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Roxbury Innovation Center Operator Selected

Today Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced the City of Boston has selected The Venture Café Foundation to operate the Roxbury Innovation Center in the new Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Dudley Square. The approximately 3,000-square-foot Center will be located in the new headquarters of the Boston Public Schools (BPS), and aims to encourage collaboration, bold thinking, and new business development. In addition, Mayor Walsh announced that SkyLab has been selected to provide community-connected programming services in the Bolling Building’s common areas, and to collaborate with the City, Boston Public Schools, and Venture Café Foundation to help fulfill the vision of the Roxbury Innovation Center. Through partnership with the Patrick Administration, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative has committed to provide awardees grant funding totaling up to $150,000 to support the operation of the Center and programming in the building.

“The Bruce C. Bolling Municipal will be a gathering place for Dudley Square’s growing innovation economy,” said Mayor Walsh. “Not only will it launch new businesses from the Roxbury Innovation Center to boost the local Roxbury economy, but it will strengthen the connections of the surrounding neighborhood to innovation and the opportunities it creates.”

“I am excited that the City of Boston has chosen these great organizations to provide unique and innovative services at the Roxbury Innovation Center,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “This new investment will continue to revitalize the Dudley Square neighborhood and provide opportunities for generations to come.”

“We’re looking forward to working with the community to create a space for experimentation and conversation that highlights all of the innovation and entrepreneurship happening locally, and connects to resources that make ideas and businesses grow faster,” said Kevin Wiant, Executive Director of the Venture Café. 

“Our vision is about connecting people, so that every person with an idea can build it, grow it, become a successful entrepreneur,” said Nicole Fichera. “We are excited to collaborate with the Skylab team, the Boston Public Schools, and many others to achieve this vision.” Fichera manages District Hall for the Venture Café, and is a co-principal with Wiant on the Roxbury project.

“We are excited to be given this opportunity to program the innovation space in the Bruce Boiling Municipal building,” said Bridgette Wallace, Co-Principal of the SkyLab. “At the SkyLab, community will interlock with co-visioning, education will be intertwined with fun, innovation with arts, culture with technology, experience with commitment, and history with the present. The SkyLab will be a gateway for community residents, in partnership with advisors and mentors, to explore what it means to become an entrepreneur. They will be able to discover what steps are needed to bring that to fruition, taking a deep dive into what the risks and costs associated with starting a venture are – all to question how we might link urban innovators to the larger innovation community.”

The Venture Café Foundation connects the innovation community by operating spaces (including District Hall in Boston’s Innovation District and the Venture Café event in Cambridge’s Kendall Square), programs and conversations. The organization has extensive experience managing these types of facilities and engaging the greater Boston innovation community with programs. Their proposal envisioned operating the Roxbury Innovation Center with a “platform approach,” making the space a flexible and supportive space for many different groups across every industry.

SkyLab is represented by Roxbury community members and members of local tech and entrepreneurial networks. The company envisions using the Bolling Building’s common spaces as locations to provide educational sessions in addition to hackathons, pitch contests, technology competitions, and events with BPS administrators, teachers, and parents. The company’s principals have been committed to connecting the local community to the Bolling Building since before construction on the facility began.

Mayor Walsh announced plans for the Roxbury Innovation Center during his Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce speech in April 2014. In July 2014, a Request for Interest, Ideas and Innovation (RFI) to gauge interest in the innovation community for programming the location was released and 16 Statements of Interest were received in response. information gathered from the RFI informed a Request for Proposals (RFP) that was released in November 2014 to seek out an operator for the Roxbury Innovation Center and a programmer for the building’s public space.

The RFP submissions were reviewed by a Selection Committee comprised of: Melissa Dodd, Chief of Staff, Boston Public Schools; James Jennings, Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts University; Ted Landsmark, Boston Redevelopment Authority, Board of Directors; Eric Nakajima, Assistant Secretary for Innovation Policy, Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development; and Keith Williams, Director, City of Boston, Small and Local Business Enterprise Department. Four proposals were submitted in response to the operator RFP, and four proposals were submitted in response to the programming RFP.  

The Roxbury Innovation Center will be located on the second floor of the Bolling Building, which is slated to open in the first quarter of 2015. The initial lease will be for five years, with an option to renew for an additional five years.

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