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MassChallenge to remain in Innovation District

The exterior of the Boston Design Center building, where MassChallenge will move, is shown in this rendering.ADD Inc.

MassChallenge Inc., one of the key promoters of the start-up culture in Boston, has a new home in the waterfront neighborhood that it helped transform into the city’s Innovation District.

The organization is losing its lease next July in a prominent waterfront high-rise and had considered moving to the Fenway area, but instead will relocate to the nearby Boston Design Center, located in a massive early-20th-century warehouse at the center of the 200-acre Marine Industrial Park.

The Design Center’s new owner, an Atlanta-based property company named Jamestown, is giving MassChallenge about 25,000 square feet of office space, for five years — free.


Jamestown’s chief operating officer said the company is hoping the deal will pay dividends by attracting other technology companies to the complex, which the firm has renamed the Innovation and Design Building. The 1.4 million-square-foot complex also includes the neighboring Bronstein Center.

“MassChallenge is sort of the birthplace of great ideas,” said Michael Phillips, chief operating officer of Jamestown. “For us, at the end of the Seaport, it’s significant to have that kind of youth, imagination, and energy.”

MassChallenge runs a four-month-long competition for start-up businesses that connects them with experts and mentors, provides free office space and access to potential investors. The competition is in its fourth year, and has 128 finalists that are competing for about $1.5 million in prize money. It plans to announce winners Oct. 30.

The new digs are less than a mile away from MassChallenge’s current home, in a part of the waterfront that has yet to experience the amount of development underway closer to downtown. Jamestown is also considering adding amenities such as a rooftop garden, shuttle services to Kendall Square and South Station, and restaurants to attract more companies. The complex includes design companies, clean technology firms, robotics companies, and research labs.


“We looked at a lot of places, and there were a lot of great opportunities all over the city,” said John Harthorne, MassChallenge’s chief executive. “At the end of the day, the Innovation District is part of our identity and makeup. In many ways, it defines us.”

A move by MassChallenge to Fenway would have cost the Innovation District some of its tech cachet, which Mayor Thomas M. Menino has used to further promote the area among both big tech companies and small software start-ups.

“Their decision four years ago to move to the Fan Pier was one of the linchpins that helped develop that area,” said Menino, who credits MassChallenge with attracting newcomers who were initially skeptical the neighborhood would develop into a thriving center for business in Boston. “MassChallenge changed people’s ideas about our waterfront. And our waterfront changed people’s ideas about this city.”

Since its inception, MassChallenge has worked with 361 companies that have collectively raised $362 million in investment money and created some 2,900 jobs. Many of the companies that are involved in MassChallenge end up staying in the Boston area.

An area once filled with parking lots and warehouses is now dotted with construction cranes building office towers, apartments, and retail complexes. The Innovation District has added more than 5,000 jobs in four years, and more than 1,000 of those in the past eight months, according to the city. On Thursday morning, construction began on a $126 million, 17-story office tower at Seaport Square.


Some 200 companies have opened in the neighborhood, ranging from large businesses such as Zipcar Inc. and LogMeIn Inc. to start-ups such as CoachUp Inc. and Artaic, both of which participated in MassChallenge.

When MassChallenge moved into the Fan Pier high-rise at One Marina Park Drive in 2010, it was the only occupant of the building and received a free-rent deal. Now, its neighbors include such tenants as the law firm Fish and Richardson, and soon a prominent venture capital firm, Battery Ventures, will relocate to the building.

Michael B. Farrell can be reached at michael.farrell@globe.com.