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Framingham State offers Innovation Center

JODI HILTON for the Boston Globe/File 2005

After Arturo Fagundo left a stagnant software development job in March 2013 to start his own business in backing up data for cloud-based companies, he faced months of isolation and frustration working out of his house in Westborough, with unreturned or delayed e-mails and no one to bounce his ideas off.

So when he heard about an affordable shared work space aimed at local entrepreneurs about 20 minutes away, Fagundo jumped at the chance.

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The Framingham State University Entrepreneur Innovation Center, born of a movement at the public institution to invest in technology and modern sciences, opened early this year to a select group of six local entrepreneurs, offering shared office space, wireless Internet access, printing services, and conference rooms in a building that borders the village green. The startups specialize in a variety of offerings, from technology solutions to printable wedding invitations.

“When I was working at my house, I missed the opportunity to go into a work space,” Fagundo said Tuesday at the innovation center, which is housed in the historic Jonathan Maynard Building at 14 Vernon St. in Framingham Centre. “There’s a sense of isolation common among people building companies, and sometimes I would wonder if I made the right decision.”

The Framingham State initiative not only gives the startups office space, but also a place for the fledgling-business owners to hash out new ideas, talk through challenges, and find solutions together. The center’s director, Framingham State professor Robert Krim, also brings in angel investors and venture capitalists weekly to talk to the entrepreneurs, and links them with university professors specializing in fields such as marketing to provide one-on-one coaching.

“I really like the interaction with other people here,” Fagundo said. “I can talk to people about what I’m doing, or problems I’m having.”

The program also offers part-time internships for Framingham State students, who receive class credit and are paid $12 per hour through state funding to help the entrepreneurs with research, finding customers, and marketing analysis, among other tasks.

‘Kendall Square. Boston. Why not MetroWest? It’s one of the most vibrant areas in the state in terms of economy. It deserves to be a place for startups and technology. ’

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Tosin Ajewole, 20, a junior majoring in economics at Framingham State, said his experience researching client bases and where to advertise online and in trade publications has been invaluable. He now hopes to start his own company after he graduates.

“Before, I had an idea of entrepreneurism, but I never knew what it took to actually start a business,” Ajewole said. “But now I’ve seen these startups face to face, and I’ve gotten a sense of what it takes. I had regular feedback from different entrepreneurs. It gives you an edge.

At barely a few hundred square feet, the work spaces are new, modern, and clean, but a bit constricting. However, the initiative has proved successful enough that Krim is planning to expand the program in downtown Framingham once the lease in the Maynard Building is up next year.

“Our goal is to be fully self-funded in four years,” Krim said at a grand opening event for the center last month. “We still want to be part of the university. The center is great for encouraging students to see what it would take to start a business.”

The Framingham State initiative has also partnered with WorkBar, which has larger-scale shared office space in Boston and Cambridge, to offer services to both organizations’ members.

The demand for affordable shared office space locally has apparently skyrocketed. At the four-year-old WorkBar, memberships soared from 150 to 700 over the past 15 months, Krim said.

At $95 per month, the Framingham State version proves much cheaper than WorkBar’s $350 monthly fee, and the Framingham-based location offers free and easy parking and proximity to the region’s technology hub .

“Kendall Square. Boston. Why not MetroWest?” said Richard Freeland, the state’s commissioner of higher education, listing places that ignite the sense of innovative startups during the Framingham State center’s grand opening. “It’s one of the most vibrant areas in the state in terms of economy. It deserves to be a place for startups and technology.”

Bonnie Biocchi, president and CEO of the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce, said the entrepreneur center was a “terrific” addition to the community.

“One of the reasons the MetroWest continues to thrive is because of the amount of support here for entrepreneurs,” she said.

Roger Berkowitz, president and CEO of Legal Sea Foods, said at the event that the timing to open the innovation center was perfect, noting that five years ago it might have been too revolutionary, and five years from now, too redundant.

“Just like the Industrial Revolution, we’re undergoing another revolution — the digital and technology revolution,” he said. “This center is what’s needed right now.”

But since space in the Framingham program is limited, entry into the entrepreneur initiative proves competitive.

Krim said the university received about 18 applications from local startups to use the offices, but could only offer space to one-third of them.

“We were looking for people in a variety of different areas,” Krim said.

Framingham State is no stranger to entrepreneurship. In 1924, Ruth Graves Wakefield graduated from the institution — then called Framingham State Normal School — before going on to invent the Toll House chocolate chip cookie in the 1930s at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, which she ran with her husband.

“This is something that changed our lives,” Krim said, adding that a small café in the building had been named after Wakefield in honor of her entrepreneurial spirit.

For more on the program, visit www.framingham.edu.

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com.
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