Cambridge Innovation Center Turns 10; Looking Inside a Landmark for Boston-Area Entrepreneurs
Tim Rowe, the founder of the Cambridge Innovation Center, may be the only CEO in the whole building who doesn’t have his own desk.
To be accurate, he’s got half of one: he shares it with his assistant Midori Williams. But he probably won’t have it for long, as he and Williams happily pick up and move whenever a CIC tenant needs the room. Last week, they were on the 14th floor. This week, it was the 5th.
But that kind of service-with-a-smile might be part of the reason the CIC, the Boston area’s most famous collection of rental offices for technology startups, has lasted a full decade—and expanded far beyond its original location to occupy eight of the 16 floors at One Broadway in Kendall Square. For Rowe is much more than an itinerant landlord: he’s also the CIC’s chief impresario, ambassador, troubleshooter, salesman, and spreadsheet programmer, not to mention investor. (As a venture partner at Cambridge, MA- and Reston, VA-based New Atlantic Ventures, he spearheads one or two new deals per fund, often culled from the CIC itself.)
Tomorrow night, the CIC will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a huge party, planned, appropriately enough, by one of its own tenant companies, Clearly Creative. “We’ll have four floors just packed with stuff going on—music, bands, DJs, food, drink,” Rowe says. More than a thousand visitors are expected.
That number may sound huge—especially given that the building’s narrow halls burst with entrepreneurs even on the quietest of business days–but it’s less surprising once you realize that the center has been home to 543 companies over the years. Some 230 of those are current tenants. (Lists of selected current and former CIC tenants in various business sectors are dispersed throughout this article.)
Along the way to its anniversary, The Cambridge Innovation Center has weathered big ups and downs—including two recessions and a 2006 fire that nearly shut down Rowe’s business. But it has left an undeniable mark on the infotech, life sciences, and energy startup scene around Boston. Nearly every entrepreneur or venture partner you are likely to meet around town has either worked in the building at some point, or has worked with a company based there, or at least travels to One Broadway several times a year for meetings.
|Selected CIC Tenants|
And the CIC’s influence spreads beyond Cambridge. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick toured the building and met with entrepreneurs from seven resident startups last January, and the center has become an obligatory stop for anyone studying entrepreneurship and economic development. In fact, Rowe says the facility get so many visits from delegations charged by their city, state, or national governments with boosting their local innovation scenes that he’s appointed one of his staff members as an informal “secretary of state.”
The Sherman Tank Building
Rowe loves the entrepreneurs who work at the CIC because he is one himself. His first job as a teenager was fixing Apple II computers, and before he finished high school he had started a software company that employed several of his fellow students.
After graduating from MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 1995 and then spending four years at Boston Consulting Group, Rowe decided to leave the big-company world and start his own business.
Of course, everyone was doing that in 1999—Rowe’s wife Amy included. “I was helping her do her startup, and I realized that we needed office space and phones and Internet, and all this stuff was a pain in the butt. Verizon would take two months just to install a phone line. You’d have to sign a three-year lease just to get a copier. All of our other friends were doing startups, and they wanted places for their companies too.”
Rowe saw an opportunity. He raised a $600,000 investment from his father, educator and entrepreneur Dick Rowe, and rented 3,000 square feet of offices and common working space in the old Kendall Square Building, the one with the clock tower. That was the Cambridge Innovation Center’s first location. “One thing led to another, and we never looked back,” Rowe says.
By 2000 the CIC had already outgrown the Main Street space and moved across the street to the 14th floor of the One Broadway building. It has since taken over the 5th, 8th, 9th, … Next Page »