The moment that seemed like it might never arrive actually did.
Smarter in the City, a business development program for high-tech startups in Dudley Square, opened its doors Wednesday in a second-floor space at 100 Warren Street. The launch followed difficulties raising money and securing sponsors, and doubts from others in Boston’s technology community about whether Dudley could be a viable location.
To be sure, Smarter in the City’s new digs are a far cry from what much of the local innovation crowd is accustomed to. The building feels cramped and lacks air conditioning. The closest place to get your computer fixed is a shop down the street called Geekz ’n the Hood. Leaving their shared office in the evening, entrepreneurs are greeted by the sight of neighboring business owners rolling metal grates over their storefront windows to deter burglars.
You just don’t see this stuff in Kendall Square or the Seaport.
Then again, you don’t need a trendy address to write code, and members of the first class of five startups are excited to be here.
“Most startups begin in somebody’s basement, so this is a definite step up,” said Keith Donaldson, founder of StoryMap Solutions, which aims to help museums create interactive maps for their exhibits.
A key question is whether Smarter in the City can come close to matching the networking power of accelerators like TechStars and MassChallenge, which excel at connecting entrepreneurs with mentors and funders. Their neighborhoods are teeming with tech veterans and venture capitalists, and there seems to be a new schmooze-fest every day.
Not so in Dudley. Yet Smarter in the city founder Gilad Rosenzweig has managed to recruit mentors from Fiksu, the Tap Lab, and Harvard IQSS. Google has offered engineering help to the new class of startups, and footed the bill for Wednesday’s celebratory reception at the nearby Haley House Bakery Café.
Rosenzweig has said he won’t be shy about pressuring the first class of five startups to prove skeptics wrong. And he’s putting pressure on himself to raise more money to make sure the first class is not the last. Most of what he’s collected has come from charities, like the Boston Foundation and the Lewis Family Foundation.
“Now I want to get more private companies on board to help show that this is really credible,” he said.