When you look at our customer distribution, you can see a pretty straightforward trend: the Boston startup scene is a bit different than others when it comes to Brex customers. Our customer base consists primarily of startups, though we have a growing e-commerce base and are now expanding into life sciences. But even though we are only now launching our product targeted specifically to life sciences, we have a solid base of biotechnology, science, and engineering startups.

When you dig into the kinds of industries prominent in some of our largest markets, you’ll actually see some of the common regional tropes emerge. New York’s a finance town, the Bay Area’s a software region, and Boston is… well, you can see for yourself below:

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It’s not quite the Bay Area, but it’s not quite New York either. You can find schools like Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, MIT, Cambridge, and others all within — or not too far — from Boston proper.

Boston clearly does a pretty good job of retaining biotechs as residents, even if they end up under a few feet of snow most winters. There are the lobster rolls, the direct flights to anywhere around the world, the actually functional public transportation, and so on and so forth. And aside of poorly-designed fields (just google the Green Monster), Boston has a history of winning sports franchises with the Celtics, Patriots, and Red Sox. Boston, in short, has a lot of things going for it.

But still, as we can see, Boston’s specialties still go beyond biotechnology, science, and engineering. There are plenty of startups that aren’t that field that are starting to gain traction. There are companies like Botkeeper that are trying to rethink accounting software. Fuze is building enterprise collaboration tools. And the region is home to a lot of work on autonomous driving.

Going beyond what the map calls Boston

Boston may get its own independent chunk of Google Maps. Meanwhile, you can look across the river to see a little bit of where the DNA comes from for the whole region.

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Now there’s a science town. Cambridge is, again, home to some of the top scientific academic institutions in the United States — and the world proper. If we take a step back and we look at the industries at a state level to wrap up Cambridge, Boston, and Somerville (another small-ish hotspot) with a bow, we start to see where the idea is born.

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What we can find is that the whole region is inevitably linked together into a mesh that creates a very vibrant startup community beyond the sciences. But there’s absolutely no denying that the whole Boston region has a very strong science bent to it — even more so than the entirety of California (including Los Angeles).

Life sciences companies have an opportunity to dramatically reshape the future of the entire human race. And it’s clear that Boston will continue to be a hub for innovation for that kind of work. And maybe twenty years from now we’ll all look back and remember the crazy innovation, rather than Tom Brady deflating a few footballs.


Brex examined the regional presence of its customer base to learn more about how startups and industries are distributed across our major markets. Brex customers identify as startups within a number of different industries. For this report, we combined startups identifying as Biotechnology and Science and Engineering as a single category.

Share of industry is defined as the total number of startups in one region over the total number of startups for a given industry. Median burn rate is defined by the median average monthly burn for all startups in a specific region or industry.

As part of its underwriting process, Brex maintains visibility into the spending of companies that use its products. Companies who asked that their data not to be shared were not used, and any company that does not wish to share its data for future aggregated analysis may request to exclude it from being shared in the aggregate.

Photo credit: Zoltan Kovacs on Unsplash

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