First look: Harvard’s new Launch Lab, a home for alumni startups

Harvard-affiliated startups began moving into the university's new Launch Lab this month.
Harvard-affiliated startups began moving into the university's new Launch Lab this month.

Just three years after Harvard University opened its Innovation Lab, a space for students to develop startup ideas, there’s a new annex for alumni businesses located right across the street. The Launch Lab is intended to support not only recent grads who may be growing companies they started when they were students, but also alumni several years out who are working on new ventures. Both the Launch Lab and the Innovation Lab are in the former WGBH television complex on Western Avenue in Allston. I stopped by earlier this month to have a look…

launchlab1Jodi Goldstein, director of the Innovation Lab and one of the key players behind creating the Launch Lab, showed me around. She calls the 3000-square foot facility a “prototype for the future,” and says the goal is to “prove to the university that there’s demand for an entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Allston.” (The current sign at the entrance to Launch Lab, right, is also a prototype. The permanent one hasn’t yet arrived.) To be eligible for admission into the Launch Lab, only one person on a startup’s team has to be a Harvard alumnus. Right now, the price is $200 per desk, per month. That’s less than other local “coworking” spaces like CIC or Workbar, which charge about $350 per month. “We had some generous donors who are helping to subsidize this,” Goldstein says, adding that about half the operating costs of the Launch Lab are expected to come from rent, and half from donors. Harvard brought on a former Workbar staffer, Alison Baldyga, to help run the Launch Lab.

Goldstein says that before Harvard even began broadly publicizing the plans for Launch Lab, “we got about 50 applications.” The space can fit about 15 startups, she estimates, or 55 people total. Tenants began moving in earlier in September. “Teams don’t have to come straight from the i-lab,” she says. “But the common thread is that these are first-time entrepreneurs looking for coworking space.” The Launch Lab’s first-floor digs are in a Harvard-owned commercial building that is right next door to the university’s future site for an expanded School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

There are already 14 businesses working out of the space; the largest, with about 10 employees, is Censio. The company plans to use a smartphone app to monitor your driving habits — with your permission — to enable insurance companies to offer you a lower rate if you exhibit save driving habits. (IE, no excessive speeding, slamming on the brakes, etc.) Former Zipcar chief executive Scott Griffith is serving as the company’s interim chief executive, and the startup has already raised some early funding from General Catalyst and Bain Capital Ventures.

The rest of the tenants are listed below, following the photos.

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The Launch Lab has the obligatory “whiteboard walls” that send the message that innovation is taking place right here.

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Communal table in the kitchen. The Boston architecture firm Lineal designed the Launch Lab space.

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One of the conference rooms has sliding walls that allow it to be subdivided for smaller meetings.

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Jodi Goldstein of the Harvard Innovation Lab and Launch Lab. Goldstein was previously a co-founder of the wine startup Drync.

The other “inaugural tenants” of the Launch Lab are: ArtLifting, Project Lever, Six Foods, LifeGuides, Parsagen Diagnostics, Sonation, SplitNGo, CommonLit, Bounce Imaging, Opportunity Space, Seratis, PlenOptika, and Raiing Medical.

Among the donors behind the Launch Lab are Bruce Evans of the private equity firm Summit Partners and John Berylson of Chestnut Hill Ventures, owner of the English football team Millwall.

If you recall driving down Western Avenue when WGBH was still based there, you may recall a pedestrian bridge that connected the two buildings where the i-lab and Launch Lab are now located. It was demolished in 2007. I’m guessing that once January rolls around, Harvard’s entrepreneurs will be wishing it was still around…

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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