Cambridge Innovation Center to Expand in Baltimore, Other Cities
The Cambridge Innovation Center, a longtime fixture of the Boston-area startup scene, is expanding its entrepreneur-friendly office space business to new cities—just as it continues to build a larger footprint in its hometown.
The CIC, which rents office space and related services to more than 500 companies in seven floors of a building near MIT, has been advertising for a general manager at a new Baltimore location. And CEO Tim Rowe says that’s not the only place the CIC is eyeing for a possible expansion.
“We’re excited about it,” Rowe says. “We are actually interviewing candidates that might lead the operations for us in a couple cities. So it’s pretty serious, but it’s not done yet.”
It’s a big part of what’s shaping up to be a very active future for the CIC. The company serves as a space-and-services supplier for entrepreneurs and their companies, ranging from startups to branch offices of giants like Amazon.
It’s not an incubator or accelerator program that takes a slice of equity in exchange for helping to grow a startup business. Instead, it operates as an added-value landlord, packaging most of the common office expenses like basic communications, IT support, and food into flexible monthly rents.
Available spaces range from slots in a co-working bullpen to single-desk cubicles with doors to large, full-fledged offices. And there’s a big focus on getting people working together in close proximity, particularly the idea-driven innovators who make up technology startups and growing businesses. As Wade Roush described it in a 2009 look at the CIC’s 10th anniversary, the place has a “fraternal, overcaffeinated, high-achieving atmosphere.”
Rowe says the expansion to new cities has been part of the CIC’s long-term plans for some time, but until now, “We’ve never seriously looked at it … we didn’t have any senior team member whose job it was to focus on that.”
Now they do. Ranch Kimball, who served as a key economic development official for former Gov. Mitt Romney, has been hired to lead the expansion project. On LinkedIn, he’s listed as president and CEO of Cambridge Innovation Partners.
Rowe declined to name other cities the CIC might be targeting, but at least one seems fairly close to reality. The job listing for the Baltimore project says the CIC “has identified a location in Baltimore to build an innovation center based on the CIC Cambridge model,” and is finalizing its plans to expand in the city. The general manager would be in charge of an initial team of five to eight employees.
“Clearly, we think that what CIC is doing is working. We think it can benefit the world,” Rowe says. “One of the things that’s nice about CIC is it doesn’t require somebody else to pay for it. It just makes sense economically.”
The new national expansion plans come at a time when the CIC (and some of its related organizations) are expanding around the Boston area, too.
The company recently announced it was taking on some 50,000 square feet of a building right next to its existing headquarters in Cambridge. That space will house more of the CIC’s typical clients, but also is expected to host a new Boston branch of The HUB, an international program that fosters entrepreneurs working on social-good projects. Geoff Mamlet, a managing director of the CIC, is heading up the HUB Boston. (Rowe, who is also chairman of the local HUB, says it’s a separate entity from the CIC).
Another CIC sister organization, the Venture Café Foundation, will be managing the new Boston Innovation Center being built as part of the city’s “Innovation District” redevelopment project on the South Boston waterfront.
The Boston Innovation Center is planned as a gathering space for entrepreneurs and innovators, with 9,000 square feet of meeting rooms, event space, a kitchen and restaurant, and more. Carlos Martinez-Vela, a former policy director at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative who now directs the Venture Café Foundation.
Why all the activity now? Rowe says the CIC has clearly reached a tipping point, mostly because of the number of people it has available to tackle new projects.
“We’re 60-odd employees now. When we were 30-odd employees, we just had less ability to do other stuff,” he says. “I think this happens at a lot of businesses, where you’re heads-down and you’re building your core business, and you have no slack. And at some point, your core business gets strong enough that you can stick your head up and say, ‘Oh wow, look where I am. I wonder what else is going on around here?’”