Rewind the clock one year, to December 2012, and the city of Boston didn't seem like a very obvious place to try to build a startup.
There were only a handful of places you could go to find a half-dozen or more startups clustered in the same spot. One was the MassChallenge entrepreneurship competition on Fan Pier, which was taking advantage of free rent in a mostly-empty tower. Another was Workbar Boston, a shared office space across from South Station where entrepreneurs and consultants could rent desks and conference rooms on a short-term basis. Space with a Soul brought together non-profits and mission-driven startups on Summer Street in Fort Point Channel, and Headquarters Boston offered a home for small manufacturing firms and artists.
The startup scene in Boston grew a lot in 2013, and it's going to have an even bigger year in 2014. This year saw the opening of Bolt in Downtown Crossing, a six-month long program for consumer electronics entrepreneurs, and PayPal's Start Tank, which offers free office space to a range of ventures at PayPal's Boston outpost at International Place. In April, I wrote about the community of entrepreneurs abandoning Cambridge for cheaper office space and more flexible leases in Downtown Crossing — including one, Mobee, that occupies the copper-clad dome of Boston's Old City Hall. In early December, a 3,000 square foot co-working space called Black House & Co. opened on School Street. Also in 2013: two Waltham-based venture capital firms, Battery Ventures and Polaris Ventures, announced they'd move into Boston's waterfront Innovation District, into the same building that currently houses MassChallenge. (Bolt is pictured above.)
Coming in 2014: Kayak co-founder Paul English opens a new incubator/nightclub/exhibition space on Summer Street called Blade. WeWork, a nationwide network of co-working spaces, is planning two Boston locations, both near South Station, on opposite sides of Fort Point Channel. TechStars Boston is moving from Cambridge to Boston, as I first reported in October, to space on Lincoln Street in the Leather District. (The building is pictured below.)
The biggest deal that may not yet be sealed: Cambridge Innovation Center has been negotiating a lease on four floors at 50 Milk Street in the Financial District, according to several sources, totaling about 65,000 square feet. Tim Rowe, CIC's founder, said he wasn't yet able to comment on any potential expansion to Boston.
Also: MassChallenge will move next summer from Fan Pier to the Boston Design Center on the edge of the harbor, which will likely spark even more startup activity on that far western edge of Boston's Innovation District.
This surprised even me, but when you put together the complete list, in 2014 there will be more places in Boston than Cambridge where you'll have a coterie of entrepreneurs working in the same office. (Cambridge has Intrepid Labs, Cambridge Innovation Center, Workbar Central, Koa Labs, LabCentral, and Hack/Reduce.) Here's an annotated Google Map I created of all these new incubators, accelerators, and shared office spaces in downtown Boston and the Innovation District.
(In November, after Marty Walsh was elected as Boston's next mayor, I wrote a column called "Welcome to Beta City" that explained how his administration could keep this momentum going, and spread the wealth to other parts of the city.)
About Scott Kirsner
Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.
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More from Scott
March 3: Web Innovators Group
Demos, drinks, and schmoozing at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge.
March 7-8: MassDigi Game Challenge
Competition for aspiring game developers... plus panels and keynotes related to the business of play.
April 3-4: Mass Biotech Annual Meeting
Issues facing the region's life sciences community.