An incubator for fledgling ideas

Kellian Adams Pletcher of Green Door Labs shows William Hilton (left) and James G. Shelnut a product that her com-pany is developing during a recent TechSandBox
Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe
Kellian Adams Pletcher of Green Door Labs shows William Hilton (left) and James G. Shelnut a product that her com-pany is developing during a recent TechSandBox forum.

Fil Firmani’s mobile phone app could help stressed sons and daughters keep track of the home health aides caring for their aging parents. J. Mark Inman is developing technology to compete with Apple’s iTunes. Sanjay Baronia aims to become the king of cloud computing.

The three entrepreneurs recently launched new companies to realize their ambitions — a common occurrence around Boston, where startups often seem to grow on trees.

But these entrepreneurs aren’t migrating to Kendall Square or Route 128 to create the next big thing. They and a handful of other would-be tycoons are based at a new business incubator in

Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe
Gareth Charter of VidiLocal presents a business pitch during a TechSandBox forum.

Hopkinton called TechSandBox Inc.

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“This is an incredible place,” said Baronia, a Grafton resident who cofounded his cloud computing firm, Trilio Data, at TechSandBox three months ago, after he left a job at EMC Corp. “It gets me out of my home office, and I can talk to some of the other entrepreneurs here, see how they are doing. We can leverage our wisdom here. That’s the value I see.”

Founded around eight months ago by Barbara Finer, a veteran of tech companies throughout Massachusetts, the nonprofit organization moved in September from facilities it shared with Becker College on Route 9 in Southborough into an 8,700-square-foot office space on South Street in Hopkinton.

The idea for a business incubator came to Finer when she was stuck in traffic on the Mass. Pike.

She was regularly traveling to Boston, Cambridge, or Waltham for professional events where she’d often meet people who lived near her hometown of Hudson. She and others were driving an hour or two into the city to meet their neighbors.


“I just started thinking to myself, how come I have to go into Boston for all of the stuff?” said Finer. “MetroWest isn’t so branded and doesn’t have the cachet of Silicon Valley,’’ she said, but we have a lot of the same things.”

In addition to renting out private offices and space in its shared working area — an open room with about 40 chairs and desks available for around $200 a month — TechSandBox offers mentors, training, speakers, and other amenities for would-be business owners interested in turning a bright idea into a money-making venture.

Inman, a Westborough resident, meets once a week with a seasoned software developer who volunteers to help him with his music and media file-sharing service. Inman initially came to TechSandBox because it offered an affordable place to work that didn’t require a long ride into Boston. The relationship with his mentor was a pleasant surprise that has saved him crucial time, he said.

“He’s been great,” said Inman. “I would not have met him if not for one of our meetings here. Once I have the product built and up and running, I can go to investors and show them a prototype that’s working.”

Anyone can drop by TechSandBox to take advantage of its programs. On Jan. 11, for example, the organization is offering a daylong workshop on drafting a business plan and pitching it to investors. The cost is around $200.


The MIT Enterprise Forum’s Launch Smart Clinic held at TechSandBox earlier this month illustrates what entrepreneurs can gain from the organization.

Around 40 people showed up to listen to business founders explain why investors should provide them with funding to expand. A panel of successful entrepreneurs and members of the audience then grilled the representatives to test their concepts.

After a presentation by VidiLocal, a company that wants to sell advertisements on high-definition television screens in bars, restaurants, and elsewhere, Firmani immediately rattled off concerns he felt they’d need to address.

“I like it how they are going for a targeted market,” said Firmani, a Holliston resident. “It’s going to be key to not go overboard with the ads. They need entertainment, news, other content. If it’s a slew of ads, people are going to tune it out.”

TechSandBox is part of a trend of the tech industry branching out from Boston and Cambridge in recent years as the economy improves, companies seek out inexpensive rents and more space, and residents decide to reclaim hours lost to commuting, said Patrick Larkin, director of the Innovation Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative in Westborough.

Larkin cited the Enterprise Center in Salem, the Merrimack Valley Sandbox in Lowell, and a proposal to establish an innovation district in Needham and Newton as other examples of efforts to appeal to entrepreneurs working locally.

“I see it as a new phenomenon that is occurring where people are coming to value their own place, their own peers, their own networks, their own assets in a region.”

John Dyer can be reached at johnjdyerjr@gmail.com.