Dubbed the "Athens of America" because it's rife with colleges and universities in the area, Boston is becoming a hub for tech startups as recent grads and even dropouts bring fresh perspective to the payments industry.
"Boston is one of the top places for mobile payments and payments in general right now," says Henry Helgeson, CEO of Boston-based independent sales organization Merchant Warehouse. "A lot of financial institutions have their roots in Boston so the payments space isn't as foreign to Boston as it is to other cities."
Helgeson launched Merchant Warehouse in Boston in 1998.
"I don't think we would have made it the first five years in any other city," Helgeson says. "New York is very competitive and the expenses are so much higher."
Because of the proximity to Boston University, MIT, Harvard and other higher-education institutions, Merchant Warehouse is able to hire recent graduates to fill staff positions, such as sales and customer support.
The company takes nearly 1,000 calls per day, so having an "educated, recent college grad" is an advantage, Helgeson says. "The talent in Boston is second to none."
SCVNGR, which created the fast-growing mobile payments venture LevelUp, moved from Philadelphia to Cambridge, Mass., near Boston after it finished its incubator program.
"It was a conscious decision to move the company headquarters to Boston for one specific reason: Talent," says Seth Priebatsch, chief ninja (CEO) of LevelUp. "I can't think of another place where we'd be able to recruit new employees from so many top-quality schools in such a close radius."
Bigger cities offer challenges for startups, Priebatsch says. Especially in San Francisco, where Facebook, Google, Twitter and Zynga are all located, it's much harder to attract top talent, he says.
In Boston, "there's no monolithic recruiting machine that can outbid you 20 times without even blinking," he says.
LevelUp has even pulled talent from the pool of college dropouts in the area.
"Considering I'm a proud Princeton dropout, we're not too hung up on college degrees," Priebatsch says. "The people we hire don't come to the job with a set of predisposed notions about what their role is supposed to be; this leads to an environment where anything is possible and the next big feature or idea we decide to invest in can really come from anyone."
College-aged consumers are usually early adopters of new technology, and this trait prepares them well for working at a tech startup.
"Boston is a great laboratory city, a city that's filled with young professionals, early adopters and lots of great businesses but in a smaller city where you can test business models very, very quickly," says Sebastian Castro Galnares, founder and chief operating officer at Leaf.
Boston-based Leaf builds payments-specific tablets for merchants. It pitches its LeafPresenter tablet as an alternative to using an iPad as a terminal.
"Boston is a great place to network with not as much noise, if you will, as compared to other cities," he says. "There are larger cities than Boston with a little more developed startup scene but it becomes very difficult to get attention" from business partners, funding sources and merchants.
Bigger companies are starting to take notice eBay Inc. recently opened an office in Boston.
Roam Data, a mobile point of sale provider, is also based in Boston. Numerous financial services consulting and advisory groups, including Mercator Advisory Group and the Aite Group, also operate out of the Boston area.
But Boston might become a victim of its own success, says Helgeson. As the technology market heats up in the city, many companies must look outside of Boston to hire employees, he says.
Chicago, which Helgeson says has some of the same traits as Boston, could be the next tech hub. Groupon launched there and has diversified its model by expanding into payments.