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New England VC Association ending supervision of CriticalMass, Kendall Square shared space for entrepreneurs

Posted by Scott Kirsner  July 10, 2012 05:29 PM

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The New England Venture Capital Association is wrapping up what its director now calls a one-year experiment: managing the CriticalMass shared workspace for entrepreneurs within the Cambridge Innovation Center. At the space, launched last March with considerable fanfare, entrepreneurs given "golden tickets" by sponsoring VC firms could work rent-free for three months, and use conference rooms named after their benefactors.

NEVCA director C.A. Webb, who wasn't running the trade group when CriticalMass got started, tells me that managing the comings and goings of entrepreneurs created too much of a headache: "It was operationally just really intensive." The Cambridge Innovation Center will now manage the space, and CIC chief executive Tim Rowe says that "we do have a model for on-going VC engagement with it." So far, over 30 entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the space.

But some of the original firms that underwrote CriticalMass aren't yet signed on for continued support. At Flybridge Capital, marketing vice president Kate Castle says her firm's future involvement is "TBD at this point." At Highland Capital Partners, another early sponsor of CriticalMass, senior vice president Michael Gaiss says that the firm will also evaluate its continued financial commitment, but notes that the firm was located in Lexington when CriticalMass first opened, and has since moved its offices to the same building. Highland is "actively hosting events" in Kendall, and also houses 18 entrepreneurs in its penthouse digs at One Broadway, Gaiss adds.

Webb sent out an e-mail to the original CriticalMass sponsors today, encouraging them to continue underwriting the space, and individual entrepreneurs, even after the Cambridge Innovation Center has taken over management responsibility. We'll see how that goes. Webb says she plans to continue working out of the space, located on the fourth floor of One Broadway, just down the hall from the Venture Café.

Jamie Goldstein, the partner at North Bridge who is currently chair of NEVCA, says that giving up day-to-day oversight of the CriticalMass facility will free up Webb to focus on other priorities. In particular, he mentions that the association wants to do more to trumpet the successes of venture-backed New England companies, and encourage more recent graduates to stay in the region and start companies (or work for startups) here.

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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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