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Fairmount Innovation Lab expands with new lab space

Entrepreneurs cut the ribbon on expanded Columbia Road office

Yawu Miller | 2/1/2017, 11:46 a.m.
A year-and-a-half into its operation, the Fairmount Innovation Lab seems to be thriving, with nine businesses and artists employing 15 ...
I am Kréyol owner Joelle Jean-Fontaine cuts the ceremonial ribbon on the Fairmount Innovation Lab’s new Columbia Road space. Banner photo

Satara Halfkenny-Wilson is producing superhero-themed chew toys for dogs and children.

“They’re made of food-grade silicon,” she says, holding mock-ups of two of the toys created on the Fairmount Innovation Lab’s 3-D printer.

Satara Halfkenny-Wilson displays mock-ups of chew toys she’s planning to manufacture.

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Satara Halfkenny-Wilson displays mock-ups of chew toys she’s planning to manufacture.

Artist Stephen Hamilton is working on a graphic novel drawing from Yoruba oral stories. The panels are painted on traditional West African textiles.

“It’s all centered in West African tradition,” he says.

Occupying a corner of the Fairmount Innovation Lab facing the bustling intersection of Columbia Road and Stoughton and Dudley streets, Justin Springer’s Outside the Box Agency handles marketing for businesses in the lab and other businesses throughout the city.

“This is the best view,” Springer says of his corner window. “I like that our business is staying in the community. I never wanted my business to be downtown. I like the energy of the community.”

A year and a half into its operation, the Fairmount Innovation Lab seems to be thriving, with nine businesses and artists employing 15 people in its third startup cohort.

The lab opened in 2015 in the Masonic Building across Dudley Street from its current 594 Columbia Road location. In October, the lab moved to its current space on the second floor of Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation’s office building. Last week, entrepreneurs and artists housed in the lab held an open house, inviting in members of the public to view their work and their workspace.

Liora Beer, director of the lab, says businesses that have come through the four-month accelerator program there have had generally positive results.

“We’ve helped people to retool their ideas to become more sustainable,” she said. “Some of them realized they weren’t ready to launch yet. Some of them took off.”

State Rep. Evandro Carvalho and Liora Beer address supporters gathered at the Fairmount Lab.

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State Rep. Evandro Carvalho and Liora Beer address supporters gathered at the Fairmount Lab.

Opening doors

The Fairmount Lab takes its name from the nearby commuter rail line that runs from Hyde Park through Mattapan, Dorchester and Roxbury to South Station. With new stations added to the line and MBTA promising better service, many see the rail corridor as a potential nexus for economic development that could benefit the 135,000 people living in proximity to the line. The Boston Planning and Development Agency completed a study in 2015 of the corridor looking at infrastructure improvements and opportunities for public investment.

Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative Executive Director Juan Leyton says the incubator space is an important investment in the arts and business climate along the corridor.

“They’re opening up doors for a lot of businesses and artists who wouldn’t have opportunities otherwise,” he said. “Artists and businesses are an important part of the fabric of this community. Here they’re learning the skills so they can develop their businesses.”

Participating startups receive space in the 2,000-square-foot space the lab leases from Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation at an affordable rent. They also receive access to free legal assistance, networking sessions, business trainings and marketing assistance.

“We’re looking to create the infrastructure of entrepreneurs who can share resources at a reduced rate,” Beer said.

Fab Lab

In addition to business services, the businesses have access to a fabrication lab, where an engineer-in-residence helps them to create prototypes like Halfkenney-Wilson’s chew toy mock-ups.

By renting space to more advanced startups, including Springer’s Outside the Box marketing firm and Joelle Jean-Fontaine’s I Am Kréyol fashion design company, Beer says the Fairmount Lab fosters connections between successful businesses and startups.

The Dorchester Bay location works well for the lab, she says, adding that she’s planning to expand the operation to two floors.

“We’d like 8,000 square feet,” she says.

The Fairmount Innovation Lab’s Columbia Road office overlooks Upham’s Corner.

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The Fairmount Innovation Lab’s Columbia Road office overlooks Upham’s Corner.

Collaborative Workspace Grant

Announced during the recent open house was a Collaborative Workspace Grant awarded by MassDevelopment, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ economic development and finance authority, in partnership with the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. These funds were made possible by the Opportunities for All bill proposed by Governor Charlie Baker in 2016.

“We are thrilled to join the opening of the Fairmount Innovation Lab, which is creating crucial partnerships in Boston to support innovation, entrepreneurship and creative activity,” said Helena Fruscio Altsman, deputy assistant secretary of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Technology for the EOHED in a press statement. “Our collaborative workspace grant program is aimed precisely at fomenting creativity and elevating opportunities for residents to tap into our innovation ecosystem in all corners of the Commonwealth.”