Central Square’s Barron Building Emerges as Startup Hub

4/27/10Follow @wroush

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breed new ideas and new ventures, and to attract even more entrepreneurs.

Indeed, Fitton says Oneforty was drawn to the Barron Building by the fact that Conduit had already leased space there (and by Carl Barron’s willingness to rip out the walls that previously divided Oneforty’s second-floor space into a warren of 14 separate offices).

Central Square is already famous as Cambridge’s multicultural crossing ground, attracting a more interesting variety of businesses and visitors than tony Harvard Square or tech-saturated Kendall Square. It’s also home to tech startups like StyleFeeder (which formerly occupied offices in the Barron Building) and TechStars Boston, not to mention the Betahouse coworking space and informal gatherings like OpenCoffee entrepreneurs’ workshop every Wednesday at Andala Coffee House.

“Central Square is definitely a happening place when it comes to the startup and innovation scene,” says Phil Jacob, founder and chief technology officer of StyleFeeder, which was acquired by Time Inc. in January and is located just down the street from the Barron Building at 678 Masachusetts Avenue. “It’s great for a number of reasons: employees love to work in the area, it’s easy to find sublets for when you’re just starting out, and there are tons of other startups around to bounce ideas off of. We regularly go out to lunch with folks from other companies to talk about technology and share ideas, which is very valuable. Before the acquisition, our investors used to comment on the value of being in this area.”

With the Barron Building going high-tech and becoming a meeting place for groups such as Greenhorn Connect and the Awesome Foundation, that value could increase even more.

“Being in physical proximity makes a huge difference,” says Rekha Murthy, who lived in Central Square for seven years, wrote a paper about Central Square’s redevelopment when she was studying urban planning at MIT, and is now director of projects and partnerships at the Public Radio Exchange, based in Harvard Square. “When I was freelancing, I could pop over to Betahouse for lunch, or professional networking. Something I saw happen constantly was how easy it was to run into people on the street who you needed to have a conversation with. Having everybody in such proximity allows for casual interactions that are low-risk—that enable people to explore possibilities without feeling that they’ve made a huge commitment.”

Central Square is “arguably Boston’s new startup innovation hub,” says Shareaholic’s Meattle, who echoes Murthy’s experience: “It’s now common for me to bump into other startup folks on the street around Central. [It's] very Bay Area-ish!”

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

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  • http://betahouse.org Brian Del Vecchio

    Wade, thanks for this thoughtful coverage of the Central Square scene. I think you set some kind of record, quoting so many friends who I have known for years and truly admire.

    I enjoy introducing people at casual events like Friday’s, but I honestly had a hard time finding two people in the Conduit offices who didn’t already know each other. Laura, Nabeel, and Phil are three of the best network builders I know–and the friendships they build are so deep and meaningful that it sounds cheap to call it “networking”. These three of my personal heroes have been building this neighborhood for years.

    It’s also worth mentioning that the Boston Techstars program is in its second year, a block away from the Barron building. Oneforty and AccelGolf are two of the best known startups from the first Techstars Boston class, and I saw many members of the current class Friday. Shawn Broderick and everyone involved with TechStars deserve a large amount of credit for making the Central Square scene what it is today.

    One more thought: every week I hear about another company with more space and fewer people than they expected two years ago, and VCs have been smooshing their portfolio companies together to reduce cost for decades.

    But there’s something different about the groups you wrote about here. As I often say, space is so cheap and plentiful in this economy that people are practically giving it away. But being around great people makes all the difference.

  • Abi Barrow

    Wade,

    Central Square is not only a great place to work but it now has a great selection of places to eat and is also a great place to live – but then I am biased :)

    Abi

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