For a decade, a youth-focused entrepreneurship center called The Possible Zone, recently renamed from The Possible Project, operated out of Cambridge close to the heart of the area’s innovation scene.
But the center, co-founded by longtime life sciences leaders Mark and Becky Levin, increasingly found it needed to be closer to more of the students in need of its help.
The educational nonprofit created by Levin, the former CEO of Millennium Pharmaceuticals and co-founder of Third Rock Ventures, and his wife Becky, founder of biotech executive search firm Levin & Company, went on a years-long search for a better home.
The Possible Zone now has that with a location in Jackson Square that puts it within a couple miles of 10 high schools. The neighborhoods around them include one-out-of-five high schoolers in Boston Public Schools.
The 36,000-square-foot, five-story space also has features the Kendall Square location didn’t: a multimedia lab, student lounge, community and event space, and co-working space for entrepreneurs and partners. The maker-space is five times larger, and the whole facility can fit hundreds of students at a time.
The new facility is set to open for programming in February or March, depending on the course of the pandemic. It is aimed at bringing entrepreneurship opportunities to a corner of Boston that can sometimes be overshadowed in other neighborhoods’ rapid growth.
Seven of the closest 10 schools are already partners.
“It’s just so central to so many high schools in Boston,” said The Possible Zone co-founder and executive director Becky Levin of the location at the intersection of Jamaica Plain, Roxbury and Mission Hill.
The Possible Zone is meant both for students who are college-bound and who aren’t, and isn’t limited to those interested in technology, engineering and related fields. “Because of that, we get a huge cross section of who is in that school,” said Jake Murray, The Possible Zone’s chief external affairs officer.
The center offers multimedia studios and maker-spaces with 3D printers and other equipment to help students make anything they might have an interest in, from electronics and coding to food or services.
“Whatever you can think of, you can go into our makerspace and make,” Murray said.
The Possible Zone’s partners include Boston Medical Center, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corp., Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, Urban Edge, and Tree of Life at Mildred Haley Apartments.
Students typically stay in the program for three years — sophomore year to senior year — and receive course credit for the work they do there. The group hopes to serve 1,000 people annually by 2025, serving any students across Boston.
“Everything we do is very ambitious,” Levin said. “It is an ambitious number, but it’s a doable number.”
Besides the Levins, The Possible Zone was founded by biotech executives and entrepreneurs Gary Cohen, Joe Faber, Peter McLoughlin, and Laurence Reid, as well as education leaders Cynthia Harmon and Jake Murray.
The nonprofit hopes to open a second or third site in the coming years. It relies on private contributions, including from philanthropic and industry groups, for nearly all of its income, and is now working to launch a capital campaign.
The Jackson Square center’s opening will allow The Possible Zone to get back to hosting students in-person, which it has been unable to do during the pandemic. Instead, students have worked with mentors online or designed objects on their computers to have the center 3D-print it and mail it to the students.
Students will also be able to work remotely with corporate partners to, say, pitch a website redesign, help with marketing and social media or work on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
Before having a space of its own in the neighborhood, The Possible Zone was hosted for the past six years by Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, about a mile away.
The Jackson Square site was roughly seven years in the making. Finding the right site in the best neighborhood was challenging, but The Possible Zone’s leaders found it to be the perfect fit near high schools, public housing and transportation, with the Jackson Square Orange Line stop about a block away.
Levin and Murray both emphasized that the biggest value of The Possible Zone isn’t what the students are able to create as much as the networks it provides, as well as encouragement to follow a meaningful career path.
“That’s our ultimate goal,” Murray said. “Entrepreneurship isn’t the endpoint. It’s the vehicle to economic equity.”
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