Informal Incubators: Startup Workspaces Sprouting Up in Unlikely Places (Including an Expelled MIT Frat House)

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add a new dimension to the area’s innovation friendliness. We’ve dubbed them informal incubators for the purpose of giving a name to the trend.

These types of communities flesh themselves out in a few varieties, as you’ll see in the different iterations described in this story. Our suspicion is that there are more out there and that, as angel investor Bill Warner points out, this is the beginning of a categorical shift in how (and where) we’ll be seeing companies start and grow their businesses. “You’re seeing a lot more companies coming together in much higher-density spaces,” he says.

“It gets a cross fertilization of ideas going,” says Warner, who himself operates out of the Cambridge Coworking Center, another shared workspace that rents to startups by the month. “It gets people meeting each other and hiring each other and supporting each other. It’s a valuable and important trend.”

This kind of support and networking is a big benefit that Emerginvest CEO Andrew Waterman has found at the informal incubator where he does his work. “You can’t always turn to your employees, advisors, or investors. It’s nice to be able to turn to other startup CEOs to get their opinions,” he says.

Waterman works out of an especially unusual incubator: the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house at MIT, which was vacated following the organization’s expulsion from campus in September. Alum Kevin Vogelsang is in charge of the house until its fate is decided and has been working on his own startup there since fall. But early on he felt like he was missing out by operating in such an isolated environment.

“Your ear is not to the street,” he says. Vogelsang attended area entrepreneur meet-ups to find others looking for a community-driven work environment and soon invited a few other startups to join him. In addition to Emerginvest, an online information portal on world stock markets, there’s mobile app company Sensobi and web communication startup Shareaholic. “We’re all in similar positions. There’s a lot of momentum in working around each other,” notes Vogelsang.

Since Vogelsang lives and works free of cost in the house—which includes plenty of desks, a high-speed Internet connection, and a ping-pong table—he doesn’t charge anything to the companies that work alongside him.  That brings us to … Next Page »

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