Innovation Has a New Home
In February, the National Venture Capital Association named Charlottesville the fastest-growing venture capital ecosystem in the United States . The University of Virginia’s Licensing & Ventures Group is sitting in the heart of that trend with a new headquarters at the crossroads of UVA’s research facilities and Charlottesville’s burgeoning startup community.
“This corridor and this property were really attractive to us,” said Michael P. Straightiff, the group’s executive director. “Proximity to Grounds is tremendously important, but also proximity to the new ventures community in Charlottesville, which is increasingly on the Downtown Mall and Preston Avenue.”
The Licensing & Ventures Group’s new office is in the former Coca-Cola building on Preston Avenue and has been specifically designed to facilitate the exchange of ideas. It has collaborative meeting spaces, open offices for entrepreneurs and easy access to the group’s business networking and legal resources. Already, the new office has become an important asset to the group as it furthers its mission to commercialize UVA research and support University-based companies.
“We are starting to see companies, entrepreneurs and complementary support service providers express interest and reside in the space,” Straightiff said. The 9,600-square-foot office is divided into two principal areas. The first is a large, open space designed to be flexible for meetings, presentations and evolving startup companies that need a temporary space. It’s already played host to several investment fund representatives interested in meeting innovative faculty and the CEOs of the Licensing & Ventures Group’s portfolio of UVA-based startups.
A recent meeting between those portfolio companies, local entrepreneurs and a prominent venture capital firm highlighted the full potential of the area. The three open offices along the wall allowed for smaller, focused meetings, while mobile conference tables in the outer atrium supported larger and more public presentations. Visitors have access to a full kitchen, and any entrepreneurs in need of a break can take advantage of the nearby ping-pong table and lounge.
Some University groups are also taking advantage of that section of the office as a collaborative meeting space.
“There have been a few instances where the space has functioned as a catalyst for energetic and productive conversations,” Straightiff said. “A company pitching a venture capitalist in the conference room, two other companies having meetings in the flexible space, and faculty innovators bustling throughout the office. There is an emerging and contagious energy in the space ”
While one side of the office contains a large adaptable area, a second area on the left houses the permanent offices of the Licensing & Ventures Group.
The offices offer privacy for individual meetings with the licensing managers, who can offer faculty guidance on submitting invention disclosures and filing new patents and where emerging portfolio companies can find legal and business counsel. The Licensing & Ventures Group is also the home of the Seed Fund, created to aid in the creation of new ventures.
In this section of the office, the bones of the original Coca-Cola Building are on full display. When preparing the renovation, the Licensing & Ventures Group made a conscious effort to preserve the building’s characteristic high ceilings and exposed brick walls. Designers created a layout to accommodate the intentional sloping of the floors that was originally intended to help the facility drain naturally.
“We decided to work with local vendors and ensure we are part of the local fabric, because this building is uniquely Charlottesville,” Straightiff said.
They hired local artist and designer Tate Pray to design the layout and create some of the building’s unique furniture. His talents are on full display in the conference room, which is also the old delivery truck lift bay.
“Not knowing exactly how they were going to use the space, but knowing that the group was going to have functions there – guest lecturers, parties, presentations and smaller group meetings – I knew it had to serve all of those purposes at once,” Pray said. “It needed to be a flex space.”
Pray complemented the flexible design with original wood and metalworking. He crafted the handmade credenzas in the conference room and the reception area himself, and worked with other local artisans to create the unique, extra-large conference table.
Additionally, Pray’s collaboration with the design and construction team at Martin Horn Inc., the space’s general contractors, resulted in a seamless and inspiring union of creativity and boots on the ground.
The final result is a flowing, ultra-modern environment built for innovation.
“We wanted the space to be open and inviting,” Straightiff said. “We wanted a space that translated our desire for transparency and action. We took all of that into account in the planning.”
Working in the heart of Charlottesville’s hip small business district and exploding restaurant scene is an irrefutable asset when it comes to attracting new would-be entrepreneurs and investors to the office.
“What makes a cool spot more inviting than having a beer garden, a farm-to-table market, a juice store and a bike shop as neighbors, and all in close proximity to the Downtown Mall and the University?” Straightiff said. “It’s pretty ideal.”