‘Tough tech’ VC firm The Engine expands to bigger offices in Cambridge

It’s a journey that took more than five years, but is now complete: The Engine, a venture firm and start-up program founded by MIT, has moved into a former Polaroid building between Kendall and Central Squares.

The move to 750 Main St. in Cambridge from two existing Engine spaces, one on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge and the other on Tyler Street in Somerville, began in earnest after Labor Day. Executives from MIT and The Engine celebrated the milestone at the new location, dubbed The Engine at 750 Main, on Thursday night.

After sitting empty for nearly two decades, the 155,000-square-foot MIT-owned building is getting new life due to various Engine startups. The directors of The Engine had been looking at the building since 2017, a year after the company launched, but wanted to take the time to get the setup right.

The exterior of The Engine, a former Polaroid building now home to several companies sharing space and equipment.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

They invested in at least seven startups that year, raising about $200 million from investors. Those numbers have now risen to 44 startups, with about a third of them based on 750 Main, and more than $670 million under management between three venture capital funds today. The Engine will continue to maintain its 30,000-square-foot location at 501 Mass. Ave. as a satellite space, as well as its 42,000-square-foot location in Somerville.

Notable firms that are part of The Engine’s portfolio include Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which is developing a fusion-powered electricity generator, and Biobot Analytics, which tracks the presence of COVID-19 in communities through wastewater samples. .

Katie Rae, CEO and managing partner of The Engine, said having a physical place for startups to work was a crucial part of the original concept of “resistant technology.” It’s kind of a catchphrase for capturing science and technology-based startups that require access to expensive equipment. — for laboratory experiments and manufacturing, for example. They could include startups in clean energy, life sciences, robotics, nanofabrication, and infrastructure. What unites them all is that they do something physical that doesn’t just exist in software code.

For its official definition of “resistant technology,” The Engine focuses instead on a shared mission: “transformative technology that solves the world’s biggest challenges.”

Engine CEO Katie Rae. The Engine is a VC-backed accelerator/incubator space that just moved into a larger complex in Cambridge at 750 Main St. to occupy 155,000 sf.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

There is enough space on 750 Main to eventually house 80 to 100 businesses or about 1,000 people (including The Engine’s approximately 35 employees). Today there are more than 50 startups, a mix of The Engine portfolio companies and others that also fit the definition of hard tech. The facility, among other things, includes biology and chemistry labs that are rented by the bench or suite, a 3D printing lab, an optics lab, and a large machine shop.

“Watching him come to life has been incredibly rewarding,” Rae said.

It’s important, Rae said, to have these startups in the same place, even if the specific technology they’re pursuing differs widely between companies.

“They learn faster from each other,” Rae said. “They’re tapping into each other’s expertise in different areas.”


Jon Chesto can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.

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