Industry Lab founder Andrew (AJ) Meyer, left, with building manager Justice McDaniel at 1280 Cambridge Street. (Photo: Andy Zucker)

Industry Lab is home to a dizzying array of talented tenants: a young singer, Anjimile, who records folk songs; filmmakers; robotics and medical device start-ups; a law firm specializing in intellectual property; a graduate student doing research; and software developers, to name a few.

Industry Lab is one of more than a dozen coworking and incubator spaces in Cambridge, operations largely invisible to the public but essential to Greater Boston’s success in fostering innovation in areas such as biotechnology, robotics and 3D printing.

Industry Lab’s machine shop. (Photo: Andy Zucker)

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology alone produces 450 startups every year, and Harvard’s Innovation Lab (i-Lab) enrolls more than 500 students a year, the universities report. Coworking spaces give them a place to go and grow. Formlabsa maker of 3D printers, was started by three MIT students who rented space at Industry Lab more than a decade ago, for example, and now has its own offices in Somerville and 500 employees in more than a half -dozen countries.

Founded in 2011 in 288 Norfolk Streetin the Wellington-Harrington district, with enough space for around 130 people, Industry Lab recently added a building to 1280 Cambridge Street which will eventually house more than 100 people closer to Inman Square. Industry Lab manages approximately 17,000 square feet in each of the century-old industrial brick buildings.

The anechoic chamber, used as a recording or meditation studio, at Industry Lab. (Photo: Andy Zucker)

Inside the Norfolk Street building are offices, conference rooms, kitchens on each floor, whiteboards, sculptures, paintings, laser cutters, 3D printers, robots, a small anechoic chamber lined with foam that serves as a recording studio and sometimes a space for meditation. , event spaces and a well-equipped machine shop available to all tenants. The second building will soon house a library. Tenants range from freelancers to businesses that employ up to 25 employees. Some spaces are private, but most occupants work in large rooms, sharing space with others.

Industry Growth Lab

Industry Lab occupies space on Norfolk Street that was once a dry cleaning factory – called ‘French’ on the side of the building because dry cleaning was developed in France. (Photo: Andy Zucker)

In 2009, Andrew (AJ) Meyer and three colleagues started a company called LeafLabs while at MIT. Meyer founded Industry Lab in part because the LeafLabs team graduated and the company needed space. LeafLabs, which develops hardware and software for specialized computer applications, is now a multimillion-dollar company with 25 employees.

Meyer decided to add a second building to IL because he found that as companies grew beyond about 10 employees, they had different needs. The building at 1280 Cambridge is built for that, Meyer said, and now includes LeafLabs, Pickle Robots (the second of Meyer’s tech startups, also with 25 employees) and a few others. The owner, Nai Nan Ko, became a partner.

Working at Industry Lab

Chris Fitch of Pickle Robots, a tenant of Industry Lab, with equipment known as “Big Dill”. (Photo: Andy Zucker)

Meyer thinks the collegiality and sharing of ideas that happens in spaces like the Industry Lab is important for nurturing a community and for innovation to flourish. Many lasting friendships have been formed between its tenants, he said, and many creative ideas have taken shape based on the connections made there, including a multimillion-dollar engineering project that has involved at one time more than a quarter of the tenants. Community-building events were sponsored by IL almost weekly before the pandemic. Industry Lab Website also promotes its community by providing information on dozens of current and past tenants, representing over 700 occupants.

Another belief of Meyer that differentiates Industry Lab from other coworking spaces in Cambridge: people in the arts and technology field benefit from spending time with each other. Artists were among the tenants from the start and created the exhibited works. Justice McDaniel, who manages both buildings, was first affiliated with Industry Lab through its Artist-in-Residence program, working rent-free and hosting an exhibition of his work there.

Paintings by Industry Lab tenants at 288 Norfolk St. (Photo: Andy Zucker)

Another distinguishing feature is that Meyer interviews potential tenants and manages the space, only renting to people he trusts and aiming for diversity in the work they do. There are no lockers; tenants agree to respect everyone’s property.

Tenants – or residents, as Meyer sometimes calls them – have the latitude to paint the walls, drill holes or make other modifications to the space they rent, as long as they follow the codes of the building and common sense. “You shouldn’t feel valuable to the building. You’re here to do what you’re going to do, and if you want to draw on the walls, fine,” Meyer said during a Feb. 1 visit. It’s an approach he said he learned at MIT’s Building 20, an incubator space built as a temporary structure during World War II where occupants were given leeway to make changes to suit their needs.

Shared space and musical instruments at Industry Lab. (Pictures: Andy Zucker)

Many entrepreneurial spaces in Cambridge have strong ties to MIT, the city or venture capital; Industry Lab and a few others do not. Generally, prices are generally low in IL – more affordable for people and businesses without risk capital. Tenants can rent only the space they need. At the low end, rates including all amenities are $487 per month for a “full office” and $336 per month for a smaller space with a “coder desk.”

Industry Lab as a company

The mural recently commissioned by Industry Lab outside 288 Norfolk St. (Photo: Andy Zucker)

The pandemic, when so many tenants did not want to spend time indoors with others, was not good for Industry Lab’s business. The availability of vaccines has helped and the business is recovering.

Very high occupancy is necessary for coworking businesses to make a profit, and renting and re-renting offer low margins at best. In fact, Meyer said, “coworking is a terrible business.” He saw the WeWork company expand into hundreds of locations in dozens of countries and became a center of attention for investors thinking it would be a major flop, he said. It was – at least before foreign investor SoftBank bailed it out – becoming the subject of critical articles, books, documentaries and even an upcoming TV drama miniseries.

“I don’t mind telling you that we didn’t make money from real estate,” Meyer said. Yet he doesn’t regret starting Industry Lab and, during a pandemic, deciding to expand. LeafLabs and Pickle Robots startups “wouldn’t exist without Industry Lab and the social network that helped cultivate these companies.” Several tenants express similar feelings.

Meyer values ​​talented people and the work they do. “For us,” he said, “return on investment has always been the value of community.”FacebookTwittermail

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