Cambridge Innovation Center Turns 10; Looking Inside a Landmark for Boston-Area Entrepreneurs

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10th, 11th, 13th, 15th, and 16th floors, along with part of the 12th—more than 100,000 square feet altogether. More often than not, when other big One Broadway tenants’ leases have expired, the CIC has been ready to expand into the space.

One Broadway itself, it must be acknowledged, is probably the ugliest building in Cambridge. Its one attraction is that it was built in 1970 by Badger Engineering, now a part of Raytheon, which means it’s solid—Rowe calls it “a Sherman tank of a building.” But its homely looks, compared to all the shiny towers that have gone up nearby, have turned out to be an advantage. “We like that—it keeps the rents lower, and startups don’t care,” Rowe says. “The fact that there’s a building that is often considered unattractive right next to MIT makes it the perfect location for us.” (Unbeknownst even to most tenants, One Broadway is also known as Building E60, in deference to MIT, its current owner.)

Selected CIC Tenants

Apple Tree Partners
Bluegreen Ventures
Cambridge Light Partners
Maxis Capital
New Atlantic Ventures
New Science Capital
Progress Partners
Sample Path Ventures

Networking Effects

The facilities and the services at the CIC—the furnished offices, the receptionists, the 100-megabit Internet connections, the on-site development servers, the conference rooms with stunning views of the Charles River, the kitchens stocked with loads of drinks, fruit, chips, and other snacks, all provided as part of the rent—are all about making life easier for entrepreneurs. “We have always said that we can’t run a perfect working environment, but we’ll do a better job than you could,” Rowe says. “That’s not hard because most of our clients aren’t office space management experts. We can take the boring stuff out of operating a place to work off the plates of people who really have better things to spend their time on.”

Selected CIC Tenants

Lyric Semiconductor
Tap N Tap

Ambient Devices
Aurora Flight Sciences
Luminus Devices

The CIC’s rent is high compared to what companies might pay for space in many other locations in Cambridge, Boston, and the suburbs. But Rowe argues that moving to the CIC lowers companies’ total operating costs, because of all the shared services that the center provides. “If you put 220 companies in their own spaces, they’d need 220 conference rooms, but if you share, you can get by with 30,” Rowe says. “That applies to the phone system and the kitchens and the person who figures out why the printer is jammed. That is why the economics work.”

CIC Conference RoomBut while convenience and location are probably the two main reasons most CIC tenants move in, there’s another important benefit that helps to keep them there: propinquity. Entrepreneurs “tend to be very outgoing, nice, flexible, curious, problem-solving people, so they are just constantly helping each other out,” Rowe says. That help might come for free from another startup in the building. It might be a consulting relationship (startups needing legal or public relations help, for example, can find it right down the hall at firms like Morse Barnes-Browne & Pendleton or Fama PR). Or it might lead to new business partnerships—at least one new company, Stamp Mobile, has already been born from a conversation between two entrepreneurs leasing space in the Cambridge Coworking Center, an open office environment that Rowe created on the 10th floor last May. “It’s just helpful to be around a whole lot of other bright people, in the same way it’s helpful for academics to be around other bright academics,” says Rowe.

Can the same effect help CIC startups win venture funding? That’s unclear. But it’s safe to say that the center is a popular fishing spot for local financiers. Several venture funds, private equity funds, and hedge funds have offices in the building. New Atlantic Ventures ended up investing in … Next Page »

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

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