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Kendall Square: Still the place to be for start-ups

Sebastian Castro

Sebastian Castro

I first encountered Kendall Square as an MIT freshman. You got your textbooks at The Coop and hopped the shuttle to the Galleria mall to buy dorm room supplies, but beyond that, there wasn’t a whole lot more.

If someone had told me back then that I would be founding a company here, it’s likely that I would have muttered something about wasting my time and needing to get back to my problem sets. And yet, almost a decade later, my company, Leaf, is growing in a Kendall Square that has radically changed and continues to evolve. Make no mistake: There are few — if any — other neighborhoods as abundant with innovation, densely populated with start-ups, and supporting of entrepreneurs.

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It goes without saying that Kendall’s proximity to MIT helped transform the neighborhood into the center of technology innovation, and the school remains a cornerstone of the community. The close access to public transportation makes for an easy commute, and the ever-increasing restaurant, bar, and commercial options nearby attract the best and the brightest. But really, the ecosystem that lives and works in Kendall Square, comprising research, tech companies, start-ups, students, and local businesses, is exactly what makes it world-class.

Kendall Square is the perfect microcosm for tech: a laboratory that allows companies to roll out products and test business models on the fly. Kendall Square institutions like Aceituna Cafe and Voltage Coffee are known for being early tech adopters and were among the first companies to adopt Leaf’s payments tablet.

They’re not afraid to tell you when your product sucks nor shy to tell others when it’s awesome. With Kendall business owners and customers so open to using new technology, they’ve been instrumental in helping Leaf to succeed.

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Kendall has been the perfect location for growing Leaf from an early stage start-up to where it is today, a company with 30 employees.

The shared office space at the Cambridge Innovation Center, where the company spent its first year, and Intrepid Labs, where we are now, have enabled us to take advantage of the neighborhood’s many benefits while sticking to a start-up’s budget.

Kendall Square serves as a lab for rolling out new products and testing them in the same place.

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With the success Kendall has helped us achieve, our rapid growth has us looking for new office space. The neighborhood’s escalating costs are becoming a big problem, and we may have to follow other young companies that have already left.

We want to stay in Kendall Square and the plans recently unveiled by Cambridge and MIT to expand the area’s ­office, laboratory, residential, and retail space — including 5 percent dedicated to innovation space — should help companies like Leaf. If we can find a way, Leaf will continue to grow and prosper here.

After all, there’s no other place in the world like Kendall Square, no other place that packs so much brain and entrepreneurial power into such a small area. Who would want to be anywhere else?

Sebastian Castro is cofounder and chief operating officer of Leaf in Cambridge.
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