Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Guests of MIT gather Thursday for the opening of The Engine at 750 Main. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The opening night was as glittering as could be for a headquarters for The Engine, MIT’s incubator for “tough tech” such as wastewater testing and cell engineering platforms. A red carpet was laid into 750 Main St., a black Cadillac Escalade waited outside and 300 invited guests – including city councillors Burhan Azeem and Paul Toner – noshed on hors d’oeuvres awaiting a speech from institute president L. Rafael Reif and tours of the facilities.

Tough tech is about solving problems with a mix of science and engineering, an intersection where Reif has pushed the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to dominate.

The Engine at 750 Main is a headquarters with 155,000 square feet of bio and chem labs, industrial workshops, offices and event space meant to hold from 80 to 100 companies with up to 1,000 workers.

But there’s more to The Engine, including the building known as (and at) 501 Mass. Ave., Central Square, for midsize tough-tech companies, and a full-up space known as The Engine Room with access to the most specialized and expensive equipment, said Jacqui Miller, vice president of communications and marketing. Last year it was announced that Somerville’s 40,000-square-foot Artisan’s Asylum makerspace, at the Somernova facility on Tyler Street, would become a sprawling space for projects at The Engine that need the most room to operate. “A lot of universities have venture capital arms,” Miller said. The Engine is unique not only in its scale, but as a “separate entity with its own goals.”

The Engine at 750 Main has lab space available. (Photo:Tony Luong/The Engine)

Since its founding in 2016, The Engine, with more than $670 million in assets under management, has invested in 44 companies addressing issues such as climate change and human health. One widely known Engine company is Biobot Analytics, which began as an examiner of wastewater to assess the opioid epidemic and is now known for its work looking for coronavirus.

The new headquarters is between Central and Kendall squares in somewhat iconically, a former Polaroid building owned by MIT. But it’s an independently operated facility open to anyone in the tough tech community, Engine executives said.

Office space is also offered at The Engine at 750 Main. (Photo:Tony Luong/The Engine)

“The Engine at 750 Main is a physical manifestation of what we’ve learned over five years of cultivating and investing,” said Katie Rae, chief executive and managing partner of The Engine, in information released ahead of the Thursday event.

Located between Kendall and Central Squares, The Engine at 750 Main has biology labs, shared labs to rent by the bench, medium lab suites of 25 benches and large lab suites of 45 benches, fabrication and engineering spaces such as a 3D printing lab, optics lab, laser cutter, electronics room, open shop space for prototyping and fabrication and a large machine shop with multiple tools and welding capabilities, MIT said.

It also has chemistry labs, on special order of Reif, according to Miller. The MIT president “was hearing from folks that they were struggling to get space” for their work.

“Chemistry lab space was missing,” Miller said, “so we built it.”

Engine’s portfolio includes companies such as Kytopen, Cellino, Atlantic Quantum, Axoft, Osmoses, Mantel, Resonant Link, ISEE, Copernic Catalysts, C2Sense and Foundation Alloy, but also a few startups that are as small as a single person, Miller said.

There are a couple Engine companies with personal meaning to her – one because she comes from a health background: Vaxxess, in the Central Square building, is preparing a patch-style delivery system for vaccines and other medication; and Syzygy Plasmonics is working on chemical manufacturing that relies on light for its processes rather than heat, which makes chemical manufacturing more efficient and, Miller said, means a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.