After months of conversation and negotiation, Duke University announced Tuesday that it would move its three-year-old Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative
off campus and into downtown Durham to take advantage of the synergies already happening in the urban center's technology community and those promised as the Durham Innovation District
is developed in coming years.
The real estate deal isn't necessarily a big one—Duke I&E will take a floor, or 15,000 square feet, in an old tobacco warehouse known as The Imperial Building on Morris Street (pictured above)—but the move is significant to the region's entrepreneurial community.
Like NC State's new entrepreneurship clinic at HQ Raleigh, and Launch Chapel Hill's partnership with UNC, having Duke's center of entrepreneurial activity embedded within the larger community signifies a commitment to better connecting talented young people with broader startup resources, jobs, and to the region. It also means fewer struggles over parking on Duke's campus for the rest of us.
Said Kathie Amato, senior strategist for Duke I&E's education programs: "The second we told people we were coming downtown, my phone was ringing with people saying, 'We want to collaborate with you.'"
The move is also one more step toward realizing a vision of having a million new square feet of offices and labs within the 15-acre Durham Innovation District, an effort aimed to make the city and region competitive with Boston, Silicon Valley and other city centers of entrepreneurial activity.
To affirm that vision, and Duke's role in it, Governor Pat McCrory took a break from legislating to join I&E, Mayor Bill Bell, Durham County Commissioner Brenda Howerton, Downtown Durham Inc., the Durham Chamber of Commerce and real estate developers to commemorate the news and talk about the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship to the future of the state.
McCrory had a similar refrain to most of his recent public appearances
. More entrepreneurial activity in the Triangle only furthers the effort to make North Carolina "the third vertex of a national innovation triangle," alongside Silicon Valley and Boston.
"To make that happen, we need to have this type of collaboration between the public and private sector," he said. The next step is seeing more collaboration between the public and private universities too, specifically, the sharing of faculty and capital resources.
How it all plays out is largely a responsibility of Longfellow Real Estate Partners, the lead developer of the Innovation District and a key player in Cambridge's Kendall Square district development over the last 20 years. The company has already invested $100 million in Durham, and has plans for many millions more. Draws for Longfellow are its similarities to Boston—strong research institutions and high achieving researchers—along with its differences—affordability and quality of life, said its managing partner Adam Sichol.
He's in regular conversations with companies interested in joining the district, and recalled a conversation just this week with a Boston company considering Durham because a move would mean half the real estate costs as staying put.
For the Duke deal, Longfellow is building out the space on behalf of landlord Measurement Inc
., the educational testing company that owns several properties and employs 380 people in downtown Durham.
I&E will move at least a dozen of its staff into the building when construction is complete this summer. They include vice provost and director Eric Toone
, the communications team, educational, student and alumni affairs and social entrepreneurship (SoCent) programming, some commercialization efforts and the new Duke Angel Network
There will be classrooms for holding workshops and small speaker events, a large open area for co-working, and a cafe and catering kitchen for hosting events. The group is working with the bus system to coordinate transportation to and from campus. The first major activities of the new office will happen during Duke Entrepreneurship Week in September. To get a sense for existing resources for
students and the community, here's a cool interactive map I&E created.
I&E hopes the end result of the move is more interaction with community organizations, corporations and tech hubs like American Underground just down the street from the new digs and with Duke's existing offices and labs downtown.
Here's how Amato explained it: "We are better when we're in a space where there are other organizations, where you're bringing thought leaders from institutions around the world. That can't happen when we are isolated in the university."