Epicenter of Innovation: MIT and Kendall Square

Forty years ago, the abandoned factory buildings in MIT’s backyard evoked the area’s bygone manufacturing era. Bit by bit, MIT faculty and alumni have claimed Kendall Square for the future, creating what is now called “the most innovative square mile on the planet,” a neighborhood teeming with the Cambridge/Boston area’s world-class concentration of scientific and engineering talent.

MIT began using university-owned land as a breeding ground for university/industry partnerships in the early 1950s. But the cornerstone for the Kendall Square revival was laid during the biotech revolution of the 1980s. MIT spinout Biogen was the first in a now-flourishing ecosystem of biomedical, pharmaceutical, and medical device companies, many of which were hatched by MIT researchers and entrepreneurs. MIT’s transforming influence on Kendall Square has extended into computing, energy, and other vital industries. In the 1990s, Tim Rowe MBA ’95 started the Cambridge Innovation Center in MIT-owned property, providing workspace for hundreds of startups and spurring such tech giants as Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and Amazon to move into the area. One notable Kendall denizen, Akamai, delivers nearly a third of today’s web traffic through solutions based on the research of MIT mathematics professor Tom Leighton PhD ’81 and Daniel Lewin SM ’98.

MIT cultivates its research and innovation symbiosis with Kendall Square through a series of affiliated ventures, including the Broad Institute, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. And now the MIT has launched the Kendall Square Initiative, a $1.2 billion project to build six new commercial buildings, comprising nearly a million square feet, in the heart of the square. The plan also includes graduate housing, a new home for the MIT Museum, three acres of open space, and 100,000-square feet of retail and dining aimed at making Kendall a truly vibrant, 24/7 community.