One year after it opened an incubator in San Francisco that offers free space to selected entrepreneurs, Polaris Venture Partners is bringing the concept to Cambridge. The Waltham VC firm is formally announcing Dog Patch Labs Cambridge tonight at a special event at Fenway Park’s EMC Club – which will also mark the successful IPO this summer of LogMeIn, a Polaris-backed start-up.
The San Francisco version of Dog Patch (located at Pier 38 on that city's waterfront, left) was the brainchild of Mike Hirshland, a Polaris partner based in Waltham who focuses primarily on digital media companies. Hirshland describes it as “a frat house for geeks” that offers free desks, connectivity, coffee, and grub to entrepreneurs that the firm dubs interesting. Unlike a traditional incubator, there’s no formal agreement that gives Polaris equity, or even a right-of-first-refusal on investing in any companies hatched at Dog Patch. But Polaris has put money into two West Coast ventures thus far: Thing Labs (formerly Plinky) and LOLapps.
Dog Patch Cambridge will be co-located with Allurent, a Polaris company that works on improving the e-commerce experience. Hirshland explains that the Lab will be a venue for dinners, brown bag lunch talks, workshops, and conferences –- and it’ll also serve as a hang-out for Polaris partners visiting the big city from their usual perch atop Mount Money in Waltham. Part of Hirshland’s plan is to create a bit of an exchange program between the Cambridge and San Francisco labs, so that entrepreneurs and Dog Patch Fellows (friends of the labs who may be experts on some topic, or more experienced entrepreneurs) can hop back and forth.
"The objective is to foster a vibrant community of entrepreneurs," Hirshland writes in an e-mail. "What we have to gain is being deeply immersed and engaged in the very early stage entrepreneurial ecosystem -- which we see as just an extension of what we are already doing every day..." Hirshland explains that Polaris doesn't "see [Dog Patch Labs] as a feeder system for Polaris investments -- though as it has worked out in SF that has been a nice side benefit."
Here's more about the new space:
While the San Francisco lab is mostly focused on Internet-based services, the Cambridge outpost will be more welcoming of cleantech and life sciences start-ups, and two Polaris partners who focus on those areas, Bob Metcalfe and Alan Crane, were on a conference call with me yesterday afternoon to show their support of the idea. Crane seemed especially excited about entrepreneurs from various different industries sharing advice and tips with one another -– something that doesn’t happen much today. “Cross-pollination” was a term that got dropped a lot.
A press release prepared by Polaris explains the Cambridge lab’s focus:
The lab will seek to foster super-early-stage entrepreneurship in areas where Boston currently has strong start-up track records -- such as software-as-a-service, cloud computing, biotech, and enertech. [Enertech is Metcalfe’s term for cleantech or energy-related ventures.] But additionally, the labs will also foster efforts in social media, e-commerce and the consumer Internet, where Polaris has been highly active in other markets.
The main question Polaris will ask of Dog Patch Cambridge applicants, Hirshland says, is, “Do we think you are a promising entrepreneur –- someone worth helping out and getting to know, even if you may not necessarily be backable right now?” He’ll also be looking for people who’ll contribute to the overall culture of the lab. “If you’re going to be a loner and sit there and code all day,” that might not be the perfect fit, he says.
Dog Patch in San Francisco started with five entrepreneurs, and has grown to 35 over the past year. The Cambridge version will start with about ten, Hirshland says, and will have room to grow from there.
This has the potential to be a powerful addition to the Boston entrepreneurship scene, and it’ll be really interesting to see who Dog Patch Labs Cambridge attracts: who’ll be part of the first pack of pups?
So here’s the magic e-mail address: to be considered for inclusion in Dog Patch Labs Cambridge, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Hirshland says that all of the Polaris partners will be involved with the invitation and selection process.
Update: Here's the official announcement of Dog Patch Labs Cambridge ... and Xconomy notes that the first group of entrepreneurs will start moving in next week.
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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