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Prospective operators of the city’s Dudley Square innovation space share ideas

Yawu Miller | 9/17/2014, 11:46 a.m.
A BRA meeting on the Dudley Square innovation space brought out 16 teams of potential operators who shared ideas and ...
Economic Development Chief John Barros leads questions and answers while prospective Dudley Innovation Center operator David Delmar looks on. (Banner photo) Banner photo

Two months ago, the Boston Redevelopment Authority issued a request for ideas for a business innovation center in the new Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Dudley Square. In a meeting Monday, there was no shortage of ideas.

A program to teach court-involved youth to write code and build web pages would team up and share space with programs for teens who produce music and teens who produce documentaries. An innovation center would build capacity for one of Roxbury’s most abundant business types — home-based day care centers. An international network of universities developing an online learning platform would share its technological innovations with the Boston Public Schools — slated to move into the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building — and with local colleges.

While one respondent to the request for ideas simply shared ideas, and not a proposal, the other 15 who presented were eyeing the 4,500 square feet the city has set aside in the new building to site their ambitious plans. The BRA will release a request for proposals in two weeks, opening the doors for a formal submission of plans for the innovation space.

City officials used Monday’s meeting, which was held at the Orchard Gardens K-8 School, to help determine the direction for the innovation space.

“This conversation will be helpful as we determine what will be in the RFP,” noted John Barros, the city’s chief of economic development.

The respondents, too, used the forum to hone their ideas. Some explored partnering with others to make a joint bid for the space, including Resilient Coders principal David Delmar, who proposed teaming up with PressPass TV’s bid to create a Boston Center for Media Arts and Technology. When an audience member asked Delmar why he focused on youth, he indicated he would be open to working with adults as well.

Workbar, which operates work spaces where entrepreneurs rent desks, office space and conference rooms in South Station and Central Square, was part of a super-group of the respondents, joining forces with Future Boston Alliance, Babson’s Women Innovating Now Lab and BUILD, a program that provides high school students with entrepreneurial skills.

The group would provide renters in the Dudley space with access to the other Workbar locations, potentially providing them with access to 750 other entrepreneurs who use Workbar. They also propose teaming up with the Boston Workers Alliance, Nuestra Comunidad Community Development Corporation and Roxbury Community College to provide community programming in the space, including classes for small business owners and networking events.

SkyLab principal Brigitte Wallace delivers a presentation while team members Al Willis and Arlene Spence look on. (Banner photo)

Banner photo

SkyLab principal Brigitte Wallace delivers a presentation while team members Al Willis and Arlene Spence look on. (Banner photo)

Another group, the Dudley Vision SkyLab, proposed renting workspace, providing business education programming and running a business incubation program aimed at local Roxbury residents.

“It’s been a long time coming, but change is coming to Roxbury,” said Dudley SkyLab proponent Bridgette Wallace. “We want to make sure that the heart of Roxbury — the people — are part of this change.”

Barros said Monday’s forum gave the BRA good ideas to incorporate into its RFP.

“There are a lot of amazing ideas here,” he said. “We want to make sure that this energy can be captured, to make sure this happens. People are forming new partnerships. People are shifting their ideas based on the comments they’re receiving.”

Barros also stressed that the city is working with property owners in Dudley Square about providing space for startups.

“If you don’t end up in the innovation space, there’s a potential for you to end up in another space in the square,” he told the respondents.