Greentown Labs Gives Green Energy Startups the Green Light

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This story appears in the September 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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In late 2010, four energy entrepreneurs pooled their resources for an affordable Boston warehouse space where they could build hardware prototypes. Today that collective has ballooned into Greentown Labs—33,000 square feet of office, event and machine-shop space that incubates more than 40 energy and clean-technology startups.

In addition to workspace, members get shared machine-shop tools, free software licensing and access to hardware such as 3-D printers. “They basically get about $130,000 in resources,” says Greentown Labs CEO Emily Reichert. And that’s not including the benefit of working alongside dozens of engineers who can help troubleshoot in a pinch.

Educational workshops and one-on-ones cover topics like manufacturing, marketing, scaling overseas, intellectual property and government funding and contracts. Exposure to angel, VC and corporate investors is ongoing, with financiers periodically visiting from as far as Silicon Valley and an annual demo day attracting roughly 250 attendees, Reichert says.

Greentown Labs doesn’t take a cut of its startups. Instead, members pay $425 per desk per month and $3.20 per square foot of lab space monthly. There’s no limit to how long companies can stay, although most leave after an average of 16 months, usually after raising a big financing round, Reichert says. To date, 75 companies have used the space, with alumni scattering around the U.S. Collectively, they’ve created more than 300 jobs and raised more than $70 million in funds.

Silverside Detectors, which develops nuclear radiation detection technology, joined Greentown Labs in 2013 after winning two prizes in a prestigious startup competition. Although the company needed a place to build and test prototypes, it couldn’t shoulder the burden of a long-term commercial lease and accompanying overhead, says Sarah Haig, co-founder and COO. 

“It’s a Catch-22,” Haig explains. “You need a prototype in order to get any sort of funding. But you need funding in order to get space where you can prototype. So Greentown Labs was a godsend.”

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