Celebrating 20 years of bold experimentation at CIC

It began as an experiment.

Before CIC opened its doors in 1999, the only workspace options our founder and CEO Tim Rowe could find for his startup were multi-year leases. For a fledgling company that might not survive a few months, let alone a few years, real estate essentially represented a non-option. Thus Cambridge Innovation Center was born: a single floor of workspace shared among friends, each building their own ventures.

Though we knew that entrepreneurs needed better infrastructure to support their efforts, we didn’t know if our vision for flexible, shared workplaces would...well...work.

The bigger experiment, however, turned out to be that of putting ambitious innovators together under the same roof. We quickly discovered that density spurs collaboration and shared purpose drives a thriving community.

Since 1999, CIC has been home to over 6,000 companies across virtually every industry and stage of growth. And that single floor of workspace has multiplied to now encompass over one million square feet across six global campuses, with several more under development.  

The most meaningful outcomes of these 20 years are the groundbreaking innovations that our members have championed while calling CIC home.

From Cambridge to Miami and across the pond to the Netherlands, we have supported CICers in the day to day as they develop life-saving medical treatments and build impactful technologies that seemed like science fiction just a few years before. We have been inspired as our members use their creativity to uplift their communities and leave careers behind to pursue their true passions. We have witnessed them test, pivot, course correct, and overcome the setbacks inherent to building a business from scratch.

To celebrate CIC’s 20th anniversary, we celebrate the members who got us here. Thank you.  

Below, meet 12 of the companies at CIC that have joined us in experimenting boldly and improving the world through innovation.

Jonathan Marcoschamer inside a prototype of OpenSeed’s meditation pod at CIC Miami.

Jonathan Marcoschamer inside a prototype of OpenSeed’s meditation pod at CIC Miami.

OPENSEED

When Jonathan Marcoschamer brought his company, OpenSeed, to CIC Miami, he did more than scope out his preferred desk; he pitched a prototype of his meditation pod as an addition to CIC’s wellness initiatives. “Joining CIC was one of the best decisions I’ve made for the company,” says Marcoschamer. “It opened up opportunities for collaborations and offered an ecosystem of service providers, investors, and a strong peer support system.”

OpenSeed’s enclosed microenvironments — built in with guided meditations, therapeutic sounds, aromatherapy, and more — aim to make meditation easy and convenient in workplaces and commercial locations where people might otherwise find it difficult to start or maintain their practice. “Stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, and other epidemics have cost Americans billions of dollars in medical bills and lost productivity,” Marcoschamer says. Based on the science of meditation, “our purpose is to facilitate access to deeper states of relaxation and higher states of awareness that elevate wellbeing.”

JDRF T1D Fund

Since its inception in December 2016, the JDRF T1D Fund has been actively expanding its team and network. “We’re the first scale, mission-driven venture philanthropy fund focused on commercial investments in companies developing life-saving type 1 diabetes (T1D) products,” says Sean Doherty, Executive Director of the T1D Fund. “We needed a place to accommodate a growing staff with appropriate meeting space for hosting companies and co-investors, along with ample resources to assure staff time is not spent on the operations of running an independent office.”

Time saved on ordering more coffee for the office or changing printer toner is instead dedicated to creating a new investment market aimed at delivering solutions to those living with or at risk of developing T1D. The fund’s growing portfolio consists of therapeutics, devices, vaccines, and diagnostics. “The opportunity to attend network events through CIC has helped us spread our mission and learn more about similar startups in the community,” Doherty says.

BRAIN POWER

When Dr. Ned T. Sahin first visited CIC for a startup bootcamp, he was a self-identified “recovering PhD student with daydreams of applying neuroscience to help the world, yet I knew nothing about entrepreneurship.” He immediately signed up for a small coworking desk where he would start building Brain Power, a company creating innovation solutions for children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ADHD.

Empowered Brain, the company’s suite of augmented reality apps that run on Google Glass, teaches emotional understanding, eye contact, conversational skills, and more. “Spending ten to 30 minutes a day playing our clinically validated, neuroscience-based games (yes, games) has been scientifically shown to improve the ‘soft skills’ of people with autism and ADHD,” Sahin says. These apps, with more in the pipeline, are currently used in US schools as well as by families in ten countries. Meanwhile, Brain Power has significantly expanded its footprint at CIC since Sahin began renting a desk five years ago. “Now we have a row of window offices on a high floor,” he says. “It has been a fun, wild ride and exactly what a startup needs.”

