Business incubator slated for Dudley Square’s Ferdinand Building
The administration of Mayor Martin Walsh has upped the ante in the push for a business incubator in Dudley Square, setting aside 4,000 square feet in the Ferdinand Building for a startup space.
And when the city’s space opens next year, it may be one of three operating in Dudley Square along with Smarter in the City and Start Up Lab, both of which are seeking space to open in Dudley.
But the multiple efforts at creating business incubators are not likely to compete for resources, according to Smarter in the City’s Gilad Rosenzweig.
“It’s not a competition at all,” he said. “In fact, the more people who come to Dudley and do this, the better.”
Business incubators allow entrepreneurs to rent small office spaces or even desk space with shared amenities — printers, copy machines, kitchens, meeting rooms — keeping down costs in the critical first few years of a business. Successful incubation spaces often create clusters of entrepreneurial activity where startups can more easily access accountants, lawyers, consultants and investors.
City officials have eyed the innovation district in Boston’s waterfront district and Kendall Square in Cambridge as local examples of successful incubators. In his inaugural address, Walsh advocated expanding the concept of the innovation district to include business districts in Boston’s neighborhoods.
Walsh announced plans for the city’s Dudley incubator during a meeting last week at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.
“There has been so much talk about starting an incubator in Dudley Square,” said Walsh’s Chief of Staff Daniel Koh. “The feedback we’ve been getting is that somebody needs to put up the resources.”
The city will soon release a request for qualification seeking an operator to run the incubator, which Koh estimates could house between 20 and 30 startups. The incubator will be housed on the second floor of the building, allowing entrepreneurs to access the space without going through the security desk for the school department, which will occupy the majority of the space in the Ferdinand Building.
Koh says the incubator could attract startups working on education technology with its proximity to the school department. But other than a focus on local entrepreneurs, Koh said the city will not likely weigh in on what businesses should go into the incubator.
“We think rather than dictate to the public exactly what should go in there, we’d rather leave it to the public at large,” he commented. “We want to see what vendors envision for the space.”
The Walsh administration’s laissez faire approach is in keeping with standard practice for business incubators according to Eric Anderson, executive vice president of Cummings Properties and founder of the Massachusetts Association of Business Incubators.
Anderson says that the businesses in the six incubator spaces his firm currently operates self-organize and attract support services.
“By clustering small businesses, the incubators attract business services,” he said.
Smarter in the City will help the businesses in its incubator space build capacity with mentorship resources, marketing support and other services, according to Rosenzweig, who says he’s in conversation with several Dudley area landlords about leasing a space.
Rosenzweig’s startup will house five entrepreneurs, including two from Dorchester and one from Roxbury.
“We want to make sure that the startups we work with are people from the community as opposed to businesses from Cambridge who need more space,” he said.
Koh said the city is also considering prioritizing local businesses for its incubator and will select someone local to run the venture.
“The incubator will be run by someone local,” he said. “Someone who’s very invested in the community.”
Ultimately, the city’s investment in a business incubator will signal to the broader business community that the city is serious about business development in the area, Koh said.
“Our putting in the initial investment adds a lot of value,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to expand. Our hope is that as we continue to grow and invest, other companies will do that as well.”