Cambridge Innovation Center expands to Rotterdam with first overseas office

Cambridge Innovation Center’s overseas office will be in Rotterdam’s
Groot Handelsgebouw, a 1.1 million-square-foot former warehouse.
Cambridge Innovation Center’s overseas office will be in Rotterdam’s Groot Handelsgebouw, a 1.1 million-square-foot former warehouse.

For most of its 16-year history, Cambridge Innovation Center has stuck close to its Kendall Square roots.

Now it’s jumping the Atlantic.

Today, the startup hub is announcing its first international expansion, a 140,000-square-foot office in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam that could eventually house up to 500 companies. CIC’s founder and chief executive, Tim Rowe, said the expansion is a natural — though big — step for an organization that prides itself on helping entrepreneurs with ideas create products.

“We think, obviously, that innovation is a global phenomenon,” Rowe said. “We’re looking for ways to bridge across continents and connect innovation in Europe to innovation happening here. In this business one plus one is three.”

Rowe launched the company in 1999, and it has since become a key ingredient of the Cambridge startup scene. It now manages about 500,000 square feet of office space that it rents to some 800 companies, mostly startups and innovation units of big companies, but also to investors and related companies. Though it has seven locations, much of its operations are in Kendall Square. Two years ago, CIC launched its first out-of-town startup center, in St. Louis, and last year it opened one in downtown Boston. The center has been looking at locations in Europe for some time.

It chose the Netherlands, Rowe said, for the country’s strong startup culture and one of the highest entrepreneurship rates in Europe. Rotterdam is “the Boston” of the Netherlands, Rowe said, because it is near many of the nation’s best universities. It also has the cultural heritage of being Europe’s largest port, a trade hub, and the place from which many Europeans emigrated to the United States.

CIC is signing a 15-year lease in the Groot Handelsgebouw, a 1.1 million-square-foot former warehouse and iconic piece of Rotterdam’s postwar rebuilding effort. It’s now the country’s biggest business center, across from the city’s central rail station.

The project has been two years in the making, with Rowe and other CIC executives making many trips to the Netherlands to meet with university officials, business leaders, and even the king. CIC already has a managing director in place in Rotterdam and partnerships with universities and economic development groups. It has agreements with two large Dutch companies to rent space, though Rowe said he couldn’t yet name them, and is talking with a number of startups. CIC plans a soft opening this fall and an official grand opening in early 2016.

CIC’s expansion probably won’t stop there, Rowe said. He said he’s in “fairly advanced” talks about another startup hub in the United States, and “early” talks about other international locations.

“There’s kind of a renaissance of startup activity globally,” he said. “It’s just the right time for us to be doing this.”