Greentown Labs, Somerville incubator for energy startups, plans major expansion

Emily Reichert, executive director of Greentown Labs in Somerville.
Emily Reichert, executive director of Greentown Labs in Somerville.

Greentown Labs, which already claims to house the largest collection of cleantech companies in the US, is planning to more than double in size next year. Emily Reichert, the executive director of the Somerville incubator, says it will add 53,000-square feet to its current 40,000-square foot facility, by taking over a nearby Maaco painting and body shop on Somerville Avenue.

In addition to providing office and laboratory space for startup companies, Greentown also houses research-and-development groups from big companies headquartered elsewhere, like Shell and Saint-Gobain, a French multinational. About 43 startups work out of Greentown today, and Reichert said that the incubator has had a waiting list of tenants who would like to move in since last December. Reichert says the expanded space will increase its capacity to about 100 startups. Greentown also hosts regular events for the startup community, including the EnergyBar networking night, and the expanded space will be able to accommodate 300-person gatherings.

Greentown plans to renovate the former Maaco facility, adding wet lab facilities for chemical and biological work, as well as 200-kilowatts of solar panels on the roof and two charging stations for electric vehicles. The $11 million project is expected to be completed by late 2016. Governor Charlie Baker attended Thursday’s event announcing the expansion.

Reichert says that Greentown began to realize an expansion was necessary late last year, when the waiting list began to grow. “We were only able to let in three new startups in the first six months of this year,” she says. Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone helped make the connection between Greentown and the owner of the Maaco facility, which is located just across an alleyway from Greentown’s current facility. The City of Somerville and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center are supplying $2 million in loans for the expansion, with the remaining $9 million coming from private lenders like the East Boston Savings Bank.

Matthew Seaton prunes tomato plants grown under red and blue LED lights at Grove, a startup at Greentown Labs that makes a system for growing food indoors.
Matthew Seaton prunes tomato plants grown under red and blue LED lights at Greentown Labs. This startup, Grove, makes a system for growing food indoors.
Greentown offers tenants light industrial workspace and access to a shared machine shop. Reichert says that the expanded space will allow companies to stick around longer as they grow. Having some more mature startups, she says, “is really valuable for the early ones that are still just one or two people. They can interact with companies that are further along.” Among the companies that have “graduated” from Greentown as they’ve grown are 3D printer startup Voxel8; Bevi, which is marketing a “smart” water cooler; RailPod, focused on railroad inspection; and Altaeros Energies, designing airborne wind turbines.

Greentown originally opened in the summer of 2010, when a group of four MIT-affiliated startups decided to rent some empty warehouse space in East Cambridge. It moved to Boston’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood when the original facility was demolished, and landed in Somerville, in the former Ames Safety Envelope complex, in 2013.

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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