Congressman James McGovern is Hopeful Worcester’s Innovation Center Will Bring Jobs & New Business to Region

WORCESTER – Frequently referred to as an “ideas lab” on Tuesday, the Innovation Center Of Worcester provided one of its primary supporters, Congressman James McGovern, a look at what the 20 Franklin St. co-working space has been up to since it opened in April.

Under the guidance of the Worcester Business Development Corporation (WBDC), the center is a co-working space that started out as a way to help the city retain its entrepreneurs, but as it is growing in membership, it is growing in scope, according to Roberta Brien, vice president of projects for the Worcester Business Development Corporation.

Brien noted that, as clients outgrow the co-working space, office space is available on the upper floors of the building that, for more than a century, called the Telegram & Gazette home. From there, she noted the WBDC could help negotiate deals with landlords, parking facilities and others. That represents a continuing a level of support that could slow down businesses in their initial growth stage, but, more importantly, an expansion of the initial vision of the center.

The center was started to retain some of the graduates from Worcester’s colleges. With so many entrepreneurs looking to stay in Worcester, the goal is now to not only retain those students as employees, but to help their businesses grow within the city, Brien noted.

“We can help them move to the next stage with friendly agreements,” Brien said.
Congressman James McGovern attended a luncheon at the Innovation Center of Worcester on Tuesday to discuss with tenants the center’s progress since its April ribbon cutting. (Michael D. Kane | MassLive)

Congressman James McGovern attended a luncheon at the Innovation Center of Worcester on Tuesday to discuss with tenants the center’s progress since its April ribbon cutting. (Michael D. Kane | MassLive)

The WBDC is also looking at purchasing an adjacent property. That, too, would help businesses expand their size while still working within the friendly atmosphere of the innovation center.

Two of the center’s major tenants echoed a similar description of the environment created within the center. The digital and web development company ten24 was among the center’s first tenants. It’s founder, David Crouch, said he made the decision to relocate from Northborough to capture what many say is Worcester’s major asset, its college students. Since December, ten24 has hired three students, Crouch said.

Timothy Loew, director of the Massachusetts Digital Games Institute (MassDiGi), said the innovation center has created the scaffolding new start-ups need – office space, parking, utilities, conference space and more – so that the entrepreneurs can concentrate on building the business.

Describing it as “filling a hole,” Loew said the center now offers Worcester graduates something other major cities already had, a starting place.

In that regard, Becker College, which is home to MassDiGi, has also become a major tenant. In September, the college and the innovation center announced a deal in which the college would lease space to help Becker-based start-ups get started. The space is chosen through a competitive process and is rotated to a new start-up every year.

“It gets them through some of those earlier days without having to worry about rent,” he said.

The first beneficiary is Petricore Inc., a games developer that began at another co-working space, but outgrew it. That company is the first to take advantage of the Becker Space.

Petricore’s President, Ryan Canuel, said his company now has six employees and six interns from Worcester Colleges.

Worcester Sun Media President Mark Henderson said the center plays a vital role in others ways, too. Namely, he noted, that the building is filled with smart people that others can ask for advice.

“It’s really created its own ecosystem,” Henderson said.

McGovern, who helped garner a $1 million grant for the center’s buildout from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, said he liked the concept when he heard about it, which is why he pushed for the grant.

“You are always looking ahead to jobs in the economy,” McGovern said. “These (entrepreneurs) are the people who have the ideas that will create those jobs.”

Absent the innovation center, many graduates may move on to other places, he noted. He, like Brien, said the goal is long-term business development.

“This is a place where I can try something out,” Brien said. “If I happen to hit the jackpot, hopefully I buy the building across the street.”