Resource Spotlight: Draper
Resource Spotlight: Draper
This week we spoke to Nathan Wiedenman, founder and director of the Sembler office at Draper. Draper is a nonprofit R&D company, which solves problems in fields like aerospace, bomedical, autonomy etc.
GH: What is your name and role?
My name is Nathan Wiedenman, and I’m the founder and director of the Sembler office at Draper. Sembler is Draper’s mechanism for supporting and partnering with startup companies. We are constantly looking for opportunities to partner with great technology startups to tackle bigger and harder problems together.
GH: What is Draper?
Draper is an independent, not-for-profit research and development company. We started in the 1930’s as the MIT Instrumentation Lab under Professor Charles Stark Draper, and spun out of MIT in the 1970’s. We do a lot of work for various parts of the U.S. federal government and large commercial customers, solving some of the hardest problems in domains including aerospace, biomedical, autonomy and others. We’ve got around 1,500 employees at our Kendall Square headquarters in Cambridge.
GH: How can Boston startups and entrepreneurs benefit from what you do?
As a technology company working on lots of different problems, we’re always looking for partners to help us do more. Startups with great technology that complements or augments what Draper does are great partners, because it gives us (and the startup) a chance to go after projects we might not be able to pursue alone. That said, if a company is still refining their technology the Sembler office can provide a conduit for them to leverage the resources within Draper to reach their goals faster. We’ve built up a lot of capabilities here, including a precision machine shop, up to class-10 clean rooms for microfabrication, environmental test facilities, anechoic chamber for RF testing, and more. That and the 1,000+ engineers in the building are a pretty powerful resource for startups to draw upon.
GH: What have you learned from Boston area startups?
I’ve been consistently amazed by the drive and dedication of Boston entrepreneurs. There’s a willingness to try new things and a resilience in the face of change that is absolutely vital to success as a startup.
GH: What are some of the best resources the Boston community has to offer?
This is an incredibly robust ecosystem fed by arguably the finest collection of academic institutions in a single metro area anywhere in the world. The ideas coming out of research labs feed so much of the innovation happening in startups here. Those companies are then fostered by a fantastic support system of incubators, accelerators and co-work spaces that provide an environment for maturation. All the pieces are here.
GH: What is the Boston community lacking in your perspective?
There’s a price to be paid in having such a great innovation ecosystem here in Boston – everyone wants to be here and that makes it really expensive for young companies to find a home. Those incubators and co-work spaces certainly help, but I worry we’re going to see companies priced out of Kendall Square and other centers. People need affordable places to live and work.
GH:What is the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?
Best piece of advice I ever received was to regard comfort as stagnation. If you’re totally comfortable with what you are doing, then you aren’t learning anything new. I love to be in situations where I’m discovering something new every day – always be expanding your comfort zone.
GH: What was the best thing that happened to you last year?
We’ve been working on the Sembler concept for a few years, and it was an honor to be given the chance to lead the office when Draper formalized it last summer. Knowing that we’ve made a commitment to the startup community and being able to serve as that conduit for helping companies get farther faster has really been a blast.
GH: What does the future hold for Draper?
We’ll be completing the atrium project at our headquarters building in Tech Square in Cambridge later this year, which will give us more space to welcome the public and potential partners to come see us. We’re really excited to continue growing our presence in the startup community, and our commercial presence in general. As a non-profit we don’t commercialize products directly ourselves, but given the kinds of work we do we love to see our technology find real-world commercial applications.
GH: What does the future hold for Boston innovation community?
Boston has an incredible end-to-end system for companies working on life science challenges, and I’m hopeful that we retain our strong position worldwide. I think as more and more innovations mature in autonomous systems, especially driverless cars, we will see more and bigger representation by automakers and suppliers here in the area.