Bill DiCroce’s new company is technically only two weeks old but he isn’t wasting any time making plans for expansion.
French utility conglomerate Veolia spun off its district energy business last year by selling it to Antin Infrastructure Partners, also based France, for $1.25 billion. DiCroce had been leading Veolia’s North American operations. As part of the deal with Antin, DiCroce left to run the new business, called Vicinity Energy. The spinoff was completed at the end of December, and roughly 40 corporate employees moved out of Veolia’s North American headquarters at 53 State St. to Vicinity’s new corporate office on Franklin Street last week.
To some extent, Vicinity isn’t a new company at all: It’s an assemblage of various steam, hot water, and chilled water pipe networks and plants that have been brought together under one company over time. Vicinity owns systems in 10 metro areas, including Boston, making it the largest district energy company in North America. About 450 people work for Vicinity across its networks.
The Veolia-turned-Vicinity network in Boston includes steam plants in Kendall Square, overlooking the Charles River, and on Kneeland Street, on the edge of Chinatown.
DiCroce said he’s eager to expand Vicinity through acquisitions of smaller systems and construction of new pipes to grow its current revenue stream of about $600 million a year.
In Boston, he’s eyeing the Fort Point Channel area and the Back Bay for growth in particular. DiCroce said it should be easier to access capital to grow under Antin, in part because the infrastructure fund isn’t publicly traded and can take a longer-term view. “It really opens doors for us,” DiCroce says.
DiCroce said active discussions are underway to add some of the big Fort Point projects to the Vicinity system. Potential clients include the 12-story life sciences building planned by Alexandria Real Estate Equities and National Development on land next to General Electric’s headquarters and a mixed-use complex planned by Related Beal for 6.5 acres along A Street.
More Boston developers are realizing that Vicinity’s steam system provides an environmentally friendly option for their heating needs, DiCroce said. (Hospitals also use the steam for sterilization.) “There’s no new combustion source in a building,” DiCroce said. “The development community is finally getting to understand that, particularly in our cities, it’s a green solution.”
Firm helps airline take off
It took about 15 years but Mechanica has finally landed an airline job that’s ready to leave the runway.
The Newburyport marketing agency is a copilot behind the revival of Eastern Airlines, alongside branding consultancy Playbook Studio. The Wayne, Pa.-based airline just began flights between Ecuador and New York’s JFK Airport on Sunday.
Eastern had been grounded since the early 1990s. But the company is different now. And so is the look, thanks to the work of Mechanica and Playbook. The artwork Eastern uses now is inspired by topographic maps, a graphic nod to the destinations it will be serving.
Ted Nelson, chief executive of Mechanica, says one of his firm’s first clients was the air taxi service Pogo, but that venture never got off the ground. Because Eastern isn’t flying out of Boston yet the airline has no current plans to advertise in this market, Nelson said.
Nelson probably has Graceann Bennett, the head of Playbook, to thank for the gig. Bennett had gone to Tennessee in 2018 to meet with a group of businessmen/pilots thinking of restarting the aborted Pogo air taxi service. One of them, Steve Harfst, was impressed with Bennett’s ideas and brainstorming skills and gave her a call last year about a different venture: He was relaunching Eastern and needed some help.
Playbook developed the strategy for the Eastern relaunch and Mechanica created the new logo and design.
Both firms jumped at the opportunity to take to the skies with Eastern. Bennett was scheduled to huddle with Harfst, who is Eastern’s chief executive, and other Eastern officials on Monday in New York to discuss strategies for 2020, after the inaugural flight.
“Who doesn’t want to rebrand an airline?” Bennett said. “That is a cool assignment.”
Few people look at a car accident as an act of good fortune — especially when it drives up their insurance premiums.
But Snejina Zacharia sure has a silver lining to this one. Her minor accident in 2013, while a business school student at MIT, sent her scrambling to find a better deal for her car insurance. Turned out it wasn’t so easy. The process was time consuming, even though insurers often asked similar questions.
And so Insurify was born. Zacharia started the Cambridge venture in 2016 with her husband, Giorgos Zacharia, the chief technology officer at online travel firm Kayak. Since that time, consumers have obtained roughly 126,000 policies through their site. The focus until now has been on car insurance. This week it expands into home and life insurance.
Also part of the announcement: a Series A round of funding, totaling $23 million, led by MTech Capital, a VC firm based in California and London, and Israeli venture firm Viola FinTech. Previous investors MassMutual and Nationwide also participated. in this round.
Zacharia says Insurify plans to double its workforce in Kendall Square over the next two years, from 30 to 60 people. Among the new hires: Gene Shkolnik, a top engineer at Kayak who will be Insurify’s chief technology officer. For Zacharia, the Boston area has been a perfect place to build a fintech company from scratch. “Boston has a unique differentiation in terms of the quality of the people we can hire,” she says.
CEO joins Fed board
Lizanne Kindler might be able to give some fashion tips to her new colleagues on the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s board of directors.
The chief executive of Hingham apparel chain Talbots just became the newest member of the Boston Fed board. Kindler has a long career in the retail industry, including a nearly 16-year stint at Ann Taylor. She’s been chief executive at Talbots for more than seven years and is also chairwoman of the board at Coldwater Creek.
Kindler takes a spot on the Fed board that was vacated by Niraj Shah, chief executive of Boston home goods seller Wayfair.
Nonprofit chief to retire
Danny LeBlanc grew Somerville Community Corp.’s portfolio from roughly 30 affordable housing units two decades ago to 300 today. But it will soon be someone else’s responsibility to keep the expansion going.
The nonprofit said that LeBlanc will step down from the chief executive’s job as of June 30. The nonprofit has already enlisted TSNE MissonWorks for the executive search. Its administrative budget is $2 million, including the salaries of 14 full-time workers and three part timers.
LeBlanc said he’s leaving to spend more time with his family in Gardner. “For personal and professional reasons, this has felt like the right time to retire,” he says.
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