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Somerville Clean Tech Startups are Bringing Manufacturing Jobs Back to Massachusetts

July 31, 2015 : Boston Business Journal, by Sara Castellanos

Somerville-based clean tech startup incubator Greentown Labs is on a mission to help connect hardware startups across the Boston area with local manufacturers.

With help from a $270,000 grant from MassDevelopment, Greentown Labs teamed up with the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP) earlier this year to help startups and manufacturers in the Bay State establish mutually beneficial relationships.

The initiative came out of the realization that startup founders building physical products in mass quantities need guidance when it comes to figuring out how to find and partner with manufacturing companies.

"Crossing that chasm of going from a prototype to something that can be tested in the field to mass production is really hard for startups to do," said Greentown Labs CEO and Executive Director Emily Reichert.

Many early-stage startup founders developing hardware products don't want to outsource jobs to places like China, but they don't know which local manufacturers are trusted and affordable, Reichert said.

That's why Greentown Labs and MassMEP partnership is working on developing a database where startups can search for local manufacturers and rate them based on performance. Reichert hopes the project will be finished in about six months, and the need for it is clear, she said.

"Our startups in the Boston area don't even necessarily know these (local manufacturers) exist," she said.

Greentown Labs and MassMEP have also spent several months visiting manufacturing companies and production sites, hosting tours of manufacturers, and developing educational programs designed to connect and build relationships between startups and local manufacturers.

So far, Greentown Labs has worked with 27 startups across five incubator and accelerator programs in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville in its effort to connect startups with local manufacturers in Springfield, Worcester and the South Coast.

"The benefit there is that startups can do things less expensively and faster if they're more knowledgable about what it is they're asking for, and manufacturers have the opportunity to get new business and be exposed to new technologies," Reichert said.

Ultimately, the Greentown Labs manufacturing initiative will make it easier for startup founders to bring manufacturing jobs back to Massachusetts — a trend that's becoming more popular among companies in the Bay State.

"We're seeing these startups leading the way on this," Reichert said. "They don't want to go to China. They want to figure out how to do it here. It's a very exciting opportunity for startups in the Boston area to be a vanguard of that trend."

Current startups in the Greentown Labs incubator program include: Accion Systems, an MIT spinout providing propulsion systems to the rapidly growing satellite industry; weather and analytics company Understory; and Bevi, which makes vending kiosks which filter and bottle beverages at the point of use, instead of in a bottling plant.

The 76 startups that have participated in the program since it was founded in 2011 have raised $97 million in investor funding. The startups in the incubator program are expected to reach the $100 million mark within the next few weeks, Reichert said. That's up from $44 million in total cumulative funding as of May 2014.

© Copyright 2015 Boston Business Journal.