Earlier this month I met Ivan Li Huang, a fellow graduate of the MIT Sloan Fellows program, at a continuing education class at Sloan. We chatted, and I found out that after graduating from the program a few years after me, Ivan had subsequently founded a fascinating venture: Bonzer, a car-sharing service based in Kendall Square.
The timing was fortuitous. Ivan had just completed several bureaucratic steps, including getting approval from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to drive Bonzer’s small electric cars on local streets. The cars were ready for a demonstration, and I was there at the Cambridge Innovation Center a few days ago when Ivan and his team let testers take the cars for a spin around the block. I have video interview with Bonzer’s founder below.
I also took a few pictures of Bonzer’s fleet, which currently consists of cars manufactured by Zhejiang Rayttle, a Chinese company. They are electric cars, with a range of 60 miles and a maximum legal speed of 25 MPH on local roads. Believe it or not, the cars actually have 3 seats, although the two people in the back will have a tight fit if they are big. Here are some photos of Bonzer’s fleet:
The cars got a lot of looks, with some people even stopping to take a picture or selfie. And no wonder: They not only look cool, but they also small enough to fit sideways into a parking spot. Three Bonzer cars could fit into the space occupied by a standard car!
Ivan hopes to start a one-way car-rental service, kind of like Hubway for cars, in Cambridge in the next few months. Here’s an interview with Bonzer’s founder in which he discusses the cars and the business model. You can also see one of the cars driving at about the halfway point of the video:
The Cambridge Innovation Center is a startup office space located at One Broadway, just around the corner from the Kendall Square T station and across the street from MIT Sloan. Few people in Cambridge and Boston have ever heard of CIC Cambridge, but it plays a very important role in the local startup ecosystem, as I will discuss in this post.
I spent a fair amount of time in the CIC from 2011 to 2012, and still go back on a regular basis to meet people or take part in seminars that help me run my business. I am not an insider or expert on the CIC, but as a participant in the local startup scene, I have written a CIC Cambridge review which others may find useful.
Famous CIC Cambridge alumni include Carbonite and Hubspot. But most of the hundreds of CIC startups are still in the relatively early stages of their existence. Almost all have some sort of technology focus or angle, although there are many companies that provide services (such as law firms) as well as investors with offices in the building.
Some startups are no more than a cubby and red belongings bag in the Cambridge Co-working Center (C3), the CIC’s low-cost co-working space. In 2011, C3 cost $250/month, which included random desk space, wifi, access to conference rooms and printers, free coffee and snacks, etc. I’ve heard it’s gone up. Regardless, this is an attractive option for companies with little funding or revenue. It’s not uncommon to see practically every seat in the C3 areas occupied on a typical afternoon, and the work continues there well into the morning hours.
Established companies with funding, customers and revenue have their own offices in the building. Some are quite small. I’ve been in a CIC office that is no more than a tiny, 30-foot-square room with a desk and some shelves. Others have larger spaces with lobbies and their own conference rooms.
There is a fair amount of churn at CIC Cambridge. Walking around the lower floors, it seems that there’s always someone moving in or out. That’s to be expected. Startups are inherently risky, and many of the C3 companies may not make it past the idea or early prototype stage. For those that do, they will eventually outgrow C3. Upgrading to a larger CIC office is an option, but if they grow big enough they will eventually have to find larger (or cheaper) office space elsewhere.
Events at CIC Cambridge
CIC events are worth mentioning. Venture Cafe is well-known in the local entrepreneurial community. It’s held on the 4th-floor of the CIC on a regular basis (usually on a Thursday afternoon). It’s a great place to network as well as access expertise and investors.
Besides the Venture Cafe, there are many other events held in the CIC for founders and people interested in starting their own companies. I’ve derived a ton of value from the free seminars organized by McCarter & English, a law firm that serves the startup and investment communities and has an office in the CIC. The speakers are all pros. I’ve attended talks on seed-stage funding, accounting for startups, and a great session on startup marketing featuring Bobbie Carlton, the founder of Mass Innovation Nights.
While the CIC is just part of the startup ecosystem in Cambridge, it’s an important part. We’ve found it to be an excellent place to start entrepreneurial efforts and make connections that will help sustain new enterprises. The CIC blog gives a feel for the character of the organization, activities, and some of the startups and founders that are based there. You can find out more about the CIC at its website and learn more about the history of the CIC on Xconomy.