Jal Irani and his restaurant discovery and rewards startup Flave recently moved into Towson University’s newly opened StarTUp at the Armory space. Beyond a headquarters, it also offers connection.
Irani and members of his team are alums of the university, and Irani teaches there. His company is also a member of the StarTUp Accelerator, which is based at the space.
And, with its location inside a redeveloped former Maryland National Guard Armory in downtown Towson, the space is also close to plenty of potential restaurants the company can partner with.
“It’s the combination of having our peers and other people that are working toward the same dream, but also the connection to the community and our mentors right downstairs,” Irani told Technical.ly.
He’s one of many entrepreneurs who leaders hope will find a place to grow a business in the 26,000-square-foot space in the coming years. On Monday, officials cut the ribbon, officially opening the space to the public two years and one pandemic after a partnership between the university, Baltimore County government and developer Greenberg Gibbons to transform the space was announced.
TU President Kim Schatzel said that partnership between organizations was key to the transformation of a building that dates to the 1930s. An entrepreneur herself, Schatzel said mentorship and resources are important for companies that are just starting out. The university has been keen to have such a space for entrepreneurs and innovators in downtown Towson, and the partnerships, as well as growth over the last 10 years, is enabling it to happen now.
“We all know that job creation is fueled by entrepreneurial growth in the nation,” she said. “So with the fact that Towson University is a public institution — the second largest in the state — it’s our responsibility to be able to support that, as well, because the whole state and the region prospers from it.”
A cavernous, 6,000-square-foot coworking space that’s now outfitted with tables sourced from fallen trees in the region, plus booths, couches, workstations, Wi-Fi and 347 power outlets, will be key in providing that launchpad. A Starbucks that is set to open at the beginning of October will help, too. Students and faculty building companies are certainly invited, but that area is also open to everyone from the community, not just the university.
“You show me anywhere that’s 6,000 square feet that’s open to the public outside of a library,” said Patrick McQuown, TU’s executive director of entrepreneurship. “We don’t require a membership. We don’t require any fees. You can come in and work on your idea or your business. You can have a meeting.”
Walk beyond that initial hall, down a hall that was once a shooting gallery, and the two-story space also has 15 offices for startups and others, and meeting areas, including seven confernce rooms. Moving the university’s center of entrepreneurship from hubs on campus and York Road, it’s the center of an expanding innovation and entrepreneurship program that supports students, faculty and members of the wider community starting businesses.
It’s also an HQ for the accelerator, which launched last year following McQuown’s arrival, Office space will be available for companies in the program like Flave, as well as others. It’ll also host events, like an Oct. 8 showcase for accelerator companies, to business-building programming from the Maryland Small Business Development Center and competitions.
McQuown hopes that ventures that start at TU will be able to grow there. Take Paige Zaleppa. She was a student in the university’s computer science school. While there, she worked on Clark, a cybersecurity learning platform developed by students under the leadership of TU Department of Computer and Information Sciences chair Sidd Kaza and professor Blair Taylor. Now, Clark is one of the products from SecurEd, a nonprofit spun out of the development work that’s based in the StarTUp space, and Zaleppa is its first full-time employee.
“I think it’s awesome for us to be able to sit with other companies and learn about business,” Zaleppa said. “Even though we’re a nonprofit, we still have to know how to walk the walk of operating within a startup space.”
It shows the university reaching beyond its own campus, as well. The opening on Monday further strengthened the idea that entrepreneurship hubs are a key part of neighborhoods. In downtown Towson, this latest addition to Baltimore’s coworking map will be right alongside Towson Row, a wider development from Greenberg Gibbons and Caves Valley Partners that will have housing for students and others, a Whole Foods and other retail.
The ultimate goal? Bring more energy to the area that speakers allowed was once a bit sleepy, and show a place not just for businesses, but also entrepreneurs and universities in that process.
“Universities are so integral to the fabric not just of our county but the entire Baltimore region,” said Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski. “We’re so excited to have Towson University planting a flag right here in downtown Towson, strengthening relationships with our community partners with our business institutions and boosting our local economy.”
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