Silicon Valley East

Entrepreneurs have found a haven at 1313 Innovation on Market Street, where they can transform their dreams into viable businesses

Staring intently at their laptops, sharing ideas with coworkers and people they hardly know, or designing prototypes that emerge from a 3-D printer, the denizens of 1313 Innovation are deeply into ideation—the process of transforming ideas into creations.

Located in the northwest corner of the first floor of Hercules Plaza at 1313 N. Market St., 1313 Innovation is one of Wilmington’s first co-working spaces, where individual entrepreneurs and operators of small businesses, especially those who rely heavily on computers and the internet, can hang out, make contacts, hold meetings and participate in special events.

What they’ll accomplish remains to be seen—and when it’s seen, it will more likely be visible on a computer or smartphone screen rather than in a retail outlet.

1313 Innovation is the brainchild of Paul McConnell, a principal in McConnell Johnson Real Estate, property manager of Hercules Plaza. He is in the process of transforming portions of the building’s lower level and first and second floors into a “business campus” that will also include on-demand office space, meeting and event space, and rooms that local colleges and universities could use to host classes and other programs.

“Paul is a visionary, a doer, and the most optimistic person I’ve ever met,” says Kjell Hegstad, who helped McConnell plan and design the space and who has made Digital Vikings, his mobile design and development business, a primary user of 1313 Innovation.
One of the goals of 1313 Innovation, Hegstad says, is to bring to Delaware “a slice of Silicon Valley”—the California technology hotbed where he and his three associates once worked.

Visitors to the space, however, aren’t always sure what they’re walking into, says Ryan Harrington, the unit’s education coordinator.

That’s understandable, considering that Hegstad’s immaculate chrome customized motorcycle is usually parked at the end of the hallway that opens into the “locker room,” a work space with plain cafeteria-style tables flanked by sleek, high-backed royal blue and black mesh chairs. A couple of life-size cardboard cutouts—Captain America and Thor from Marvel’s Avengers comic series —stand near the table that Harrington and Megan Anthony, the community manager, use as their desk.

Sitting at the tables might be entrepreneurs who are renting space by the day or by the week, or others who have already found the location worthy of a longer commitment.
One example, Anthony says, is Carvatise, a year-old business started by two recent University of Delaware graduates who pay car owners to have their vehicles wrapped with advertising for area businesses and nonprofits.

Another is Connecthub, a team of software specialists that has created two mobile applications: an education platform called Insitehub.com and a coaching/sales training platform, Connecthub.com. The software, sold primarily to pharmaceutical businesses, helps sales representatives learn more about their product lines and enables sales managers to coach members of their sales teams through online connections even when they are miles apart, Connecthub CEO John Royer says.

Kjell Hegstad parks his customized motorcycle inside 1313. Digital Vikings, his mobile design and development business, is a primary user of the facility.

Kjell Hegstad parks his customized motorcycle inside 1313. Digital Vikings, his mobile design and development business,
is a primary user of the facility.

Royer learned about 1313 Innovation from managers of Start It Up Delaware, operators of the Coinloft, another Wilmington co-working space. As an entrepreneur, Royer is impressed by McConnell’s commitment to providing space for technology entrepreneurs. As a businessman, he’s pleased that he can rent Class A office space month to month at a location where he has plenty of room to expand.

“I’ve always wanted to get in on the ground floor of something that’s about to take off,” Royer says, adding that he hopes to hire eight or more people for his staff within the year.
Also on hand most of the time is one of the four Digital Vikings, a group that specializes in creating digital applications for multiple industries, including banking, healthcare and law enforcement.

Hegstad, who titles himself “chief innovation Viking,” launched the business after serving as managing director of mobile and emerging technologies for ING Direct, which pioneered online banking in the United States before its acquisition by Capital One.

One recent project, he says, was a digital app created for R2 Talent, a service that matches job seekers with prospective employers without the need for writing a resume. Job seekers follow a series of prompts on the app to create a digital profile and use the video feature of their smartphone to record their pitch. Employers then use their selection criteria to search the database for the best candidates for their openings.

Digital Vikings has projects underway with a local hospital and other businesses. Projects with law-enforcement agencies are in the discussion stage, pending available funding, Hegstad says.

In addition to their own work, he says, the Vikings mentor many of the entrepreneurs who gather at 1313 Innovation, offering advice during the day and arranging meetups for IT professionals and others interested in creating applications for use in banking, healthcare and other industries.

Many of those meetups take place in 1313 Innovation’s “presentation room,” which features an interactive projector and a “writable wall,” ideal for large-group brainstorming sessions. Modular furnishings—sofas, chairs, stools and beanbag chairs—provide comfortable seating in an informal atmosphere.

Among regular users of the space are Teach for America, the Relay Graduate School of Education, Barrel of Makers and TechForum of Delaware.

Tenants on the upper floors of Hercules Plaza, including the Siegried Group and Condé Nast Publications, are also using the space for staff meetings because “it’s so different from their regular conference rooms,” Anthony says.

Since January, 1313 Innovation has hosted at least 25 events, drawing more than 800 people, Harrington says.

Another feature of 1313 Innovation is a 3D printing lab, with a 3D scanner and a pair of 3D printers that can be used to make prototypes of product designs.

Harrington and Anthony are pleased with the favorable response 1313 Innovation has received. Because people are excited about the space, they haven’t had to embark on a push to sell memberships, Anthony says.

That could change as McConnell Johnson moves ahead with plans to add more co-workng space to create the business campus. There will be about 16,000 square feet of usable office space on the west side of Hercules Plaza’s second floor, says Shona Grace, chief operating officer for McConnell Johnson and 1313 Innovation.

The second-floor space will be configured to meet users’ preferences, with a combination of dedicated desk space in an open setting and private office areas to accommodate one to four users, she says.

“We’re finding that people want private office space, where they’re able to lock their stuff up, but they also want to connect with the community and have access to classroom space and conference rooms,” Harrington says.

As second-floor space is readied, the outreach effort to identify potential users will include recent graduates of UD, Wilmington University and other area schools, Harrington says. He also notes that plans are underway to launch a competitive program that would provide free office space for up to six months to recent graduates who have potentially successful business concepts.

“We want to work with them while they’re at the university, and when they graduate we want them to realize that Main Street [in Newark] isn’t all there is to Delaware,” Harrington says. “We would love to have them come to Wilmington, where they would have access to more business connections and to a professional environment.”

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