After operating on an informal basis for the past year, the Stamford Innovation Center is now officially open for business.
The startup incubator has already helped jumpstart more than a dozen businesses through its collaborative workspace. But now that renovations within the historic Old Town Hall in Stamford are complete, the center is ready to take off.
It’s also ready to start charging rent.
“Our area is full of entrepreneurial talent,” said Peter Propp, the Innovation Center’s vice president of marketing. “We need to get them out of the woodwork and let them know we’re here and that there’s a community of mentors and investors to grow their business.”
While renovations were under construction, startups were able to take advantage of free rent within the center’s workspace. The trial run was also an opportunity for the incubator to cement its business plan and learn from the businesses it worked with.
“It was great to have people in the center and get to know them and understand their needs,” Propp said. “It was really rewarding.”
Now the Innovation Center will be charging a base fee of $300 a month to use its workspace, which has seating for up to a total of 80 full-time employees.
The center is also funded through sponsors such as Pitney Bowes, Sikorsky and smaller professional firms. The center started with a significant loan from the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).
More than five years ago the city of Stamford had done an extensive renovation of the 105-year-old town hall, but had left some of its office space incomplete to accommodate custom-fit needs of future tenants.
Renovations complete, the Innovation Center offers 16,000 square feet of co-working, meeting and event space. The organization is designed to give entrepreneurs resources such as office space, educational offerings and access to capital for support and development. Studies have shown that most job growth comes from expanding young companies, so the center aims to gives startups access to mentors, advisers and investors.
Nearly 2,000 people have already gone to events, classes and workshops held by the incubator within its first year.
“The need for this in this economy, and day and age, is obvious,” said Barry Schwimmer, founder of the Innovation Center.
Stamford was recently named by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as one of four hubs comprising the Connecticut Innovation Ecosystem.
In a partnership with the quasi-governmental Connecticut Innovations and DECD, each hub within the ecosystem will offer different but coordinated programs to help startups succeed and thrive. Hubs have also been designated in Hartford, New Haven and Storrs.
The Stamford hub will be jointly overseen by the Innovation Center and the Business Council of Fairfield County.
The Innovation Ecosystem is being funded through a $5 million state grant that will be divided among the four hubs.
After founding two companies and more than 25 years of experience in private equity, Schwimmer said the center is the first project in memory that he’s worked on where everyone he comes in contact with asks, “How can I help?”
Working with both private companies and the state, Schwimmer said many business leaders have been actively supportive of the group, hoping it will succeed.
“We see tremendous resources and interest,” he said. “We’re very happy to open our doors.”