With words of welcome and the swing of a cut ribbon, Worcester opened its doors to entrepreneurs on Monday with the official ribbon cutting of the Innovation Center of Worcester.
The center is located at 20 Franklin St., in the home of the former Telegram & Gazette. It was a building two years ago many said required a wrecking ball, according to Craig Blais, president and CEO of the center’s founding organization, the Worcester Business Development Corporation.
Overall, the building renovation cost $40 million, including two floors of which is now part of a satellite campus for Quinsigamond Community College. The Innovation Center build-out cost roughly $2 million, including a $1 million federal Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration grant, donations from various foundations.
“Those dollars will help keep our rents down,” Blais said, noting that supports the centers ultimate goal of keeping the innovators and entrepreneurs that are graduating from the city’s colleges in Worcester.
The center was also funded by six of the city’s banks, none of which hold a mortgage on the building, Blais said.
“They did it because they believe in Worcester and they believe in the downtown area,” Blais said.
The idea behind the center is that entrepreneurs have a low-cost incubator space to collaborate and to start a business. Once a start-up is successful, those businesses may rent space on the fourth floor in which to grow.
Spaces range from a single office to larger pods, according to Project Manager Lisa Drexhage, who said the WBDC is working on a model for affordable rents, based on interviews with entrepreneurs.
Ultimately, the goal would be that those businesses would later move to vacant buildings within the city.
Mayor Joseph Petty echoed Blais when he said many different people have been involved in the city’s urban renewal, saying the city will be a better and different place within five years.
“The city is really on the right track and I am very proud to be mayor of this city,” Petty said. “We are working with everyone to get things done.”
Many of the speakers thanked Congressman James McGovern, who helped get the city its $1 million federal grant.
City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. said McGovern has his fingers on everything good in the city, including the center, which he called a new “piece of the puzzle.” That piece brings the energy of entrepreneurs to the downtown area, which is already being populated with college students and new housing.
“Worcester and its downtown are really in a period of renaissance,” Augustus said, noting the colleges, city government and the private sector are involved. “We are going to make sure our vision of the downtown is realized.”
McGovern joked he never thought he would see the day he was welcome in what used to be the newspaper’s home. The center is only one part in a renewal he can see citywide that embraces new technology and new businesses, he said.
“There is an energy, a vibrancy in Worcester right now,” McGovern said. “There is no doubt Worcester … is on the cutting edge.”
As part of the official opening, the center also signed its first partnership, a five-year deal with Worcester State University with the intention on keeping its graduates in the region by encouraging them to start their businesses in Worcester.
But, the center is not solely meant for students, according to Rosemarie Boulanger, a Clark University graduate, consultan and entrepreneur who is part of The Venture Forum’s executive board.
“It’s for veterans, and immigrants … it’s for everyone,” she said. “This is your Innovation Center.”