A New Nexus for Nomadic Entrepreneurs at the Cambridge Innovation Center

5/6/09Follow @wroush

As any freelancer or self-employed person will tell you, working alone can be isolating—but the alternative, hanging out at Starbucks all day, can drain your wallet and lead to overcaffeination. Fortunately, if you’re the type who needs a little company, collaboration, and commotion to get real work done, there are a few new places to turn, thanks to a burgeoningco-working” movement. In spaces like the Hat Factory in San Francisco and Beta House in Cambridge’s Central Square, nomadic workers—mostly young Internet entrepreneurs, to date—typically claim a bit of desk territory, coming and going as their own schedules dictate, freely seeking assistance, advice, or just camaraderie from the people around them.

Now there’s a new co-working space for Boston-area entrepreneurs, on the tenth floor of the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) at One Broadway in Cambridge. It’s called the Cambridge Coworking Center (C3), and it opened for business yesterday.

The Cambridge Coworking CenterTim Rowe, founder and president of the CIC (and an Xconomist), says the co-working space is part of the company’s ongoing experiment with providing different types of work experiences for today’s smaller, more untethered startups. In contrast to the apartment-sized “bays” occupied by most CIC tenants, and the phone-booth-sized “Uno” units that the CIC opened last year, C3 is designed to foster informal interaction—and at an economical price of $250 per month (Beta House charges $225 to $375).

“CIC has been around for almost 10 years, but we have not done a good enough job for the very earliest stage entrepreneurs,” Rowe told me. “With the launch of the Cambridge Coworking Center, we’re excited to truly be able to offer a solution that works for anyone’s budget.”

The Cambridge Coworking CenterThe atmosphere at C3 is a bit more corporate than Beta House—after all, One Broadway is a Brutalist concrete office building built in 1970 by Badger Engineering (now part of Raytheon), and Beta House is a comfy brownstone in a residential neighborhood. But as with the rest of the CIC, C3′s planners have done a lot of retrofitting to make the space livable, bringing in large tables, soft couches, and plants. There’s a high-speed Wi-Fi network to keep everyone connected, and the amenities include private conference rooms, background music, unlimited coffee and spring water, and Ikea-style cubby bins for storing personal items.

Rowe says CIC is keeping the rent at C3 low by deliberately omitting services like land-line phones, wired Ethernet connections, mail delivery, and individual desks or cubicles (there are large tables with lots of chairs instead). In the age of cell phones, wireless laptops, and Skype, entrepreneurs don’t need wired connections, Rowe says, and if they need a place to pick up mail, there’s a post office across the street. As for divvying up the actual working space, Rowe says negotiations about where each individual users sets up camp and who gets access to the conference rooms will be left up to the tenants.

The Cambridge Coworking CenterLimiting the rent to $250 per month “is perhaps our biggest accomplishment,” Rowe said yesterday in a note to reporters. “I’m not aware of a similar service in the area, certainly not in a downtown prime location, that approaches this price-point, let alone in a professionally managed environment. I believe we can operate a sustainable business at this price point. If that proves to be the case, C3 may represent a set of innovations that permanently lowers the cost to become an entrepreneur.”

C3 should be a bustling place by summertime. Harvard Business School has reserved space for students working on startups over the summer with support from HBS’s Rock Entrepreneurial Fellowships and John F. Lebor Family Entrepreneurial Fellowships, and both the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition and the MIT Energy Prize will provide C3 space to this year’s finalists, who will be announced next week. That means 10 MIT-bred companies will be doing business from the co-working space for three to six months.

Cambridge Coworking CenterSombit Mishra, managing director of the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, says the C3 office space is an important part of the prize package. “We see this relationship as exceptionally valuable because the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) not only provides participants with flexible, cost-saving options to incubate companies, but also gives them unique access to the most impressive mix of entrepreneurs in New England,” Mishra tells Xconomy. “We are proud of our partnership with CIC and look forward to working with Tim and his team to help launch the next wave of promising $100K startups.”

“We’re especially pleased that student groups from both Harvard and MIT will be amongst our first users of the space this summer,” Rowe says. “It should be a great mix.”

MassChallenge, an organization trying to raise $25 million for a venture fund to support startups in information technology, life sciences, clean energy, and social entrepreneurship, has also set up shop at C3.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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