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Innovation Economy

Accelerating art, science in Lab Cambridge

A WikiCell edible offering.

Phase One Photography

A WikiCell edible offering.

Highlights from the Innovation Economy blog.

It won’t open until early 2014, but there’s a fascinating new project percolating in Kendall Square: The Lab Cambridge, a gallery and workspace intended to be a supercollider for artists, scientists, students, and entrepreneurs. It’s a project of Harvard professor and entrepreneur David Edwards, with financial backing from two local venture capitalists, that’s located at 650 East Kendall St., near the skating rink and Genzyme tower.

The Lab Cambridge will include work space, an exhibition space, a small auditorium, a store, and a café, Edwards says. It’s the American incarnation of Le Laboratoire in Paris, which Edwards opened in 2007.

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Le Laboratoire “has a lot of open space,” says Terry McGuire of Polaris Venture Partners, a backer of The Lab Cambridge. “It can sometimes feel like a gallery, but there’s also the lab component, where people are trying new things. There’s a store, so people off the street come in to try things, and give real-time feedback. It’s this very open, experimental site.”

Students come from around the world to work on transforming ideas into prototype products, and Edwards regularly invites artists, performers, and scientists to collaborate on exhibitions. Flagship Ventures’ Noubar Afeyan, another supporter of The Lab, says Edwards is interested in “creating a social face for an innovation lab that is making things intended for consumers.”

According to a promotional brochure, “The Lab Store will sell innovative designs facilitating environmental sustainability and better human living.”

Inside the store will be the WikiBar, where visitors will be able to sample foods wrapped in edible skins and shells, made by Edwards’s Cambridge start-up Wikicell. The Lab also will host “educational experiments” for public school students.

Russian Venture Co. seeks $200m fund

Just a little over a year after opening an office­ in Boston, the US arm of Russian Venture Co. is thick into the work of raising a $200 million fund.

That’s a big change for RVC-USA, as it is known, which operated on a $2 million annual budget to “do outreach,” in the words of chief executive Axel Tillmann. That includes trying to persuade US venture capital firms to fund Russian businesses seeking to establish a foothold in the United States.

“In working with VC firms, what you always hear is, ‘If someone else is willing to take the lead, I’ll do it.’ There’s often that you-go-first attitude,” Tillmann says. “So if I as RVC can lead a deal,” that may create momentum that will help a funding round come together.

Tillmann says he’s an admirer of the Israeli model, in which companies operate an R&D office in Israel but hire a CEO and sales and marketing staffs in the United States to reach customers here. The new RVC Partners fund he’s planning would invest in those sorts of companies, or US-bred start-ups interested in building, say, a software development or engineering team in Russia.

“There has to be a Russian angle,” says Tillmann, a native of Germany.

He expects the Russian government to contribute about $20 million to the new fund, with the rest coming from investors around the world.

Tillmann says he has “soft commitments” for about $100 million but hopes to be finish fund-raising this year.

Staking a place in Cambridge

You might think a software company on Route 128 in Burlington would feel it could tap into the Massachusetts talent pool well enough.

Not so for Nuance Communications Inc., the speech-recognition giant that enables laptops, cars, and Apple’s Siri personal assistant to listen and understand what you want to do.

The company has just leased 28,000 square feet of space in Cambridge’s Central Square for a new engineering office for about 175 people. The building, at 675 Massachusetts Ave., also houses Harmonix Music Systems and Workbar, a “co-working” space for consultants and entrepreneurs.

“There’s a great population of candidates that just want to be in Cambridge,” says Nuance’s chief marketing officer, Peter Mahoney. “It just opens up more opportunities for us — people who are city dwellers, many of whom don’t own cars.”

Nuance acquired Vlingo, a start-up in Harvard Square, in late 2011. Vlingo had about 100 employees at the time, and those who have remained at Nuance will eventually move to Central Square.

For the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily, visit www.boston.com/innovation
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