Tufts partners with America’s largest cleantech startup incubator

01/17/2013 - Medford/Somerville, MA - Linda M. Abriola, Director of Tufts Institute of the Environment (TIE), poses for a portrait Jan. 17, 2013. When Abriola began as TIE director last September, it was decided that TIE would manage the relationship between Greentown Labs and Tufts. (Zhuangchen Zhou/The Tufts Daily)

Tufts and Greentown Labs announced the adoption of an agreement on Sept. 7, signifying their commitment to collaboration, according to Director of Tufts Institute of the Environment (TIE) Linda Abriola. 

Greentown Labs, located in Somerville, a group of entrepreneurs that supports clean tech startups and provides lab space and resources to member companies, according to its website. Greentown Labs Chief Executive Officer Emily Reichert told the Daily in a email that the company is the largest clean technology incubator in the United States.

“This is the first time that we have any relationship with a sort of industrial technology incubator type entity,” Abriola said.

Abriola explained that the newly signed memorandum of understanding will lead to many possibilities for cooperation.

“We’ve been talking about the possibility of having a faculty-in-residence at Greentown … and we’re really hoping that we’re going to be able to get some opportunities for undergrad and grad students to work as interns at member companies to develop that relationship and also hopefully get employed,” Abriola said.

Reichert noted more advantages that Tufts students and faculty will get out of the partnership.

“Startups spun out of Tufts or those run by Tufts affiliates (students, faculty, postdoctoral associates, staff, alumni, etc.) will have access to Greentown Labs and the opportunity to become members,” she said.

Reichert also elaborated on benefits of the partnership for Greentown Labs.

“The Greentown Labs community will have access to Tufts world-class faculty and research relevant to the cleantech and environmental industries,” Reichert said. “Similarly, our startups will have access to Tufts’ incredible array of resources — labs and facilities — across the campus.

Reichert said that Greentown Labs has over 40 partner organizations committed to clean energy and cleantech innovation.

“Our sponsor program includes four tiers of partnership from Kilowatt to Megawatt, Gigawatt and ultimately the highest level of partnership at Terawatt. We work closely with all of our partners to develop custom partnerships that are mutually beneficial,” she added.

Abriola explained that Tufts was chosen as a Gigawatt Partner after promising to create a new position to act as a liaison between both parties.

“We’re in the second category, so it’s really based on how much investment Tufts is making in the partnership. No money is changing hands, we’re just investing in the partnership by creating a position at Tufts to support this,” Abriola said.

This position, formed to ensure that the partnership remains active, will be called the Greentown Fellow, according to Reichert.

“[The Fellow] will be a recent Tufts graduate and will be based at [TIE]. This person will be the main liaison between our organizations and will serve in a rotating one-year position at Greentown Labs,” Reichert said.

Abriola and Greentown Labs Executive Vice President Mark Vasu will work with the Fellow to oversee the relationship, Abriola added. The position has yet to be filled, but the hiring process is underway.

The new partnership will also involve students at the Tufts Gordon Institute, which focuses on engineering leadership. 

Kevin Oye, director of the M.S. in Innovation & Management Program (MSIM) at Tufts Gordon Institute said that the Institute and Greentown Labs first made contact last spring, after a student in the MSIM program spent the semester doing a project with Greentown Labs.

[Reichert] and [Vasu] … were really happy and pleased with the work and that set the basis then for potential future projects between the Gordon Institute and Greentown Labs,” Oye said.

Oye contacted Abriola when he heard the memorandum of understanding was in the works so that the Gordon Institute could be included in the plans.

“Greentown has a spectrum of companies in the energy sustainability space, so I’m hoping that by interacting with them, it’ll help stimulate ideas and thoughts for the Gordon Institute and for Tufts students in general,” Oye said.

He hopes that Tufts students will take advantage of the opportunity to get involved.

“The beautiful thing about having the memorandum of understanding is it’s a signal that Greentown and Tufts are acknowledging that there’s opportunity to do things together,” Oye said.

Reichert explained that Tufts and Greentown Labs have been building this partnership since early 2015.

“At the encouragement of Somerville Mayor Joseph CurtatoneTufts University President Anthony Monaco and his senior leadership team toured Greentown Labs in January 2015 and became excited about the possibilities for partnership and collaboration with a fellow local organization,” Reichert told the Daily in an email.

The following spring, Reichert and Vasu were invited by Provost and Senior Vice President David Harris to Tufts to discuss collaboration, she added.

“As in any strong partnership between two large organizations, finalizing the details of a thorough and comprehensive partnership take time!” Reichert said. “Ultimately, we were able to work together and iron out the details of our partnership and complete it in parallel with the academic calendar for fall 2017.”

When Abriola began as TIE director last September, it was decided that TIE would manage the relationship between Greentown Labs and Tufts.

Greentown feels like partnering with Tufts makes a lot of sense because it’s in Somerville and we’re a nearby university,” Abriola said. “There’s been a number of students from Tufts who have worked there or worked with member companies and we want to try to develop this relationship more, so I’m really excited about it.”