Venture For America Fellows gathered.

Venture For America Fellows gathered.

VENTURE FOR AMERICA

Adaptive excellence, grit, resilience, ability to contribute to a growing startup — these are all skills that Venture For America tests among candidates for their nonprofit fellowship programs across the US. “VFA’s two-year fellowship program is directly influencing who can become an entrepreneur in this country by lowering the barriers to entry,” says Development and Communications Manager Carson Koser. Fellows work for two years in a startup and gain access to ongoing mentorship, training, and investments, which include a seed fund and an accelerator program. Most recently, the nonprofit launched an initiative called Operate 3 to 300, in partnership with Uber and UBS, to empower 300 women and people of color to launch businesses through VFA by 2021.

Ultimately, VFA’s mission is to create economic opportunity in American cities by mobilizing the next generation of entrepreneurs and equipping them with the skills and resources they need to create jobs. Speaking on VFA’s presence at CIC St. Louis and in the wider Cortex innovation community, Koser says, “our organizations both believe in the power of innovation, collaboration, and the positive effect that startups have on local economic ecosystems.”

Members of the Spacemaker AI team.

Members of the Spacemaker AI team.

Spacemaker AI

Just over half of the world’s population currently lives in cities; according to the United Nations, that proportion is expected to increase to 68 percent by 2050.

“To house the people of the future, we need to build higher and denser, but we refuse to believe this has to come at the cost of decreasing quality of life for everyone in cities,” says Karoline Skatteboe, Boston Lead and Data Scientist at Spacemaker AI. “We believe that human and machine collaboration will be vital to solving this challenge.”

Spacemaker’s platform allows developers and architects to use artificial intelligence on a massive scale to generate optimal solutions to multi-building residential development design based on physical data, regulations, and project requirements. In a matter of hours, users can optimize, analyze, and compare potential layouts based on a range of parameters — from sun exposure to apartment size.

Founded in Norway, Spacemaker chose Boston for its international expansion, settling at CIC Cambridge in Fall 2018. “The talent pool in Boston and the amount of interesting people you meet at every corner are unparalleled,” Skatteboe says.

CIC Philadelphia member GLBL VLLG is expanding its urban wellness and creativity programs worldwide.

CIC Philadelphia member GLBL VLLG is expanding its urban wellness and creativity programs worldwide.

GLBL VLLG

Upon launching in Fall 2018, CIC Philadelphia hosted a pitch competition for startups whose work centered around positively impacting their city. Winners were awarded 75 days of complimentary coworking space. Among these winners was GLBL VLLG, an interactive entertainment company that’s building community and redefining urban wellness by celebrating the creative spirit in all people. At a time of increasing commercialization around wellness, GLBL VLLG aims to make wellness accessible to everyone and to diversify what wellness can look like. President and CEO Lyonzo Vargas cites eight dimensions of wellness: social, environmental, physical, emotional, spiritual, occupational, intellectual, and financial.

GLBL VLLG is known for the VLLG Jam, “the only concert where the audience is the headliner.” “People come to the VLLG Jam to express themselves unapologetically through singing, speaking, dancing, painting, or just being part of the energy of the space,” Vargas says. As the company prepares for its first annual ManiFEST, an urban wellness and interactive entertainment festival, it’s connecting with partners in cities beyond Philadelphia to bring their vision around the globe.

Voatz

When mobile election startup Voatz first demonstrated its blockchain-powered voting platform three years ago, the biggest takeaway for founder Nimit Sawhney was: how do you gain trust with users? Today the issue of secure elections — whether mobile or analog — remains contentious. But Voatz is unwavering in its mission to make voting safer and more accessible, and the company has several notches on its belt to show for it. Since we last checked in with Sawhney on the CIC blog in early 2018, Voatz has partnered with governments to conduct high-profile pilot programs in West Virginia and Denver, bringing its total count to 80,000 votes cast across 39 elections. And just this month, the team announced it had raised $7 million in a Series A funding round led by Medici Ventures and Techstars. “We’ve been so surprised and humbled by the response,” says Sawhney.

SpeakSee designs its accessibility tech at CIC Rotterdam.

SpeakSee designs its accessibility tech at CIC Rotterdam.

