So long, Dogpatch Cambridge: Polaris’ startup hatchery is no more

Employees of Localytics working at Dogpatch Labs Cambridge in 2012.
Employees of Localytics working at Dogpatch Labs Cambridge in 2012.

R.I.P. Dogpatch Labs Cambridge.

The startup hatchery, which once provided free office space in Kendall Square to selected startups, quietly closed in December, according to David Barrett, the venture capitalist at Polaris Partners who had been responsible for the space. It had operated for about five years.

Created by former Polaris investor Mike Hirshland and named for a gritty San Francisco neighborhood, Dogpatch once offered shared space to entrepreneurs in the Bay Area, New York, Cambridge, and Dublin, Ireland. The goal was to support founders — and to give Polaris an early look at how their businesses were progressing. Now only the Dublin Dogpatch remains.

When last we heard from Dogpatch Cambridge, in January of 2013, the Polaris team member who was managing the network, Gus Weber, left the firm for a gig at ESPN. Dogpatch also moved out of space managed by Microsoft Cambridge, where it shared a floor with the Techstars accelerator program, and into a building at 101 Main Street managed by Cambridge Innovation Center. The rent went from being on the house for everyone to being subsidized for some of the Dogpatch denizens.

After Weber’s departure, Barrett took responsibility for Dogpatch. And over much of last year, startups that had worked out of the space moved out — primarily to the Boston side of the Charles, and especially to Downtown Crossing and Chinatown. Barrett explained the decision to shut down Dogpatch via e-mail:

…Over 3 years the ecosystem here obviously progressed to the point where Dogpatch Labs was not as needed by the community at large — nor any longer as unique as it was at its beginning. With great groups like TechStars, CIC, WeWork, hack/reduce, etc., the BOS/Cambridge ecosystem is now obviously well-served. Over & above, we wanted to keep re-inventing how we work with the innovation community, so in addition to our “standard” courses of work, we’ve stepped up partnering and entrepreneurial mentoring with the Harvard, MIT and Dartmouth communities. You might know, for example, that we are founding investors in Harvard’s XFund, along with Accel & NEA.

Entrepreneurs who benefitted from the free space and the interaction with other founders say they’re sad to see Dogpatch Cambridge disappear. “Dogpatch gave Yesware much more than free rent and bandwidth,” writes CEO Matthew Bellows. “It was the ultimate startup test kitchen — equal parts proofing oven, pressure cooker, blender and tasting room. We were there for six formative months in 2011, and in many ways Dogpatch made us who we are today.”

CO Everywhere founder Anthony Longo says that after moving back to Boston from New York, Dogpatch was the perfect place to reconnect with the local startup scene. Having an urgent question answered by another entrepreneur was “just one chair-roll away,” he says. Among the companies that operated out of one of the various Dogpatch locations around the U.S. were Instagram (acquired by Facebook), Localytics, Bark Box, and Spindle (acquired by Twitter). But Polaris only invested in a fraction of the startups that used space at Dogpatch — and that fraction didn’t include Instagram, unfortunately.

And as for the Dublin location, Barrett says that one will endure. He writes:

Over the last 2 years, the Dublin Dogpatch Labs has continued to strike a vein of entrepreneurial enthusiasm much like Cambridge, SF, & NYC did years ago, and as a result, is filling a similar community need as did the US Labs did when they started. You might know, as example, that we helped move Logentries from its Dublin founding and [University College Dublin] roots to the Innovation District last year, and hired Andrew Burton, formerly LogMeIn’s SVP Product, as CEO, and Doug McNary, SmartBear’s CEO, to its Board. We and the founding team did this because we felt Boston to be the best place build a world-class team and build a significant company in the US.

Earlier this week, Polaris added former Spindle CEO Pat Kinsel as a venture partner. The firm is currently investing out of a $375 million fund it raised in 2010; that one was $625 million smaller than its prior fund.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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