It would be selling it short if you called Autodesk’s new BUILD space in Boston’s Seaport just a startup accelerator. Yes, there are now five startups here — two of which were previously at Autodesk’s neighbor, MassChallenge — and they get to enjoy free rent and access to heavy-duty machinery that’s easily worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.
But, as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh put it at BUILD’s grand opening Wednesday, the accelerator and workshop space is also about opening the possibilities of design and fabrication to the community at large. Groups from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and MIT, as well as cleantech incubator Greentown Labs, are already signed up to work here. There’s also Design That Matters, a Salem nonprofit designing newborn phototherapy devices for developing countries.
For Walsh, there was another important group to add to that list.
“We also have a base of young people that live in the city of Boston, in our neighborhoods of Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan,” he said, “and it’s important for us as we continue to move forward here, and that we put our young people on the pathway to college and the pathway to success. STEM” — that is, science, technology, engineering and math — “is that way. STEM is the opportunity for us to be innovative throughout the city of Boston in so many different ways.”
“That’s what’s exciting about today,” Walsh said.
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WATCH: An inside look at Autodesk’s new BUILD space.
Autodesk, the West Coast design software giant, had moved its Massachusetts operation from Waltham to Boston’s Seaport at the beginning of this year. And one of the key features for its new location at the Innovation and Design Building was the 34,000 square feet of open, high-ceiling space that would be able to fit BUILD — which stands for Building, Innovation Learning and Design — and its over 60 pieces of heavy-duty equipment, which includes six industrial robots and 11 workshops for 3D printing, laser cutting, CNC routing and more.
Jim Lynch, Autodesk’s’ vice president of building products group, told BostInno that his long-term goal with BUILD is to create an environment where people from academia and industry, along with the company’s own employees, can work together. Beyond the space and equipment, BUILD will play host to plenty of events and training seminars.
“I expect that it will influence the software we develop up on the sixth floor,” Lynch said of the developers who are among the 250 Autodesk employees working there. “I ultimately hope that we have a positive impact on the use of technology in construction.”
The startups taking residence here are all focused on architecture, engineering, construction or an adjacent industry. Appropriately enough, they’re called BUILDers in Residence, and unlike with some accelerators, they don’t give up any equity. A few of them include Building Conversation, a mobile augmented reality platform for architects and real estate developers; Pillar Technologies, a maker of on-site environmental sensors for construction companies; and Concrete Sensors, a maker of sensors that embed within concrete to monitor their strength and drying state.
One of the outliers in Autodesk’s inaugural group of startups is Lumii, an MIT-born startup that has developed glasses-free 3D display technology that can be printed using regular printers (the other outlier is Little Sparrow Technologies, which is making portable phototherapy devices to treat newborn jaundice in developing countries). Co-founded by three PhD graduates, Lumii may have not seemed an obvious choice for Autodesk, but Tom Baran, the startup’s CEO, said architecture and engineering are two applications Lumii’s tech can be used for.
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CAPTION: Lumii co-founders Tom Baran, Matt Hirsch and Daniel Leithinger.
But perhaps the greater underlying connection is how Lumii is bringing data into the physical world — which is arguably one of Autodesk’s central purpose.
“Any kind of software is ultimately a lot more valuable if you take that data and bring it into the real world and I think that’s what this space is all about,” Baran said.
Beyond the free rent and “gallons of free coffee,” Autodesk’s BUILD space has given Lumii enough room for its giant industrial printer to create large holograph prints that would be ideal for advertising. Matt Hirsch, the startup’s CTO, said the space has also given Lumii more visibility to investors, along with opportunities to collaborate with other groups here.
“That’s something you don’t get renting an office somewhere else,” Hirsch said.
Beyond startups, nonprofits and schools, there’s another group Autodesk’s BUILD space will benefit: architects.
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CAPTION: Tom Carrier, a 3D fabrication coordinator at Elkus Manfredi.
Tom Carrier, a 3D fabrication coordinator at Elkus Manfredi Architects, was using the space Wednesday to make visual mockups for Emerson College’s renovation and expansion of the Little Building at 80 Boylston St. After using Autodesk’s hulking five-axis router on the first floor to carve out lion heads from high-density polyurethane foam, he sanded away the rough edges from his workspace upstairs. For him, this is a dream for a fabricator like him.
“This is a magnificent resource. Reason being, this is probably the only space in the northeast region that has this type of equipment and this sort of setup where it’s very much an environment for learning,” he said. “It’s a hands-on maker space where you can build prototypes and concepts in detail at any scale imaginable.”