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So the world's biggest company now has a tech center in Cambridge...

Posted by Scott Kirsner  February 12, 2014 08:37 AM

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Without making much of a splash, the largest corporation in the world set up shop in Cambridge last year.

Royal Dutch Shell — with an astonishing $481 billion in revenue and 87,000 employees — opened up its first Shell TechWorks innovation office in Kendall Square last year. The objective, according to a company web page, is to "work with local entrepreneurs, investors, companies, scientists, partners and suppliers to help speed up the deployment of new technologies in Shell’s business." The energy giant hired a former Draper Laboratory executive, Shawn Murphy, to run it.

Shell hasn't yet officially announced the office, and company spokesperson Kayle Macke said the company wouldn't let me talk to Murphy in advance of that announcement. But Macke did confirm that there are about 25 employees at the office now, and said that number could grow to 40 within the "next year or two." Murphy had previously worked on several satellite and unmanned space exploration programs at Draper, a non-profit R&D lab in Cambridge that frequently works with government agencies like NASA and the Department of Defense.

According to job descriptions posted about Shell TechWorks:

The purpose of STW is to accelerate development and deployment of technology for Shell by leveraging the Boston-area tech ecosystem of academics, research, incubators, and entrepreneurs. ...STW is set-up in such a way that it creates the feeling of a start-up company. Project teams will be responsible for the development of innovative technical solutions through the full product lifecycle: from first-of-a-kind prototyping to product deployment.

The group reports in to Thijs Jurgens, vice president of innovation at Shell. Shell TechWorks is located at 101 Main Street in Kendall Square, the same building that houses Amazon's Cambridge team. According to one source familiar with Shell's operations, most of the Shell TechWorks employees are people new to the company — and the oil and gas industry. Their mandate is not just to look for new ideas related to the energy industry, but also for things that might help Shell employees work more efficiently together, or with customers.

Current TechWorks employees hail from Draper Labs, E Ink, General Compression, and MIT. The office also houses two investors who work for Shell's internal venture capital group: Carl Stjernfeldt, formerly at Castile Ventures, and Henrik Holland.

Shell has also recently signed on as a sponsor of Greentown Labs in Somerville, a shared workspace for energy entrepreneurs. According to Greentown executive director Emily Reichert, "the money helped us with our relocation and buildout of our Somerville incubator space. Also, as part of their sponsorship they do office hours here (checking in on potential investments), and they've held corporate executive innovation meetings here, bringing together people from Europe and the US..."

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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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