Climate Change Innovation - Greentown Labs Takes The Lead
April 1, 2015.
When you go along narrow, winding Dane Street in Somerville, Massachusetts, you might not at first notice the brick building which is set back from a street of otherwise private residences. A sign on the side reads Greentown Labs.
When you step inside, you find yourself in an open 10,000 square foot office space that's bustling with people and activity. Within the same complex are an additional 20,000 square feet of shared prototyping space and a machine shop.
The idea for this innovation incubator began about four years ago, when the founders of four energy startups tackling climate change in the Boston area were looking for affordable space to develop their prototypes. Beginning in a grungy warehouse in East Cambridge, they moved to what grew into a 13,000 square foot space in South Boston. At this Boston location Greentown Labs grew to accommodate 27 startup companies.
Relocating to the Somerville last year, Greentown Labs is now the largest clean tech incubator in the nation. "Clean tech" describes products, processes or services that reduce waste and require as few non-renewable resources as possible, so these technologies help reduce human contribution to climate change. Greentown Labs is now home to nearly 50 clean tech member organizations, whose missions range from developing low-cost airborne wind turbines, to producing solar digital billboards, to creating robotic railroad track inspection systems, to bringing novel materials to 3D printing. Greentown Labs’ mission is to support startups by providing them access to the space, resources, and funding which helps them in their early stages.
Alex Pina, founder of Avalanche Energy, which is developing a suite of products that will use solar thermal power to eliminate residential utility bills, said, "What really separates Greentown from other incubators is the hardware focus, the lab space, and the community. When you are able to get input from other folks, it makes development move a lot faster.”
The word is getting around. Greentown Labs now hosts nearly 5000 visitors a year, ranging from high school students to government leaders from both here and abroad. There are bi-monthly EnergyBar networking events, which bring together investors, entrepreneurs and others interested in the clean technology and energy ecosystem around Greater Boston.
Recently, Greentown Labs has begun a Manufacturing Initiative, which works to connect hardware startups with local manufacturers. The purpose of this new initiative is to help young companies get to commercialization faster. Long term, the idea is to engage both startups and local manufacturers around the goal of making great local ideas into great local products.
Sean Grundy, Co-founder of Bevi, which makes vending kiosks that filter and dispense beverages into personal water bottles, has said, “For starters, it’s so efficient to have a highly professional office right next to our prototyping space. However, the real value is in the people. Greentowners have actively helped test our prototypes, and have provided thoughtful feedback to improve our products. You know you’re part of a true community when the teams share engineering and business ideas by day, and sing karaoke together by night.”