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The Silver Lining (continued)



Dating back from his own early days of entrepreneurship in middle school, Rowe learned the importance of finding the right niche to frame a business plan.

Realizing that a number of his parents' friends were buying personal computers (PCs) for the first time, Rowe seized upon the opportunity to start his own consultancy, charging $150 to advise grownups on how to pick out a home computer, set it up, and then use it.

“PCs were new and people didn't know how to use them,” says Rowe. “It was a fun opportunity.” And, he says, a lucrative one. Many years, and a number of businesses later, Rowe co-founded a solution to another unmet need via the launch in 1999 of the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), “the area's largest and most popular flexible office space facility for small and growing companies,” according to the CIC website.

Today, CIC houses 200 companies on 10 floors at One Broadway in Kendall Square, providing attractive office space equipped with all possible modern conveniences. Price is determined by “the type and size of space” the business needs, ranging from $250 to $1,000 monthly per person. Rowe notes that CIC has continued to grow over the past decade—and in recent months—at a consistent rate.

“You need to carve out that niche that no one else is doing,” says Dr. Ronjon Nag, SM '91, a founder of Lexicus, a pioneer of speech and handwriting technology, which sold to Motorola for an undisclosed eight-figure sum in 1993. Now CEO and co-founder of the wireless applications company Cellmania, Nag says that “if you are resourceful enough, you will find your space. If anything, the recession makes you more astute in your thinking.”


During a March 2009 appearance on CNBC, Kauffman Foundation President Carl J. Schramm stated that more than half of the companies currently on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were started either in bear markets or in recessions. In addition, Schramm—who has led the world's largest foundation dedicated to entrepreneurship since 2002—added that one-third of U.S. gross domestic product comes from firms that did not exist in 1980.

“That's how important entrepreneurship has become to the American economy,” Schramm says. “In past recessions, the boom of entrepreneurship has actually resolved the recession once the bottom has been hit.”

Rowe, who has been at the helm of CIC through two significant economic slides, believes the worst may already be over.

“This is our second time through a downturn,” says Rowe, “and the first time we were surprised to make it through. This time, we are surprised how well it has gone. We have remained profitable throughout this entire downturn.”

CIC has also grown in the midst of the current economic slump, from 180 companies on October 1, 2008, to 200 companies today.

“You hear a lot of different things about the economy, but my direct experience is that we are seeing more new companies than we usually do, in addition to a lot of hiring,” Rowe says. “As a measure, in the last two weeks we added 55 new people to the center. On average, our companies have five employees; so across the 200 companies, they have hired 55 people. I don't know where else in the economy you are seeing that kind of growth.”

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