MAKING AN IMPACT: ImpactLABS of New Bedford brings business home

IN 2015, Chris Rezendes and his partners decided to open the digital research and investment firm Impact LABS in New Bed ford because“it was a good fit.”

The 47-year-old Fall River native had spent years commuting from the South Coast to IT hot spots across the country in search of investment opportunities, and his wife, Gina — also of Fall River — wanted more stability for their young children near their Portuguese and French Canadian grandparents. His brother Jon, an Army Ranger writing to Chris from Afghanistan, further pressed the case for investing at home.

Meanwhile, as Chris was spending the majority of his time traveling, New Bed ford’s political leadership had achieved a level of stability that allowed them to build out an economic development strategy rooted in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and fisheries. Chris recognized two key characteristics of these sectors. The first is that they were future-oriented, under conditions of climate change. The second was that they are populated by small and midsize firms overlooked by Silicon Valley. The way Chris saw it, these smaller firms were now ripe for next stage digital innovation, as were the small and mid size cities investors had abandoned for a handful of urban tech powerhouses. A 1991 Harvard College graduate, Chris amassed a wealth of knowledge, contacts, and cash riding the early commercialization of the Internet in the 1990s. Starting out at a prestigious management consulting firm in Denver, he has worked on tech transfer and manufacturing strategies with the Department of Defense, DARPA, the Department of Homeland Security, and top flight OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) producing IT hardware and software critical to their supply chains.

After all that, he landed back home in New Bed ford, looking to serve the interests of farmers, fishermen, and the city’s refurbished port and South End innovation district. Chris and his staff, most of whom are from the South Coast and mainly from Greater New Bedford, are committed to their hometown. To that end, they believe that marrying next stage innovation — the Internet of Things (IoT) — to traditional local industries will produce jobs along with profit for both users and Impact Lab sponsors.

ImpactLABS is housed in the late-19th-century Standard-Times building in downtown New Bedford. More specifically, they are located in the capacious former lino type composing room, which spans the entire fourth floor. Chris and his 11-person staff operate in an office that has the open,transparent feel of a collaborative workplace, ensconced in the substantial,ornamented, decidedly walled-off Victorian architecture of the older industrial city. It is a perfectly iron icre-imagination of the space — and the setting for the kind of break throughs the historic city is poised for.

ImpactLABS is a no-fee commercial accelerator that live-pilots IoT products pitched by start-ups from across the globe. According to Chris, IoT involves “instrumenting” objects with sensors for data gathering and transmission so that machines and infrastructure can talk amongst themselves. Although Chris says that big IoT applications such as self-driving cars “have their place,” he is interested in the technology’s capacity to “redisaggregate” the market, by which he means to break up and distribute its value more broadly.

After the Internet passed from an infrastructure of dedicated in-house servers, networks, and desktop computers to one of cloud computing, served by massive data storage banks and distant services, Chris explains, Silicon Valley lost sight of “ground truth.” In their excessive pursuit of aimless “solutionism,” as he puts it, they thought nothing of, say, drilling into San Francisco’s streets to install experimental parking sensors. And this solutionism had bred a political culture that accepted such “unpragmatic applications” uncritically. “In the real world,” he says, “you don’t want to cut into your pavement,” just to see if something works. Meanwhile, the industry had consolidated and monetized ownership of the digital revolution’s most valuable commodity: people’s data.

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