Boston Study Tour – Part 2: Co-working Spaces

Study tour

Reducing CAPEX investments, raising funds, and linkages to universities

Co-working spaces for start-up companies are a global trend and this is easily visible in the Boston area where several start-ups are incubated in such an environment. This is not a unique phenomenon as such spaces can be found in several cities globally, including Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa. Of particular interest in Boston are some of the spaces created by the universities that link them to start-up companies and provide support not only in terms of space but human resources – in the form of student interns – and infrastructure such as wet labs. One such space visited by the team of experts developing diagnostics tools in the SADC region was the Entrepreneur Innovation Centre at the Framingham State University.

Another co-working space visited, but with a different approach, was the i-lab which links entrepreneurs with breakthrough innovations inside the Harvard University, taking them from idea stage through to prototype. Within this framework is the Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator which has partnered with industry through collaborations and licensing transactions with existing pharmaceutical and biotech companies, or through the formation of new start-ups on technologies including therapeutics, diagnostics/biomarkers, instruments and other biomedical technologies. From the $16 million invested in funding, more than $28 million in industry-sponsored research funding has been raised in these alliances with potential to generate significant royalty income. Significant learnings can be drawn from such a model – particularly for research institutions in the SADC region that focus on biomedical and biotechnology research – both in terms of leveraging of funding resources and the essential link to private sector in commercialising research outputs.

Another co-working environment visited is the Cambridge Innovation Centre which houses more than 1000 companies from various industrial sectors and encompassing companies at various stages of growth, from start-ups to large companies as well as investors and service providers. On this trip, the team of innovators from the SADC region also visited Seeding Labs – a non-governmental organization that empowers scientists in the developing countries by providing them with equipment to pursue life changing research and to better teach and inform the future generation.

Such services provided in the Boston area, to better support start-up companies, are perhaps some of the strongest features in creating an ecosystem conducive for innovation.