Company Culture
Delaware / Design / Workplace culture

First Ascent Design is right back where it started — the iconic second floor of 605 N. Market

The eight-year-old Wilmington design firm's new location is a longtime hub for the city's entrepreneurial ecosystem.

A view into First Ascent's new workroom. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

This editorial article is a part of State of Local Tech Month of Technical.ly’s editorial calendar.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared as a newsletter alongside a roundup of Technical.ly’s best reporting from the week, job openings and more. Subscribe here to get updates on Delaware tech, business and innovation news in your inbox on Thursdays.
The second floor of 605 N. Market St. in Wilmington is pretty iconic when it comes to the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Namely, it’s a former home of the CoIN Loft (later known as The Loft), Wilmington’s first coworking and collaboration hub. The space has been part of the story for quite a few of today’s successful local companies. That includes Carvertise, The Barn and CompassRed, which lived in the space from 2018 to 2020, casually renaming it the Data Loft.

First Ascent Design got its start at the CoIN Loft in 2015, after married couple John and Pauline Himics attended an event at the space, then decided to take the plunge and start their own digital design firm.

The company has had several HQs since, including their own home and a converted rowhouse on Lawyers Row. As it grew from just the two of them to having 20 employees — 10 hybrid and 10 remote — they needed something big enough to accommodate the team, with room to grow.

605 N. Market’s second floor had been virtually vacant since CompassRed left for CSC Station in 2020. The building’s owner, Buccini Pollin Group, used it as an office during the construction of its Crosby Hill property, but was looking for a new tenant for the uniquely open space. Without private offices, even for executives, it’s not a fit for a lot of companies.

But for the Himics, the space was perfect. Not only did a communal-style office work for their hybrid team, it was one floor below 1440 Film Co., a frequent collaborator located on the third floor.

Wall art at First Ascent.

(Photo by Holly Quinn)

Having that kind of access to partners and a tight-knit group of entrepreneurs is one reason First Ascent, whose clients include the Philadelphia Ballet and Reading Assist, was founded in Wilmington, and why they stayed after John left a previous role at DuPont.

“I don’t think we could have built this anywhere else,” he told Technical.ly. “I grew up in Jersey, and I don’t think I could have done this there or in New York or Philly. It’s just very, very crowded. It’s so much easier to find people in Delaware and be able to have conversations with them. … ‘Delaware Way’ is the phrase, right?”

As the city officially emerges from the pandemic, the ecosystem has changed. Three years of limited in-person networking has left some local entrepreneurs who are now where the Himics were eight years ago searching for community, and for hubs like the CoIN Loft and 1313 Innovation, which gradually faded out by 2019. While they’re not non-existent — The Mill continues on its growth trajectory, and the Tech Council of Delaware recently launched — a post-COVID Wilmington needs more builders and connectors.

People working in the First Ascent office

(Photo by Holly Quinn)

Himics intends to be a part of it, now that they have a space that can accommodate meetups and community events.

“I hope to contribute” to the new ecosystem, he said. “There’s a great illustration history [in Wilmington], we’d like to do something to help bring a little bit of that back.”

First Ascent also intends to continue to create jobs.

“I think we could grow to 50 with 20 or 25 here, and still be able to fit in this space,” Himics said. “I’m excited to have this space as our headquarters for a good three to five years.”

Companies: First Ascent Design
Series: State of Local Tech Month 2023

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