SpeakSee

We may be living in a hyper-connected age, but that hasn’t solved the communication challenges that exist for many of the world’s 465 million people who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing. “We value inclusion and want to break down the communication barriers that a lot of people with hearing loss are still experiencing in the 21st century,” says Bilyana Konstantinova from the marketing department at SpeakSee. The crowdfunded company, based out of CIC Rotterdam, has created the first automatic transcription tool built for group conversations where each speaker is identified. Transcriptions can be read on any device with a browser and an internet connection, anywhere in the world.

Deaf and hard of hearing individuals often have to choose between booking their own assistive services for important events in their lives or missing out on them. “With our device they have the freedom to join spur of the moment group meets, impromptu family gatherings, or simply chat with their colleagues and friends,” Konstantinova says. “We were drawn to CIC because of its multiculturalism and the opportunities here to meet companies passionate about inclusion, sustainability, and, most importantly, innovation.”

Upstream USA has offices across the country, including at CIC Boston.

Upstream USA has offices across the country, including at CIC Boston.

Upstream USA

For a nonprofit dedicated to expanding opportunity by reducing unplanned pregnancies, it’s fitting that Upstream USA joined the CIC community by way of Impact Hub Boston, our partner coworking space at CIC Boston for social impact organizations. “Our approach empowers women to decide when and if they want to become pregnant, a critical step towards improving outcomes for parents, children, and society,” says Sara Terpeny, Digital Communications Manager at Upstream.

Upstream partners with states to provide training and technical assistance to health centers in order to provide all women with same-day access to the birth control methods of their choice. Following the organization’s first statewide intervention in Delaware, a leading national research center estimated a 24 percent decrease in unplanned pregnancies among Title X patients between 2014 and 2017. As Upstream expands, their goal through 2023 is to partner with health center serving over 1 million women across four states. “Over time, CIC provided us with the flexibility of having a dedicated space for the team that could grow with us,” Terpeny says.

Innovation Underwriters

In Fall 2019, CIC’s newest industry partnership will launch: Innovation Underwriters. Through coworking, programming, and networking, this nonprofit insurance collaborative is dedicated to accelerating insurance and risk assessment innovation.

Executive Director Charlie Sidoti recalls his first months training at a large insurance company in his 20s: “I wrote an open letter to management making a case to purchase laptop computers for the consulting staff and to let them work from home. The only computer access consultants had at the time was to an internal email system via shared green screen terminals. All reports and correspondence were dictated and transcribed by a pool of administrative assistants, Mad Men style.” The letter enraged some staff members, including senior management. However, it also generated awareness and ultimately accelerated the company’s adoption of new technology and work practices.

Today, Sidoti sees his role with CIC and Innovation Underwriters as having come full circle from his early days in insurance. “I spend my days developing programs that are essentially open letters to the industry about new technology and work practices,” he says. “I loved shaping the conversation then as I do now.”

Purpl Scientific is accelerating the cannabis industry from its CIC St. Louis office.

Purpl Scientific is accelerating the cannabis industry from its CIC St. Louis office.

Purpl Scientific

Cannabis is on the rise, and with that, Purpl Scientific is working to reduce the guesswork of cannabis quality and chemical composition throughout the complete lifecycle — from the farm to the dispensary. “We’ve harnessed the same science and technology that was originally developed for the agriculture and pharmaceutical industries and shrunk them, both in size and price, without reducing their power and effect,” says the company’s president, Chad Lieber. “In short, we put the power of a cannabis testing laboratory into a device that fits in your pocket.” The tool measures both THC and CBD content, offering greater accessibility to product information in an industry that’s slowly standardizing after decades of operating without transparency or oversight. “As a growing technology startup in a progressive industry, we thought it essential to surround ourselves with like-minded people and companies,” Lieber says on working out of CIC St. Louis. “And it’s a perfect biking distance from our homes!”

iClusion

Clinical trials don’t just advance science; they also serve as in-the-moment treatment alternatives for patients. iClusion aims to make the clinical trial process faster, more effective, and more accessible for cancer patients and oncologists. “Our Trial Eye platform connects study sponsors, hospitals, physicians, and their patients in a closed-loop ecosystem,” says CEO Hanneke Janssen. Rather than each group remaining siloed, iClusion’s clinical study portal invites various stakeholders to connect. “This speeds up clinical trial accrual and therefore the entire drug development process.”

iClusion believes its new model is nothing short of revolutionary. “We chose CIC Rotterdam because of its exciting and stimulating atmosphere of startup entrepreneurs surrounding themselves with people who want to leave their footprint on the planet,” Janssen says. “Our footprint involves changing the lives of cancer patients.”

Member photos courtesy of subjects