Polaris Ventures Doubling Capacity at Dogpatch Labs in Cambridge
Polaris Venture Partners of Waltham, MA, opened its first Dogpatch Labs startup incubator space in San Francisco in late 2007. A Cambridge, MA, version opened last September, followed by a New York edition in December, and together the three locations are now home to about 100 entrepreneurs, according to Polaris general partner David Barrett. But the number is about to go up: Barrett says Polaris is about to triple the amount of space it’s renting from host Allurent for the Cambridge incubator, from 2,300 square feet to more than 7,000 square feet, creating room for another 30 desks, on top of the existing 20, and twice as many startup teams.
Right now there are 11 teams at Dogpatch Labs Cambridge, compared to 20 in San Francisco and 13 in New York. “We are trying to bring all three spaces into equity,” says Barrett. “We’re excited, because not only can we now encourage more great people to come in, but it will allow us to do a better job of hosting community events and providing space for entrepreneurs to just hang out.”
At the same time, Polaris announced a corporate partnership program designed to give major technology companies greater access to Dogpatch entrepreneurs, and vice versa. The first partner is Microsoft, through its New England Research and Development Center, just a few blocks away in Kendall Square.
Barrett says Polaris and Microsoft will plan joint events such as executive conferences and meetups for Microsoft’s BizSpark program, which is intended to help startup developers adopt Microsoft tools and platforms. “That gives entrepreneurs in the Dogpatch community access to directional guidance from Microsoft if they’re developing for platforms like .NET or Azure, or if they’re trying to build a business supported by Microsoft,” Barrett says. (Microsoft’s Gus Weber has blogged about the announcement here. “When Dave Barrett approached us about Microsoft becoming a formal sponsor of DPL, our missions around supporting the entrepreneurial ecosystem were so close that it was a no brainer,” Weber writes.)
The expansion is a sign that the overall Dogpatch initiative—an example of what Polaris partners call “open source entrepreneurship“—is working more or less the way the firm hoped it would. That’s not to say that the incubators have yet produced companies that became investment home runs for Polaris. It’s far too early for that, and in any case, there’s no explicit agreement that Polaris will invest in Dogpatch companies, who tend to stay in residence for about six months, or even that it will have first crack at funding them. But the incubators do give the venture firm access to a steady stream of young, up-and-coming entrepreneurs, as well as a window on the hot technologies and platforms they’re exploring, from Facebook to Google Wave.
“We think it’s working for everyone so far,” says Barrett. “It’s very early, and no one wants to claim victory, but we are very encouraged by what’s going on.” The main measure of the labs’ success, Barrett says, is that more than 10 Dogpatch resident or alumni startups have won angel or seed funding, from a range of sources; one, San Francisco-based AppJet, has even been acquired (by Google). Two Dogpatch Cambridge startups have raised angel rounds, and six more are pursuing angel funding.
“Our goal is to, in some small way, help foster entrepreneurship in each of the three markets, but also to try to get members of the community working with each other,” Barrett says. “We want people to get backed, whether it’s by Polaris or not, so we are actively inviting other financing groups into Dogpatch to get them exposed to these entrepreneurs.” In fact, an “angel demo” event is scheduled for Dogpatch Cambridge tonight.
Now that there are three Dogpatches, Polaris is also doing everything it can to build a “virtual community” uniting the teams in Boston, San Francisco, and New York. “We look for opportunities to import the best of the West to the East and vice versa,” says Barrett. Already, a few of the Dogpatch teams have members in multiple cities: an energy technology company based in Cambridge, kWhOURS, has a person in San Francisco, and Assured Labor, a mobile platform for job recruiting in emerging markets in regions such as Latin America, has workers in Cambridge and New York. And at least one of the Microsoft-Dogpatch events being planned for the next 12 months will cut across all three Dogpatch locations, says Barrett.
Word about the expansion at Dogpatch Labs Cambridge, which is at 222 Third Street in the old American Twine building, has started to leak out, so there’s already a “robust pipeline” of startup teams interested in taking up residence, according to Barrett. But even if the new space fills up, there will be room for more teams sooner or later, as alumni move out. “Most of the people in there now are almost six months into this, so there is another whole class about to form,” says Barrett.