A new venture is going to need different things as it grows. But surround it with talent and expertise that can help, and the chances are higher that it will find its way. Put other ventures nearby, and they’ll probably find a way to work together.
That approach is playing out for Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) with its space for tech and cyber companies inside the University of Maryland College Park-adjacent Discovery District.
The Columbia-based real estate investment trust has four buildings online in the innovation district, which is part of a joint venture with the university. It is coming in at the beginning of the redevelopment in College Park as a startup hub, where organizers view the startups that are growing today as having the potential to become bigger companies that become the anchors of the future. That means giving some space to grow, so it’s less about locking into a lease than it is flexibility.
“Our goal is to create buildings and environments in buildings where it appeals to those folks and their employees, where we can create the ecosystem and then grow and be with the tenant throughout the lifecycle,” said Greg Prossner, senior VP of asset management and leasing at COPT. “We try to position ourselves where we can partner with cyber-related companies and tech-related companies where we can be the solution in creating the space and then with their amazing tech and their business plans, they’re the ones that bringing the buildings to life. We like to be the ones that have the foundation laid.”
That lifecycle can mean companies grow within the area, and work with others as they move in. Cybersecurity training and career development company Cybrary moved into the Discovery District in 2019. The company initially moved from its Greenbelt HQ of 3,000-square-feet into an 11,000-square-foot space at 5801 University Research Court. Now with 100 employees getting ready to head back into the office as COVID protocols allow, it recently cut the ribbon on a new space within the Discovery District of 26,000 square feet at 4600 River Road. With 3.2 million users worldwide and delivering 10 million minutes of learning each month, the company is aiming to grow there to 225 employees within the next two years. There’s space to do so.
Being close to transit hubs like the Purple Line and Green Line was advantageous, as many of the company’s team commutes from Arlington, D.C. and Baltimore. It has also hired from the University of Maryland since putting down roots in the area.
“We just knew to find good talent you have to be in a place that draws it,” said cofounder Ralph Sita, a University of Maryland alum.
In turn, Cybrary’s initial District space is now helmed by a software shop hosted by Catalyst Campus. The Colorado Springs-based nonprofit brings together academia, government and technologists around work to bring modern technology approaches into the U.S. Department of Defense.
With nationwide expansion plans in the coming years after seeing growth in Colorado Springs, the new space marks its first foray into Maryland. Catalyst Campus is looking to grow next year with a space in the same building as Cybrary, and it will look to add its accelerator program for businesses and more software programing.
Currently, the Catalyst Campus space, called The Forge, is hosting software developers from the U.S. Navy, providing a space that allows for a tech office vibe as opposed to a base, which is ideal for introducing agile and DevSecOps practices into their work, leaders said. Catalyst also has partnerships with the University of Maryland, and recently hosted an Industry Day with 1,200 virtual participants and 60 companies that allowed government and commercial technologists to share ideas in a field that has been dominated by many familiar big contractors.
“We’re now starting to bring in and infuse new companies, new ways of thinking, commercial best practices and dual use technologies into the space,” said Patrick Barrett, CEO of Catalyst Campus.
That growth is happening with INKY, as well. The cybersecurity company, which focuses on protecting against email phishing attacks, was already a tenant in the Discovery District, and recently signed on with COPT to triple its space. The flexibility to expand was a factor in their growth, as well.
The collaboration extends among the companies in the Discovery District. As Catalyst Campus moved in, Cybrary helped out, whether it was Sita offering advice on the space, or Cybrary offering its podcast recording space.
“It’s been a great partnership,” said Catalyst Campus Program Director Tracey Manor. “And I’m sure we will learn a lot more from them as we go.”
The Discovery District is still up-and-coming, as COPT has another 1.2 million square feet of potential build-out to go along with the 400,000 square feet it currently has built. With the district, the university wants to cluster academic, startup and commercial companies to create tech-driven economic growth. The experiences of the COPT companies putting down roots there so far offer offers a remind that building that environment requires setting aside room for companies to grow, and building partnerships as well as buildings.
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