“Ready or Not,” Greentown Labs Startups to Move In This Week, With $75K for Retooling Boston Space

4/25/11Follow @xconomy

It’s moving week for the companies launching Greentown Labs, the new cleantech incubator in the seaport area dubbed Boston’s “Innovation District” by Mayor Tom Menino.

The space at 337 Summer Street still looks more or less like a construction site, but the companies helping to get the incubator off the ground will be moving in this week, “ready or not,” says Jason Hanna, president and founder of Coincident and a founding entrepreneur of Greentown Labs.

Other media outlets reported that last fall, Promethean Power Systems co-founder Sam White launched a grassroots cleantech incubator near the Cambridgeside Galleria Mall. In December, the group of companies working there alongside Promethean—Coincident, OsComp Systems, Altaeros Energies, and AirVentions—found out that the owner of the building sold it to be redeveloped as a biotech facility. The group incorporated as a nonprofit in January as it searched for a new home.

Boston and Cambridge have their fair share of co-working spaces offering Wi-Fi and desks, but Greentown Labs is designed to have enough room for the physical equipment—and mess—required to build hardware that goes into these cleantech startups.

“It’s going to be dirty,” says Pedro Santos, CEO of OsComp Systems, a startup quietly working to develop a cheaper, more efficient method of producing natural gas after drilling, which is said to cut the cost of gas compression by 50 percent. “It will be safe and clean, but we want it to feel like a machine shop.”

The roughly 14,000 square-foot incubator consists of a large open space for startups to split up and build their products in, at a monthly rent of $25 per usable square foot, says Hanna. Companies can pay another $75 per month to access Greentown’s impending electronics lab and machine shop. Meanwhile, OsComp plans to run its prototype system in the basement. A dedicated desk in the main area costs $275 per month and includes Wi-Fi and access to the conference room; closed-door offices will run about $950 per month, depending on the size.

Dynamo MicroPower, a developer of a sub-microturbine for power generation, and SolSolution, a nonprofit working to get solar installations in schools, will be joining the five Greentown charter companies who moved from the Cambridge incubator space, says Jeremy Pitts, OsComp’s vice president of product development.

And as far as the charter member companies go: Promethean is working on solar-powered refrigeration systems; Coincident is developing a software- and hardware-based system for better integrating cleantech elements and optimizing energy use in the home; and Altaeros is making wind turbines that are low-cost and operate higher off the ground to take advantage of stronger winds. AirVentions, a developer of collision avoidance systems for aircraft support equipment at airports, is not exactly cleantech, but it worked at the Cambridge space with the others and is thus grandfathered into Greentown, says Pitts. About 32 people in total will be working out of Greentown as it kicks off in the next month or so, but the space has room for between 50 and 55, Hanna says.

Greentown has raised about $75,000 in cash and in-kind services as a nonprofit, from sponsors Turnstone (the office furniture maker), green architectural firm Map-Lab, social development firm Invested Development, and the law firm Hinckley, Allen & Snyder, Hanna says. The money will go toward renovations and getting the incubator off the ground, and not to subsidizing rent costs, Hanna says. Greentown will be running on a tiered sponsorship model, with what it calls megawatt, gigawatt, and terawatt sponsors.

“As this city recognizes Greentown, we want to turn this into a showcase,” says Hanna. “We’d really like to co-brand with some of these companies.”

The nonprofit is targeting a total of $350,000 to re-outfit the Summer Street space. Once renovations are complete, Greentown hopes that the money it raises as a nonprofit will go to hiring administrative staff to keep the space running, so the founder entrepreneurs can get back to their other jobs of, well, getting their products to market, Hanna says.

The move of the Greentown companies marks another shift of innovative Cambridge startups to Boston’s’ waterfront, but Hanna says the “city [of Cambridge] made their best effort” to help the cleantech companies find a new home. The abundance of Boston space was a draw, and it’s cheaper to fix, he says. “It’s not really a competition; when one wins, both win,” he says of the Cambridge-Boston dynamic. “Ideally, we’ll pull people from all over the region and outside the region. What can we do to strengthen the whole cluster?”

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