Intrigued by Mark O’Toole’s recent post,”An Innovation Snapshot: Three Engaging Hours in Boston’s Innovation District,” we traveled across the river to the original innovation district, Kendall Square. What was once a busy manufacturing hub filled with distilleries, soap and hosiery factories and home to 19th century entrepreneur and namesake Edward Kendall, is now the nucleus of greater Boston’s development of information technology, life sciences and energy technology.
It only took us a few seconds to feel what British Consul General Phil Budden calls “the change in the air” as we entered Kendall Square.” We made it our mission to capture the new pace of business here– the modern version of the long-lamented “daily grind” which has morphed into what we call the “Kendall bump n’ grind.” And we share it with you right here. Watch this space for Part II next week!
According to Travis McCready, Executive Director of the Kendall Square Association, 2007 marked a turning point for America, with more of us residing in urban districts than in suburban or rural areas. What comes with the alluring potential of urban offerings –vibrant night life, lively cultural institutions, fun restaurants, cafes and clubs, reliable public transportation, and civic space – is a density of talent, companies and institutions. As one of these growing urban areas, Kendall Square has achieved the critical mass that fuels unparalleled technological innovation.
Travis likens this density and diversity to “a box of chocolates… you open it up and you don’t really know what you’re going to get, but you know it’s going to be something good.” The best business representation of the box of chocolates metaphor is in the dense and crowded environment of the Cambridge Innovation Center, (CIC) where smart people serendipitously “bump and connect.” That collaboration creates waves of innovation, and it’s happening at an unprecedented rate right here.
Both Pixability and CoachUp.com are fast tracking start-ups, two of the 500+ companies who have called the CIC home since it opened its doors in 1999. Leaders of these two companies credit the entrepreneurial environment here for a great deal of their companies’ transformations. Pixability found a key vendor they needed while VP of Marketing Rob Ciampa was riding the CIC elevator up to his office one day. Their engaged and ever-curious compadres in the community inspired Pixability as they expanded their initial core business from customized video into an end-to-end video marketing platform.
“People in Kendall, yes, they want to know about your product but they also want to know your story, so you’re constantly pitching and getting your message honed, and the community here ends up giving you leads as well. It’s helping your product, your message, and your sales.” Rob describes his experience here.
Similarly, Jordan Fliegel, CEO of CoachUp.com, found all of this team and his initial funding partners either directly in the CIC or through the avid referral network of his fellow entrepreneurs. Jordan and his business were both born in Cambridge and he’s so doggone proud of Cambridge and what it means for his company.
Life in the Kendall Coral Reef
So what shape does this entrepreneurial community take? See it through Geoff Mamlet’s eyes here:
With this imagery in mind, we headed to Venture Café—a vivacious, physical representation of the Kendall coral reef. Harkening back to the collaborative experiences of both Pixability and CoachUp.com, this weekly get-together is where game- and life-changing companies begin.
“The real value for the entrepreneur,” Executive Director Chris Myles says, “is coming to the Venture Café and meeting people who bring a different type of value, either in skill set or perspective, to their business” which he terms “cross-pollinating the bump.” Would you believe that the Venture Café has over 11,000 visits on record so far?
Breaking news: Get Ready for Venture Café 3.0!
Urban folklore says that the magic at Venture Café happens naturally when really smart people connect in an unstructured environment with nothing more than a little fermented beverage to lubricate their interactions. A look behind the curtain shows the reality that it takes a boatload of planning and programming to meet the voracious needs of this ever-evolving population.
To provide a larger space for this cross-pollination of talent to happen, Venture Café will soon be moving from the CIC’s kitchen on the 4th floor to a totally revamped, dedicated space on the 5th floor. Instead of the weekly Thursday night sessions that we know and love, Café 3.0 will be a 24-hour community space for open collaboration along with expanded programming that will be increasingly driven by the needs of the evolving community. Been to Venture Café? Chris wants to hear what you think and what you need, so give your two cents (or however much you’ve got).
London Bridge is NOT Falling Down
The London Bridge is definitely NOT falling down, quite the opposite actually. We headed upstairs to the 7th floor of the CIC to the office of the British Consulate – General in Boston. British Consul General Phil Budden is proud to head the only consulate located in Kendall. He believes that this specific location optimizes his ability to be both the local business face of the UK and to continually strengthen the collaboration occurring between Boston/Cambridge and London/Cambridge.
"Kendall is a special place and it's linked to so many successes. This is a real innovation cluster here, and we have a real innovation cluster in London and Cambridge. It used to be about developing your own cluster; it's now about connecting the clusters." Here’s how the two Cambridges connect, directly from Phil:
Laurisa Neuwirth is a Boston World Partnership Connector, Ambassador of Relationship-Based Staffing at John Leonard Employment Services and President of The Rotary Club of Newton; Laurisa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ashley Ryall is an experience architect within the #social space and has her finger on the pulse of social recruiting as John Leonard’s Social Media Consultant. Ashley can be reached at email@example.com.
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