Brian Dacey
President, Cambridge Innovation Center
Industry experience: 40 years

Brian Dacey has a long track record working in emerging real estate growth clusters and identifying new ones. Dacey is president of the Cambridge Innovation Center which operates co-working spaces for 2,200 startups ranging from clean energy to life science at locations in Cambridge, Boston. Miami, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Providence and Rotterdam. The company was founded by entrepreneur Tim Rowe in 1999 and now occupies a total 368,000 square feet at 50 Milk St. in Boston and One Broadway and 245 Main St. in Cambridge, renting desks and private offices for individuals and teams on 30-day terms. Since a downturn during COVID that bottomed out in March, revenues have increased 33 percent nationwide and 53 percent in Boston and Cambridge.

Q: You were active in the early stages of Seaport District development at The Drew Co. and the Economic Development and Industrial Corp. of Boston. What projects did you work on during that time?
I was the project executive overseeing all the master planning and permitting for the 1.5 million-square-foot expansion of the Seaport World Trade Center. In context, it was one of my Seaport stops along the way. Early in my career, I had been the director of the EDIC. When I was there in the early 1980s, the city had acquired the South Boston Naval Base which is now the [Raymond L. Flynn] Marine Park, and I started a lot of the early development there including acquiring what’s now the Innovation and Design Building. [Massachusetts] Port Authority had the original rights to that building and wanted to take over that whole North Jetty section of the marine park, so there was a global agreement that involved a lot of things. Massport got the North Jetty and the EDIC got the rights to the 1.2 million-square-foot Army Base building.

Q: Has the CIC changed its business model or offerings over the past two decades?
The fundamentals have been the same. I had the advantage of having my office in the CIC when I was the Boston partner for Twining Properties. Alex Twining did several projects around the city and started in Kendall Square, so we had our office in CIC and so that’s when I first got exposed to the CIC and Tim Rowe, and I worked together with a bunch of people to create the Kendall Square Association. Out of that we developed a working relationship and I ended up joining the CIC. The fundamental notion of sharing space, getting more efficient space and building community around that space has been the same. The whole issue of companies having to sign 10- or 15-year leases and big blocks of space was on the verge of change. It was just such an inflexible structure in the business dynamic in terms of how businesses were growing. I felt the real estate had to be more flexible.

In terms of the innovation center spaces, we’ve absolutely over the years learned to refine our service levels and offerings: the programming we do and construction techniques. We tried to learn from every center about what works well and what’s most appreciated by clients: how we let light into space, how we organize our conference rooms, the size of individual offices and kinds of furniture we use. We’re never quite satisfied. As a business, we want not only to host innovators. We are innovators ourselves. Tim Rowe and CIC helped most recently create CIC Health to make sure we had safe spaces during COVID and that turned into an entirely new business.

Q: What’s next for CIC Health?
It continues to be in the COVID testing business in a big way. In the spring we thought the need for testing was diminished. Over the summer, the Delta variant came back and testing came roaring back, particularly in school settings, so that’s the focus of the business right now.

Q: Where are the growth opportunities for CIC in Massachusetts?
CIC’s LabCentral is in Cambridge and by everyone’s measure, it’s one of the best shared wet lab facilities in the country. They have about 200,000 square feet, and so they are very dominant in Cambridge for good reason. We could see the possibility of doing more shared wet labs in the region, and I think it would probably be outside of Cambridge.

Q: What’s the missing link in the life science real estate ecosystem, in terms of the hardest type of space to find?
What’s pretty unusual in this region right now is every kind of life science product is in demand, from the suites and shared wet labs up to the full building usage by the large life science companies. Right now, the supply hasn’t caught up to demand. The question is: Is there an equilibrium that gets reached?

Q: How did COVID affect customer demand and what’s the current occupancy rate of the local centers?
When COVID came along, and things got worse and dragged out over time, we hit bottom in March [2021], and then in the winter when vaccines came out things picked up. There has been a steady growth since April, and in Cambridge the business is up 53 percent since April. In Cambridge, we just experienced our biggest one-month increase in occupancy since we began tracking five or six years ago. What’s been really clear is that companies now will say, “We’ve got 20 employees but we only want space for 10 because we will be rotating people in and out, and then three times a month we’ll use the conference facilities to bring people together.” That has become a very predominant model which is different than in the past. We’ve seen that in Boston and Cambridge. Last month we hit the highest number of inquiries and tours since before COVID. Global revenues bounced up 9 percent in one month. The attitude from companies has been, “We’re figuring out a way to come back to work under this new environment.”

Q: With Boston’s life science market now approaching 12 million square feet, will it eventually surpass Cambridge because of the number of development sites and potentially faster permitting?
It’s hard to make a comparison that way. I had this background where I was always competing for Boston when I was the EDIC director, but the reality is Boston and Cambridge are so dependent upon one another. It’s very much like Silicon Valley and San Francisco. The great thing is all the opportunities in the region.

Dacey’s Five Favorite Podcasts:

  1. “Pivot”
  2. “Sway”
  3. “The Bill Simmons Podcast”
  4. “Why is This Happening?” with Chris Hayes
  5. “Armchair Expert” with Dax Shepard

Editor’s note: This report has been updated with the most recent total for CIC member companies.

A Flexible Offering for Changing Workplace Patterns

by Steve Adams time to read: 5 min