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Greentown Labs, shared space for cleantech companies, planning expansion and move to Somerville

Posted by Scott Kirsner  July 16, 2013 01:50 PM

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A facility that once produced file folders and envelopes is getting a green makeover. The former Ames Safety Envelope plant between Union Square and Harvard Square will become the new home of Greentown Labs, one of the country's biggest incubator spaces for energy-related startups. Greentown plans to move in next month; its current digs are in Fort Point Channel, a/k/a Boston's Innovation District. With the move, Greentown will grow by about 5,000 square feet, to 24,000 square feet in total.

The City of Somerville is providing a $300,000 working capital loan to Greentown, a non-profit entity, and the state's Massachusetts Clean Energy Center is considering a grant application for a similar amount. Greentown is also hoping to raise an addition $30,000 to cover build-out costs using the funding site Indiegogo. (That campaign isn't yet live.) Several city and state officials, including Somerville mayor Joe Curtatone, economic development secretary Greg Bialecki, and energy secretary Richard Sullivan, will stop by Greentown's new space on Dane Street this Thursday to announce the move. The new location is next door to another shared space, Artisan's Asylum, which rents out cubicles to craftspeople and small-batch manufacturers, and also offers courses on topics like oxy-acetylene welding and robot control systems.

Greentown co-founder Jason Hanna says that its increasingly tough to find gritty, high-ceilinged space with access to loading docks in the Innovation District. "It's mostly that the real estate we needed just isn't there, since most of the buildings are moving toward Class A office space," he says. Greentown's current building, at 337 Summer Street, was purchased by Synergy Investments and Divco West earlier this year. It'll be converted into office space. (Hanna is on the left in the picture, with Sorin Grama of Promethean Power Systems, an early tenant at Greentown.)

Greentown currently rents space to 28 different startups, consulting firms, and non-profits. Executive director Emily Reichert says there are about 10 other organizations on a waiting list, and that the new space will be able to accommodate them. Not everyone may make the move to Somerville, though: Greentown's future home is about a mile from the Porter Square or Harvard Square MBTA stops, while its current one is just a few blocks from South Station, Route 93, and the Mass Pike. Reichert says that some tenants may use Hubway bikes to get to the new location, and also that it has some dedicated parking (which the current location does not.) The old Ames Envelope facility will allow Greentown to eventually expand to 33,000 square feet. CB Richard Ellis handled the lease for Greentown.

Reichert says that the location next to Artisan's Asylum could lead to a partnership between the two facilities. "They have cool tools that our tenants will have access to," she says, mentioning things like 3D printers and plasma cutters. "We're still working out the details, but there are a ton of synergies between what they do and what we do." There's also an underground tunnel that links Greentown to Artisan's Asylum, she says, which may or may not be usable by the two tenants.

Mayor Curtatone says there has been "a concerted effort by my office of strategic planning and community development to meet with CEOs from around the region and the country to talk about Somerville. We are the innovation city, and we want to make sure that Somerville is at the forefront of the next economic upturn. In the past, we've always missed those waves." The loan Somerville is providing stipulates Greentown use its "best efforts to hire Somerville residents," says Curtatone. At least 51 percent of new hires will have to meet low- or moderate income standards. Greentown's tenants employ about 100 people in total.

Hanna says that the new Greentown will have "about two-and-a-half times as much prototyping space" as its current location, in addition to desks, conference rooms, and a kitchen. Rent will go up "slightly" from current prices, he says (a desk costs $275/month and 100 square feet of prototyping space is $208/month).

Greentown is planning to move in mid-August. The neighborhood is home to a new climbing gym called Brooklyn Boulders, and Cambridge Innovation Center is setting up a small satellite facility inside Brooklyn Boulders that its tenants will be able to use, with about 20 desks but no on-site operational support.

A floorplan of the new space is below, followed by a picture of the current space on Summer Street and a video overview of Greentown.

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I wrote about Greentown's original location in East Cambridge back in October 2010, shortly after it opened. That building has since been demolished as part of a new real estate development project.

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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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