Posts Tagged ‘greentown labs’

At Public Radio International, Jason Margolis and Ari Daniel reported recently on a Massachusetts business incubator focused on helping green startups by providing them with inexpensive space and shared tools.

“A few years ago, when Sorin Grama had just finished graduate work at MIT and was looking for a place to build his new solar electricity startup, he came across an old abandoned warehouse.

“ ‘My partner and I were looking at it and said, ‘Well, it’s a lot of space here, maybe others can join, it’s kind of lonely,” Grama says. ‘We put out a call to the MIT community.’

“Within weeks, a handful of startups were sharing that cavernous space.

“ ‘And we bonded. All the companies created a nice community, and we started sharing tools, people and ideas, and reading each other’s proposals for funding, things like that,’ Grama says. ‘We had a great Christmas party one year.’ …

“Today, their home is a massive old mid-19th century pipe factory in Somerville, just outside of Boston. It’s called Greentown Labs, and it’s one of the most successful in a new wave of what are called green business incubators, clusters of startups looking to build a business by helping cut carbon emissions and fight climate change. …

“They’re saving money [by getting started] at Greentown. If you need a power saw or an industrial press, no need to buy your own — just sign up for a time slot in the machine shop. The incubator also brings shared intellectual resources, like software, human resources, even PR help. …

“Outgrowing the incubator is part of the point, showing there’s money to be made tackling the world’s climate and energy challenges.

“It’s a growth area that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is betting on, putting millions in grants and loans toward a network of green tech incubators. Steven Pike, interim CEO of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, says it’s an efficient way to spend.

“ ‘We can try and go out and try to support individually 50 different companies,’ Pike says. Or, Massachusetts can invest in an incubator that supports 50 companies under one roof.

“He says Massachusetts has an audacious goal: ‘We want to be the Silicon Valley of clean energy, renewable energy.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Greentown Labs
Shared workspace at Greentown Labs.

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I was hoping to have a factory tour to write about this fall, but when I went to the MeetUp page to register, it turned out New England Factory Tours was taking a break.

I like factory tours. I remember a tour of a lima bean packaging factory on Shelter Island, NY, when I was a kid, and a Kodak tour when Suzanne and John were little.

I have often referred to the lima bean factory when trying to explain to colleagues why a good publishing process involves doing things at the right time. You wouldn’t try to put the lima beans in the package after you had pasted the wrapper around it, and you shouldn’t make lots of changes to your original paper after it has been copyedited, laid out, and readied for press.

What I gleaned from Kodak was mainly how much got thrown away. It seemed wasteful, but the guide said it was cheaper to toss things. I’d like to see the lean manufacturing that’s more common today.

The Boston Globe‘s Jon Christian wrote about a trip to manufacturer Built-Rite, which makes automation systems for industrial tasks.It’s in Lancaster, Mass.

“Built-Rite is the fourth plant visited by the group of manufacturing enthusiasts known as New England Factory Tours. Inspired by a similar group in San Francisco, it is indicative of the cachet manufacturing has gained in recent years as a new generation of entrepreneurs known as makers turn their attention from software and services toward tangible products — from hardware to drones to smartwatches.

“The growth of this movement is underscored by the emergence of shared workspaces such as Artisan’s Asylum in Somerville, the home of startups such as 3Doodler, the maker of a 3-D printing pen, and Greentown Labs, also in Somerville, a hardware incubator that houses wind turbine developer Altaeros Energies, weather sensor maker Understory, and other firms. …

“In Massachusetts, manufacturing still employs about 250,000 people, paying average wages of about $80,000 a year compared with about $60,000 for all industries, according to state labor statistics. Most manufacturing in the state is so-called advanced manufacturing that uses sophisticated processes, makes sophisticated products, and requires highly skilled workers.” More.

I’m hoping the MeetUp organizer gets going again. A factory tour is something fun to do with kids and can make a lasting impression.

Photo: Kieran Kesner for The Boston Globe
During a tour of Built-Rite Tool & Die, president Craig A. Bovaird (center) spoke with tour organizer Chris Denney and visitor Erik Sobel, a principal at Technology Research Laboratories.

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Rupa Shenoy had an interesting story on WGBH radio recently. It was about local startups interested in urban farming. I wrote previously about Higher Ground Farm, situated on top of the Design Center in South Boston, but Grove Labs, with its use of LED lighting for indoor gardening, was new to me.

Shenoy says, “Some of these new entrepreneurs are thinking big. Jamie Byron and Gabe Blanchet graduated from MIT and started Grove Labs two years ago with the idea to make every living room a potential growing space. …

“Their product is a cabinet that allows people to grow fruits and vegetables year-round in the home. It’s connected to the internet, controlled by an app on your phone, and designed to make urban farming easy and engaging.

“There are a few models set up in a space at Greentown Labs in Somerville, which they share with other startups. Each wooden cabinet, with several components, is about the size of an entertainment center.

“At the heart of the cabinet system is a fish swimming in a tank. The waste from that fish is sucked into tubes and converted into nitrate fertilizer. The fertilizer is pumped around the cabinet to trays filled with brown clay pebbles. That’s where the fruits and vegetables grow, with the pebbles serving as soil. Byron says once you get the system up and running, you can harvest enough for about two small salads everyday.” More at WGBH.

For more on using fish to fertilize your produce, see my recent post about an experiment in Duluth, here.

Photo: Rupa Shenoy / WGBH News
Somerville startup Grove Labs plans to sell cabinets for growing produce in your home.

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