Informal Incubators: Startup Workspaces Sprouting Up in Unlikely Places (Including an Expelled MIT Frat House)

When Mahmoud Arram looked around last spring to move his web startup Sponty from his apartment to a real, live office space (to better accommodate the interns he needed to hire), he sought three things: a door that closed, lots of whiteboard space, and “access to really smart people.”

“It’s good to be able to bounce ideas off of very smart business people and engineers,” he says.

His hunt led Arram to some extra room that e-commerce company Allurent (his part-time employer) was renting out one floor below its main headquarters until it needed the room itself. And, as it happened, a handful of other startups were already working out of the Allurent space—on the third floor of the American Twine Building near Kendall Square in Cambridge, MA—generating the brainpower and buzz that he wanted. Arram not only got that enclosed office, it included almost an entire wall of whiteboard.

We know what you’re thinking—that there’s already a home at Allurent for new startups: Polaris Venture Partners’ Dogpatch Labs incubator. But that’s a formal program operated by a major venture firm, not what we’re talking about here. The space Sponty and the others work out of didn’t directly advertise itself as an entrepreneurs’ co-working environment, but that’s certainly what it seems to have become.

“It was definitely more serendipity than master plan, but I think the space and Allurent’s culture are very startup-friendly,” says Allurent co-founder (and Xconomist) Joe Chung. The real estate also contains the small conference rooms and big open space occupied by many desks that are characteristic of more traditional and intentional startup co-working environments.

It’s no secret that the greater Boston-area boasts a culture and infrastructure hospitable to a thriving startup economy. There are a multitude of venture capital firms with entrepreneur-in-residence programs, startup incubators (a la Dogpatch or TechStars), co-working spaces, and startup competitions—from the MIT 100K Business Plan Competition to the Harvard Business School Alumni New Venture Contest—too numerous to count (actually, we have counted them—see our X Lists). But while these different institutions or programs have set out with the intention of supporting entrepreneurs, we’ve also observed a more organic growth of startup-focused communities and groupings (like Allurent’s third floor) that … Next Page »

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