Started by Millennium Pharmaceuticals founder Mark Levin three years ago, The Possible Project is about to open its second site, a maker space for teen entrepreneurs, on a prime piece of tech-sector real estate.
The facility, near the corner of Portland and Main – across from the Technology Square office park – is a 1,500 square-foot warehouse, belonging to the Cambridge Housing Authority. The CHA and The Possible Project are working out a lease, and the nonprofit hopes to start using the space with its roughly 100 high-school-age entrepreneurs in the fall.
“If you were a teenager that worked at Google you would work in a place like this,” Executive Director Leah Camhi said of The Possible Project’s headquarters at 955 Massachusetts Ave. near Central Square – but it’s offices and classrooms, not ideal for soldering broken iPhones or refurbishing sneakers, two of the startup businesses started by students in the program.
“We want all of these kids to learn these technical skills they can take with them,” Camhi said. “We want all our young people to learn how to use PhotoShop, how to use a 3-D printer, how to design a Website.”
The Possible Project pulls in at-risk students through a referral program at three Cambridge public high schools. “We spend a lot of time with students relating what they learn in school – math and science and relating that to running a business,” said Levin, now a VC at Third Rock Ventures. “We don’t expect everybody to be Steve Jobs, but the idea is, you gain so much confidence.”
According to The Possible Project’s website, it enrolls 80 to 100 students a year in formal programming and serves an additional 100 through workshops. The program’s two in-house businesses, a printing business and an eBay reselling business, grossed $15,000 last year.
Its budget this year is $1.19 million, the largest portion of which comes from the Samantha, Becky and Mark Levin Foundation. An October fundraiser aims to raise $400,000. Its sponsors include Goldman Sachs, WilmerHale, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, CB Richard Ellis, MassBio, Cubist, Alnylam, Millennium (now Takeda Cambridge US) and BNY Mellon.
The planned maker space will be designed with help from students at the Boston Architectural College. Camhi said the organization doesn’t yet have a budget for its build-out, but students will begin using it as soon as the space is available.
Levin said the idea for The Possible Project came not out of his experience running Millennium, but was something he and his wife, Becky, founder and chairwoman of executive search firm Levin & Co. Inc., had discussed while living in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.
“(My) dad grew up in depression,” Levin said. “I grew up with a dad who was in the parking lot business and the shoe repair business. The bubble bath business. We used to sell cars out of our driveway. He had a grocery store at one time. It was the kind of thing where if you get out there and do it you can actually accomplish something. It doesn’t matter how shy you are or what challenges you have at home. You can do it if people give you a chance.”
Source: “Possible Project: Young founders to get a Kendall Square Maker Space”, https://goo.gl/hlHnI0, Boston Business Journal, 30 Jul. 2013.