The COVID-19 pandemic will soon force the closing of the first incubator space to create a hub for startups in downtown Boston, giving fledgling ventures a reason to locate in the city rather than Cambridge or Somerville.
Bolt, which opened in 2013 on the border between Downtown Crossing and Chinatown, will close its doors at the end of March, according to cofounder Axel Bichara. Just two startups currently occupy a facility designed for a dozen or more, and featuring a fully outfitted machine shop in its basement.
“We are carefully evaluating how to best support the Boston startup community going forward, in light of the COVID uncertainty,” Bichara wrote in an e-mail. Since September, when Bolt laid off its office manager, the space has been operating without a regular staff presence.
Bolt was founded by Ben Einstein, an industrial designer who moved to Boston from Northampton in early 2012 to begin raising money and identifying promising companies that wanted to create physical products, rather than websites or mobile apps. His vision was to give them a place where they could share expensive prototyping equipment — and learn from each other.
At first, Bolt operated like an entrepreneurial “accelerator” program, choosing sets of startups that would occupy its space for six months and get