July 26, 2004

Digital Corridor Scores Transitional Office for Young Companies

sarah Moise  /  CRBJ

The Charleston Digital Corridor is a third of the way toward achieving its 2004 objectives.

Most recently, it has partnered with the Charleston business community to provide a "touchdown office" environment for startup, young and relocating technology and knowledge-based companies.

Located in the Digital Corridor's office at 392-A Meeting St. in peninsular Charleston, the space is a fully functioning 1,000-square-foot office with workstations, business machines, storage and meeting technology.

The Touchdown Office will accommodate two companies at any given time. "It's intended to serve a pretty broad audience," says Ernest Andrade, director of the Charleston Digital Corridor. "It's primarily for companies moving into the Digital Corridor who are not quite ready to move into their own office space and need a couple of weeks to get acclimated."

Although companies considering relocating to the area can operate in the space until they have secured their permanent location, it will also be available to Charleston's existing knowledge-based companies that need larger meeting space downtown, a place to plug in their laptop, work or set up a presentation.

Mason Pope, co-founder of QuickFarm, is a grateful beneficiary of the Digital Corridor's work on behalf of startup companies. "Ernest helped us find office space and parking, and has helped us with business licenses and networking. He's very results-oriented. We have our own office now, but it's good to know that this is available to us if we need a bigger space."

"The message it sends to visiting professionals who are interested in relocating or servicing our companies is that we are accommodating," Andrade says. "A lot of freelancers need a professional space where they can meet with clients instead of doing business presentations in Starbucks."

The facility will also allow knowledge-based companies and interested parties to meet and engage to discuss issues, find professional resources, view product demonstrations and learn from distinguished professionals. Andrade intends to develop a rotating "Entrepreneur in Residence" program, where professionals can volunteer time to assist young entrepreneurs.

The development of the Digital Corridor has not been about the city of Charleston; it's been about developing the business community, Andrade explains. "The more tools we can put in the hands of the business community, the more business this community and city will harvest. Most recently, a gentleman who moved away in the late 1980s to start his company has returned and remarked how excited he is to see that tools now exist in this community."

"I see it changing," agrees David Garrison, vice president of sales and marketing for InfoArch, a custom software development and consulting firm. "I sense that Charleston is on the cusp of starting to have a more robust technology community."

Garrison points out that an increasing number of companies are showing an interest in being in Charleston and more companies proposing to Charleston Angel Partners. "The touchdown office allows them to come into town before they know where they want to be, get to know who the players are and find out what the market's like," he says. "It's a place to start up."

Use of the transitional office space is flexible, from 24 hours up to three months. The rate schedule is still in progress, but the rents are expected to be considerably below market value and will vary according to a company's situation and ability to meet the corridor's mission. Existing members are allowed to use the space on a temporary basis at no charge.

Unlike a traditional lease, the rate structure of will increase dramatically the longer somebody chooses to stay. The Digital Corridor asks the real estate community to keep them abreast of opportunities to place companies in office suites or office sharing environments. The idea is to facilitate movement of new companies from the touchdown office into a private environment at a rate they can afford.

Andrade appreciates the fact that the business community is increasingly recognizing the value of partnering with the Digital Corridor. "If we are able to develop these entrepreneurial and innovative technology and knowledge-based businesses, people who support these types of businesses will benefit," he says.

To that end, Spirit Telecom and Universal Solutions are donating their services for the touchdown office. Robin Madsen, regional manager of Spirit Telecom attended the ThinkTEC conference and later had an opportunity to meet with Andrade and other business partners. "We discussed the possibility of providing Internet services for the Digital Corridor to demonstrate our commitment to the economic development of Charleston and to the program," she says. "Our company feels very strongly about important of bringing new business in."

The Charleston Digital Corridor's touchdown office will be fully operational on August 1. Meanwhile, the organization's other objectives are nearing completion. The talent portal is expected to launch within 30 days. "I think the talent portal will be a very useful resource," says Robert Prioleau of local web design firm Blue Ion. "It shows you what programmers, systems engineers and designers are here. People are always trying to figure out who is available for part-time or even full-time freelance work. If you don't want to turn into a giant company, but still want to be able to take on exciting new projects, you need access to that information."

Lastly, the development of the Corridor Fund, a not-for-profit foundation that will provide financial support for technology startups, has begun and will be ongoing henceforth.

"All three have been coming into play at the result of direct interaction with existing companies," says Andrade. "Logistically, it just happened that the touchdown office was the one we were able to implement first."