Boston entrepreneurs, start your yipping. Polaris Venture Partners is announcing today that it is opening a counterpart to its fast-growing San Francisco-based Dog Patch Labs startup incubator near Kendall Square here in Cambridge, MA. Dog Patch Labs Cambridge, as it’s aptly called, will officially open for business next week and will be housed in the American Twine Building on Third Street, just across the street from Xconomy’s headquarters.
Unlike the original Dog Patch Lab (Polaris has now added an “s” to the end of the name) at Pier 38 on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, which I profiled in May and is mostly focused on consumer and Internet companies, the new lab will be home to entrepreneurs and innovators across a wide variety of disciplines, from software-as-a-service and cloud computing to biotech and energy. Initially, the lab will have space for about 10 entrepreneurs, typically in one- and two-person teams. The first five or six “pups” will move in next week—but are not being announced at this time.
A bevy of Polaris partners I spoke with—David Barrett, Alan Crane, Mike Hirshland, Bob Metcalfe, and Amir Nashat, each representing different areas of specialization—say the lab’s multi-disciplinary focus reflects the breadth of the innovation community here and the strength of great universities like Harvard and MIT, the latter of which is literally only a few blocks away. “What we’re trying to do is key off some of the things that are working in San Francisco, but recognize that this is a different market,” says Barrett, who focuses chiefly on Internet software and other tech businesses. Crane, who specializes in life sciences investments, says he has five portfolio companies within two blocks of the new Dog Patch location. The lab itself is housed in cool, high-ceilinged space peeled off from online shopping backbone company Allurent, itself a Polaris investment.
Cross-pollinating ideas and practices from companies and people in different disciplines is a key tenet of Dog Patch Cambridge—and shows how Polaris is evolving the incubator concept into something potentially much more powerful than its original idea. Not only do the partners I spoke with say entrepreneurs in one field will benefit from close proximity to their counterparts from another field, but Polaris is also introducing another new idea with the Cambridge operation—that of Dog Patch Fellows, experts or proven entrepreneurs who will share their expertise through visits to the lab.
“A Dog Patch Fellow is either somebody…from a portfolio company, or somebody who we’ve worked closely with, that we all think is a kind of master of his or her trade,” says Barrett. Whether it’s in Web marketing, new sales models, or some other field, he says, “we have our hands around a number of really interesting folks that we think people here would love to get to know and love to get to learn from.”
Some fellows will come from around Boston. However, Polaris says, others will hail from places like the Bay Area that might have expertise harder to find here. Hirshland points to the social media and consumer Internet space as an example. He knows people in San Francisco, he says, who “could bring a lot of value to some aspiring social media entrepreneurs here in Boston.” Polaris might bring them to Cambridge for seminars, workshops, pizza parties, and more. Similarly, Dog Patch Cambridge folks might be invited to San Francisco. “We really hope that this can be a bridge that allows a lot of the talent and the thinking to flow back and forth between the coasts,” Hirshland says. The first of these fellows will hold a seminar in Cambridge on a to-be-announced topic no later than November, Polaris says.
Despite its broader focus and expanded ambitions of becoming an innovation bridge between the coasts, Dog Patch Cambridge will operate almost exactly like its West Coast counterpart. It will start small, with initial space for about 10 entrepreneurs (San Francisco has expanded a few times, and is in the process of growing again, to accommodate 35 desks). And it will operate on what Hirshland calls the principle of “open source” entrepreneurship. Denizens are welcomed free of charge—and with no strings attached.
As I wrote in my original profile: “A startup or someone pursuing a startup idea gets free office space, Internet connectivity, camaraderie, and the eyes and ears of Polaris folks. But Polaris doesn’t take a stake in the endeavors or even insist on first rights to fund the enterprises it houses …There’s an implicit understanding that the venture firm will have first crack at funding a promising Dog Patcher, but only as what he [Hirshland] calls a “‘first sponsor’ goodwill thing. No economics, no rights/obligations.’” The expectation is that the groups will move on—hopefully by raising financing and moving into their own space—within three to six months.
That open source aspect is pretty unique. Many incubators, including most of those included in our recent Xconomy Guide to Venture Incubators, take some sort of equity stake in the companies they nurture.
Hirshland says the primary idea behind Dog Patch, though, is not to develop “a feeder system for Polaris investments.” Rather, the point is to try and foster connection between entrepreneurs. Directly or indirectly, he says, the more energy there is in the system, “we all benefit from that.”
If you’d like to be considered for a kennel slot at the lab, this is the place to e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some photos I shot (except for the last one, which comes from Polaris) at Dog Patch San Francisco in May.
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