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HBS Opens Lab for Business

By Tara W. Merrigan and Nathalie R. Miraval, Crimson Staff Writers

When Patricia Kelliher stopped working as a freelance photographer a few years ago and decided to try something new, she chose to start her own business.

After a year and a half of researching on the internet, calling banks, and soliciting donations from friends and family, Kelliher opened a vegetarian-friendly, old-fashioned American cafe—Happy Owl Cafe—in Brighton three months ago.

“I had never owned my own business, so everything that I had to do in the beginning was very difficult,” she said.

Kelliher—a third generation Allston resident who raised her own children in the neighborhood—said that it took her time and energy to develop the skills necessary to start her business.

Now—perhaps too late for Kelliher—Harvard is opening a resource center called the Harvard Business School Innovation Lab in the fall that will help Allston entrepreneurs develop their business plans.

The Lab is a multi-million dollar space where people from across the University and local residents can work together to develop small businesses and non-profits in the Allston-Brighton community.

Business and non-profit leaders in the community have expressed optimism about the new project, which has the potential to help reinvigorate Western Avenue.

Harvard University owns a number of properties along Western Avenue that have been left vacant since the University halted its construction in Allston during the financial crisis in 2009.

With the planning process underway, several local non-profit directors said they expect that the Lab—which will offer educational workshops and business coaching—will be a valuable resource.

Jack Fucci, executive director of the Oak Square YMCA, said that he hopes the Lab will teach him statistical methods to better measure the impact his organization is making on local residents.

Nicholas A. Papakyrikos, co-owner of an accounting and consulting firm in Brighton, also said he had high hopes for the lab.

“I believe that the idea of pairing one of the top business schools in the world with a fully functional ‘business’ laboratory is a natural fit.  It is the commercial equivalent of a major medical school opening a medical center,” he wrote in an e-mail.

In addition to the talent that it will bring into the community, the Lab’s uniqueness will also make the Lab attractive for entrepreneurs, he added.

“Many new ideas never make it to the market simply because the ‘inventor’ was unable to connect with other people who could see the potential and who had the resources to fully develop the product,” Papakyrikos wrote.

In addition to providing businesses and non-profits with strategic advice, the lab will also offer a coffee shop, a 24/7 public meeting space, and a place for networking between professionals from a variety of disciplines.

The Lab will occupy 125 Western Ave., a building that housed the public television and radio station WGBH until 2007. The location sits almost directly across from the now paved-over five acre plot that was intended for the Science Complex, a project now indefinitely halted due to financial concerns.

While a number of community members said they are excited about the project, others said they simply had not learned about Harvard’s plans for the Lab, which will open sometime next fall.

Paola M. Ferrer, the grants and development director at Joseph M. Smith Community Health Care in Allston, said she has yet to learn the specifics about how the project will help her non-profit, but said she will be participating in a focus group that Harvard is organizing.

Additionally, some small business owners said they had never heard about the project, including Kelliher and the owner of The Bus Stop Pub on Western Ave.

Like Ferrer, Allston resident and Harvard-Allston task force member Bruce E. Houghton said he was unsure what resources would be available at the Lab.

“There’s a lot of hope for communication and integration between Harvard and the neighborhood, but as for exactly what support services will be provided is unclear,” he said.

But Houghton, a long-time business owner of Houghton Chemical Company in Allston, said it was unclear how he would benefit personally from the Lab.

“Me personally, I’ve been around a long time,” he said.

—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at tmerrigan@college.harvard.edu.                —Staff writer Nathalie R. Miraval can be reached at nmiraval@college.harvard.edu.

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