As a result, many bold concepts—the kind that could make a serious difference on sustainable energy, climate change, or human health—were getting marooned in the lab, because there was no good system to support their development all the way to the marketplace . Turning a brand-new piece of science into a world-changing technology that is optimized, tested, and ready for manufacture at scale can take more than a decade, longer than venture capitalists can reasonably wait.
We call ideas like these “tough tech.” And in 2016, we decided it was critical to launch a new model of startup support that nurtures such high-impact ideas and speeds them into the world—while also helping our regional innovation ecosystem flourish and grow. With this guiding concept, we set out to build The Engine, just a few blocks from campus.
From modest beginnings in a single space in Central Square, The Engine is now helping 44 startups—and counting—move from prototype to scale-up through its distinctive package of “patient capital,” affordable local space, access to highly specialized equipment, streamlined legal and business services, technical expertise, and community. Demand is growing so fast that The Engine will open an additional space close by this fall, more than doubling its footprint and its potential.
What sets The Engine apart is a very MIT emphasis on impact: in assessing candidate companies, it prioritizes breakthrough answers to big problems over early profit. From the startup that pioneered a way to spot covid surges through testing municipal wastewater to a serious strategy for delivering carbon-free fusion energy, The Engine is home to a portfolio of potential that feels quintessentially MIT.