HANCOCK COUNTY — Where can the founder of an agri-tech company work down the hall from an event planner in a building that also houses podcasting rooms, a 3-D printer, a virtual reality lab and a laser cutter?
It’s not in Indianapolis. It’s not in Chicago. It’s just north of Greenfield.
Idea Co-op, a co-working space powered by NineStar Connect, is now up and running at 2331 E. County Road 600N.
Jill Snyder, director of business development for NineStar Connect, said the utility co-op’s motivation behind the space is to attract and retain technological talent. NineStar Connect has its own challenges in that area, she continued.
“If we have that problem, the hospital has that problem and the bank, everyone would have that problem,” Snyder said.
Snyder has been working in high tech since 1981.
“I know you have to create an environment in which these people want to work, want to communicate with each other, want to be,” she said.
And so she and her colleagues set out to do just that in the building that was formerly NineStar Connect’s communications headquarters. The co-op’s property on East Main Street used to be solely its electric utility home base. When the two merged, Snyder said all administrative employees ended up on East Main Street. While most information technology employees remained at the north campus, half of the large building emptied, providing what Snyder called a logical place to create the co-working and maker space.
Although Idea Co-op has a heavy emphasis on technology, Snyder said it’s not a requirement and that other kinds of businesses are welcome too. East-central Indiana lacks co-working spaces suited to startups, she said.
“The objective is to create new businesses in Hancock County, to spur economic development,” Snyder added.
Companies can rent a furnished office for $250 a month.
For those who just need a place to work with high-speed broadband and want to be around like-minded individuals, a $75 monthly membership gets them access to an open area with six work stations dubbed the “collision space.”
“You just come in and grab a desk and work,” Snyder said.
Even the large deck outside can be considered a work space, with its Wi-Fi and outlet-lined 30-foot-long standing surface.
Five of the nine offices had been leased as of last week, Snyder said. She added most of the interest in Idea Co-op has been for individual offices.
“Which tells me people are really trying to start businesses, they’re not just looking for a place to work,” she said.
Idea Co-op also offers a 3-D printing lab and virtual reality lab.
NineStar Connect is no stranger to virtual reality. President and CEO Michael Burrow said the co-op has a 3-D virtual map of a substation that utility employees can use to practice on.
“It’s a training tool,” he said.
A short stroll from the co-working space’s offices is the “phone booth,” a former storage closet that’s been brightened and furnished with a plush chair where members can take private phone calls on their mobile devices. One member even uses it to meditate, Snyder said.
Two warehouses are attached to the building. The upper one has a loading dock and drive-in along with an extensive maker space members can haul equipment into and use to create. The lower warehouse has a large caged-in area where members can lock up their projects.
Also in the lower warehouse is a laser cutter, which will be used to cut pieces of acoustic felt with Idea Co-op’s firefly logo on them to cover the walls in the facility’s podcasting rooms, Snyder said. A plasma cutter, which can cut through materials much stronger than felt, is coming this month.
The cutters and 3-D printers are for members to learn about and interact with the technologies and create prototypes, but not for mass production, Snyder said.
Just beyond the warehouses are two outbuildings, one of which is heated, that members can rent space in for business purposes.
A gym on the first floor of the main building is filled with exercise equipment and free weights. After their workouts, members can clean up in a nearby shower before heading back to work.
Upstairs, a conference room has wall-to-wall windows framing the farm field beyond. The conference room on the first floor has a touchscreen on the wall outside that members can use to reserve the space.
Both floors have break areas stocked with all-you-can-drink coffee. A wall on the one downstairs is covered in boards from an old barn deconstructed in Connersville, a location NineStar Connect serves. The one upstairs has a Bevi water machine, fountain soda and air hockey table.
Just outside the collision space spans a long conference table whose slab came from a poplar tree felled on a property NineStar Connect bought in Philadelphia where a new water plant will be developed. A house on that property was also razed, and Snyder said plans are under way to mount its stained glass windows on interior walls outside the collision space.
Photographs line hallway walls from a NineStar Connect employee photography contest. All of the photos are of locations NineStar Connect serves, Snyder said.
Idea Co-op is located on 36 acres, 26 of them tillable.
VanCoe Ag Technologies LLC, the space’s first tenant, intends to take advantage of those tillable acres. The company developed a subsurface nutrient delivery system for crops, according to a press release from NineStar Connect.
John Mascoe, president and founder of VanCoe Ag Technologies, praised his new headquarters in the release.
“Idea Co-op is unique in the region’s co-working spaces because it has over 26 acres of tillable land with second-to-none training facilities,” he said. “These facilities can be used as a regional training and support center for the development and demonstration of innovative ag-tech solutions, utility technologies and hands-on training and support that require large outdoor spaces and storage buildings.”
Spade Events Co. will soon call Idea Co-op home as well. Debra Cochran, owner and lead planner of the firm, said in an email that she intends to use her new office to conduct business, meet clients and have meetings. She added she’s looking forward to using the facility’s podcast equipment in the future as well.
Cochran said that she was drawn to Idea Co-op because it’s close to home and the price was right for a startup. Spade Events Co. looked at a variety of office space options in the Greenfield area, she continued, but they all came with longer-term leases or were more expensive than what she could justify spending on a new business.
Idea Co-op, along with its available technology; “a gym to get the blood pumping and ideas flowing”; and its abundance of coffee was just the solution, Cochran continued.
“The other concept that attracted me to the space was just the idea of the co-op, that I would hopefully be in a location with other like-minded entrepreneurs, that we could bounce ideas off of each other and really form a community that will benefit Hancock County as a whole,” she said.
Idea Co-op members have their own entrance that they can access 24 hours a day. Snyder said the NineStar Connect campus is under video surveillance and its support center is always staffed.
The facility is also part of the Indiana CoWorking Passport program, which allows members of about 50 co-working spaces in the state to work at participating locations one day a month for free.
Snyder said NineStar Connect’s hope is that companies that start out at Idea Co-op will one day become successful enough to leave and move to other locations in Hancock County.
“That’s a success,” she said. “If they have to move out of our place… that’s the endgame.”