Less than a year after London-based TechHub expanded to Somerville with a new startup accelerator space, TechHub Boston, as it’s been known, is no more. That’s because the Somerville startup accelerator has split off from its parent (amicably) and become its own independent group called Canopy. And while it still aims to support local startups with affordable office space on the fourth flood of 212 Elm St., it’s now extending a hand to companies that don’t quite fit the “tech startup” mold, along with social impact nonprofits and community groups.
The organization calls itself a “social impact accelerator” and describes itself as such:
A social impact accelerator is a unique kind of organization that is different from a typical, technology startup-focused accelerator. Accelerators provide services, such as office space for startup teams, mentoring services, introductions and other forms of support designed to accelerate the success of a startup. In the case of Canopy, our mission is to empower social impact-focused technology and life sciences-focused startups alongside local nonprofits that are focused on solving similar challenges. This is all in an effort to create an inclusive and dynamic climate of collaboration, inspiration and shared purpose.
To celebrate the organization’s new name and mission, Canopy is holding a sold-out kickoff event Thursday night at Tufts University titled “The Role of Innovation in International Peace and Security,” and it has a special guest for the keynote: philosopher, linguist and MIT Professor Noam Chomsky. It’s part of Canopy’s social impact event series, which aims to “connect people and cross-pollinate ideas and support local nonprofits “either financially or through direct involvement.”
“We want it to be vibrant. We want it to be a crossroads. We don’t want it to be one demographic.”
Matt Hoey, one of Canopy’s co-founders, told BostInno that one of his goals is to help nonprofits find more affordable space in a metropolitan area where office rents have been rising. Even when it was known as TechHub Boston, the accelerator had positioned itself as an affordable space for startups and entrepreneurs. Its private office space starts at $13 per square foot, and it also has two hot desk options, $450 annually for 20 hours a week (or $250 if you’re a student) and $300 a month for 24-7 access.
Two social impact groups that have already been working out of TechHub are the National Immigration Forum and the New England Water Innovation Network.
“We’re going to rescue a handful,” Hoey said, “and that’s just something we’re going to find a lot of fulfillment from.”
Canopy also plans to offer free event space for after hours and during the weekend. Hoey said while each request will be vetted individually, the space will general be open to nonprofits and organizers or any programming “that is exposing young people to arts, entrepreneurship and arts and science.”
Perhaps an even larger and broader goal for Canopy is to bring together startups of all kind, tech or not, with social impact nonprofits and community organizations to see “what kind of magic” can come out of these connections, Hoey and Simon Towers, another co-founder, said.
“We want it to be vibrant. We want it to be a crossroads,” Hoey said. “We don’t want it to be one demographic.”
It’s that outlook that made Towers, Hoey and their other co-founder, Stewart Noakes, realize that they needed a new brand under which to operate, leading to them to break off with TechHub, the larger organization. The name Canopy is meant to be a metaphor for a forest canopy, which the group described as a “home to a multitude of diverse species, who find shelter and a sense of community under the cover of that foliage.”
“We see a huge opportunity for companies from different industries to come together and learn from each other,” Noakes said, “and to also be able to support the next generation of entrepreneurs through our student outreach program.”
Both TechHub’s and Canopy’s leaders describe the split as amicable.
“There’s such a variety of businesses and social impact projects needing support in the Boston area, it makes sense that the local organisation should broaden its scope,” Andrew Tibbitts, TechHub’s global COO, said in a statement. “As TechHub is very specifically focused on product tech companies, an opportunity was spotted to launch a new, broader support organisation, and we wish Canopy well working with all the great small and growing companies in Somerville.”
Towers and Hoey said they wouldn’t have been able to pull this off without the support of the city, particularly Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone and Alderman Jack Connolly, who provided guidance with getting Canopy’s first event set up at Tufts, as well as some other outreach help.