For Entrepreneurs: a Step-by-Step Guide to Starting a Business in Somerville
The combination of favorable rents, proximity to Boston and Cambridge, a strong, built-in consumer base, an educated workforce and a powerful city-wide high-bandwidth infrastructure makes Somerville a very attractive location for businesses of all sizes.
Starting and managing a business takes motivation and talent, research and planning. Also, the process of acquiring all the necessary approvals on the local level can seem daunting!
To help you with this process, we've compiled into one place all of the steps that you need to take and resources you can access in order to get your business off the ground in running. We want you to succeed and we are on your side!
For more information about any of these steps, please contact the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development at 617-625-6600 ext. 2500.
1. Download our business welcome kit.
Start by taking some time to browse our Business Welcome Kit. This pdf guide provides information about the city's recent economic and demographic trends, who to contact for what service, business assistance programs, legal services, and more.
2. Familiarize yourself with Somerville.
With over 75,000 residents from all over the state, country and the world, Somerville is a big city with a lot going on. Take some time to get to know Somerville’s many distinct squares and neighborhoods, each with its own unique flavor and feel. You should also familiarize yourself with the city by looking at our past and current revitalization projects, such as the Green Line Extension and the Assembly Square Redevelopment project. And definitely make sure to check out some of the success stories of local business owners and entrepreneurs who've decided to start their businesses here in Somerville. They've go some great tips about how to best use the resources available to you.
3. Find a location for your business.
Now that you’re familiar with the city of Somerville, the next step is to locate space in which to operate your business!
Somerville has a diverse mix of Commercial and Industrial business areas, which should meet a variety of needs. Please visit our office or call us at 617 625 6600 ext. 2500.
4. What about zoning?
Once you have located the space that meets your needs, make sure that your venture is an allowed use in the zoning district where your space is located.
The Inspectional Services Department (ISD) or the Planning Department at SPCD can help you determine this. You can also see the zoning ordinance online by clicking here.
Both ISD and the Planning Department will help you address the questions related to your use, such as allowable number of stories and square footage parking requirements, setbacks, landscaping, etc.
Note: Depending on your use and the zoning district, you may need to obtain a special permit or a variance prior to commencing work on your space. For a typical, average sized project, the planning review and permitting process may take from two to six months.
5. ...and building codes?
If your plans include remodeling or building out space you should also speak to the Inspectional Services Department (ISD), so we can guide you or your contractor through the local and state building code requirements. Once your space is prepared you will be able to apply for a Certificate of Occupancy.
Note: You may need to obtain a special permit or variance prior to commencing work on your space as well. For a typical, average sized project, the planning review and permitting process may take from two to six months.
6. Funding sources.
Somerville offers assistance programs for local businesses in the forms of loans and grants. The City offers access to a free business capital assistance website called Somerville 4 business.
Contact a Business Development Specialist at OSPCD if you have questions regarding funding. You might not be eligible for a City program, but we will be glad to direct you to other sources of funding.
7. Food services.
Businesses involving food are required to comply with State Sanitary Code. The Somerville Board of Health will help ensure that your plans comply with the Code.
Food operations will also require a Common Victualler's license from the Licensing Commission. The Licensing Commission is also responsible for the transfer of liquor licenses and beer and wine licenses.
8. Familiarize yourself with necessary state and federal procedures.
Finally, take some time to learn about the STATE and FEDERAL procedures for owning and operating a business. These websites also provides helpful tips and resources for starting a business in Massachusetts, other available funding sources, and more.
9. Apply for a Business Certificate.