Collin Yip (Questrom’12) gave us word that his innovation incubator campus, Somernova, in Somerville, MA, is proposing to add 1.6m sf to its campus spanning 7.4 acres just outside of Somerville’s Union Square neighborhood, where several start-up companies already have made themselves at home, such as Sublime Systems, a company aiming to decarbonize cement production. Over the next 10 years, this expansion is estimated to create almost 5,000 new jobs in the larger community.
Somernova is one of Collin Yip’s many brain children. It’s much more than a chunk of real estate; it’s an ecosystem that provides start-up companies in the tech industries a fertile space to co-work, design, build, test, and scale their products and services. While their work spans vast industry sectors, the people and companies at Somernova share in their collective commitment to making the world a better place for everyone.
Meet Collin Yip (Questrom’12)
Collin Yip (Questrom’12) Founder of Somernova
Collin Yip came from Hong Kong to Massachusetts at 15 years old to obtain a better education. From there, he ended up on the US National Rugby team and carried his love for rugby to Boston University where he began his degree in Business Administration at the Questrom School of Business. During his first two years at BU, Collin took summer classes at other BU schools that dove into topics like sustainability, philosophy, theology & history of Boston. He later realized that these elective classes were important to his education. Collin highlighted this as an opportunity that all BU students have; to enroll in courses outside of their school of study to get a more “comprehensive understanding of real-world problems.”
While Collin was out there gaining a breadth of knowledge, he was often told he was a jack-of-all trades. The next two years of Collin’s time at BU helped specialize without having to give up his newly discovered passions. Collin took a class with Keith Munsell, the catalyst that made him decide to pursue a career in real estate. Keith Munsell says “I remember Collin as a student in senior level real estate courses and as a loyal BU Alum who has given his alma mater both his time and treasure. Early on in his academic career he saw the connectivity among real estate and the world at large, how residential living interacted with retail, warehouse, office and hospitality. He has been a guest in our continuing noon lunch and learn series for current students and has supported the teaching of ARGUS (Excel based financial modeling) courses.”
As a Junior at BU, Collin founded Rafi Properties. Then, in 2011, Collin graduated with a Bachelor of Science with concentrations in Finance and Law, and a few years later, he bought his first multifamily rental project in Brookline followed by a handful of condo projects in the Boston area. With a project team consisting of an architect, an engineer, and a contractor that Collin recruited, the first few projects were a success. As a 22-year-old CEO, prospective buyers were impressed and appreciated that Collin managed the whole process, from the architectural design to construction and brokerage condo sales.
Somernova and its On-Campus Youth Center: The Dojo
Having the gratitude of the education he received from BU and understanding the biggest challenge humanity has faced: Climate change, Collin continued to apply his vision for civic and environmental responsibility into real estate investments. In 2018, Rafi Properties acquired a 300,000 sf campus in Somerville MA, resulting in the birth of Somernova, Somerville’s Innovation Hub, or as Collin likes to say “the Climate Capital of the World.” The space housed a handful of existing start-ups such as Greentown Labs, a greentech incubator who continues to share the promise to invest in the future of the environment and the community. Today, Somernova is at full capacity with a waitlist that mostly contains organizations that have outgrown their space at Greentown Labs and The MIT Engine. Since Somernova’s start, there are several more start-ups that diversify the mix of tenants, such as Form Energy, Sublime Systems, Commonwealth Fusion, as well as local non profits such as Somerville Bike Kitchen and Somerville Media Center. Among many other notable moments, Greentown Labs at Somernova received a visit from Prince William and Princess Kate during their trip to Boston for the Earthshot Prize Awards Ceremony in November of 2022.
On top of that, Somernova has its own on-campus youth center called The Dojo. Collin believes that concerns for future prosperity and concerns for youth development are mutually inclusive. He says, “the younger generation is really looking for the purpose… ‘why are we here?’… and it’s more than just career thinking,” says Collin, it’s about social mobility. The Dojo considers food security, transportation, and other basic needs to provide accessible opportunities for the youth, “because without that, they can’t think about climate jobs.” At The Dojo, kids in the Somerville community witness real-world solutions through events like Lunch and Learns with Somernova’s very own tenants. This past summer, Somernova invited the Dojo kids to the Topping Out Ceremony for 599 Somerville, a 3-story R&D lab building, also by Rafi Properties. Over the past year, The Dojo has hosted and participated in several youth empowerment events such as the MLK Day of Service Youth Workshop, Women’s History Month, and the Mystic Learning Center’s 13th Annual Spring for Children Fundraiser.
The leadership team at Somernova has a legacy of advocating for the research that says happiness is the most important part of productivity and to do that they use surveys to understand what tenants need. “They don’t want a panel discussion. They want activities,” says Collin. Think community dinners and basketball leagues. They’ve even gone so far as to bring optometrist and dental hygienist pop-ups to campus to make it easier for employees to get in their health and wellness checks. This is the direction that Somernova is headed with the 1.6 million sf addition which will expand creative office and R&D space and open up room for a new community center. As explained in Somernova’s Community Masterplan Draft, they are “committed to establishing a youth-driven, multi-generational Community Center that will be owned and programmed by you, the esteemed members of our community.” Tenant appreciation events, cultural festivals, eSports competitions, and mental health workshops are just a sampling of plans in place for Somernova. One of the most important initiatives in the works is a new Day Care facility. Collin mentions most day care facilities now have a waitlist so long that you must claim your spot before you’re even pregnant. Having an on-campus childcare program should help alleviate this stressor.
With the dawn of the expansion project, the opportunities for innovation, community building, and youth development at Somernova are endless. If you would like to learn more or get in contact, visit the Somernova website.
Collin Yip at Boston University
Collin is heavily involved at Boston University and at the Questrom School of Business. In fact, he started the purpose-focused Innovate@BU program and chose the “old RadioShack” as the ironic spot for the BUild Lab, “right in the middle of campus,” allowing students with big ideas to connect and share skills, like student organized Astra Wellbeing, led by Johar Singh (Questrom ’24), who has credited the lab for the resources and mentorship that guided them through their journey. The team has gone on to win 1st place in the BU $50k SHA Hospitality Innovation Competition, and 2nd place in the $72k BU New Venture Competition. Collin joined the Boston University advisory board in 2021 to continue advocating for education. To connect, visit Collin’s LinkedIn page.
November 24, 2021Somernova sponsors Union Square Main Streets 7th Annual Holiday Stroll