that will convert it from a daytime destination for high tech workers to a 24/7 live-work-play community for all sorts of Triangle workers and residents.
But while planning for the mixed-use development called Park Center continues on, momentum has built around The Frontier
. Envisioned as a testing ground for Park Center, the former IBM building has become a hub of creativity and entrepreneurial activity with four floors of co-working, event and office space nearly built out and fresh plans to add a second building to the campus.
Demolition has begun just across the street on the 600 building (see renderings above), and more office workers will move there in 2017.
In the meantime, we’re looking at the various programs that have already found a home at The Frontier, organizations or events that have helped exceed RTP’s expectations for what could be made out of an aging building in a once obsolete portion of the 7,000-acre park.
Here they are:
Founder Ben Greene’s
successful 2014 Kickstarter campaign
helped make his dream of creating an urban farm out of old shipping containers into reality. After mini-Farmery experiments on the American Tobacco Campus in Durham and The City Farm in downtown Raleigh and participation in a San Francisco accelerator, The Farmery has a permanent home at The Frontier and is open Monday through Friday for breakfast and lunch, as well as catering and delivery.
The Farmery uses a growing system called Crop Box
that was developed in partnership with Wilmington-area greenhouse manufacturer Williamson Greenhouses. In a 40-foot box, The Farmery grows the equivalent of an acre of greens, lettuces, herbs and mushrooms. Crop Box is becoming its own business too—based out of Williamson’s home base in Clinton, NC.
The accelerator for veteran-entrepreneurs is prepping for its biggest event of the year this week, called The Muster RDU. Launched last December
as a local chapter of the national Bunker Labs organization, Bunker Labs RDU
holds three-month intensive programs for local vet-entrepreneurs. It also has an Entrepreneur-in-Residence program and a variety of educational events.
The Muster RDU will bring more than 250 people—including 200 veterans—together to learn from other former servicemen and women turned entrepreneurs. It also showcases 16 veteran-owned businesses in the Triangle area, and includes a pitch competition for 15 startups to compete for a $5,000 prize. This event is happening at MetLife’s offices in Cary, but most Bunker Labs activities happen in private office space at The Frontier.
Funded by the RTP and TUCASI foundations
in August is a new medical device and healthcare innovation incubator that matches biomedical engineering students with surgeons, researchers and other innovators to help test new ideas and launch startups.
The foundation dollars are also helping to create a maker space that can be used by both MEDIC and Bunker Labs participants.
What’s unique about MEDIC is that it’s a result of collaboration between UNC and NC State professors, as well as the UNC Healthcare system.
While fundraising is ongoing, founders plan to be up and running with events and some initial projects this fall.
Research Triangle Park was one of seven organizations nationally to win funding for a US2020 program it calls STEM in the Park
, which brings students together with mentors around STEM education. According to RTP’s Julie Terry,
414 volunteers have spent more than 5,000 hours mentoring students over the past year. They also help with hands-on events like the STEM Expo coming October 21.
The event, which happens twice a year, will bring a couple thousand students through The Frontier for science and tech activities. A new partnership with Moogfest includes music creation and innovation workshops into the event.
Coworking at The Frontier continues to be free and open to the public during regular business hours. In its first 18 months of operation, RTP estimates that more than 100,000 people came through the space to work or attend events or other programming.
The space is unique in its setup, with various seating and table options, including bike desks, coffee and five conference rooms, free to reserve. There are free happy hours, fitness classes and educational events, as well as access to weekly food truck rodeos.
One of those free events is a series that showcases innovative companies in the Park and around the region, organized by industry sector or theme. Once a month, up to 10 speakers give short lightning talks about their project, idea or interest area giving attendees a unique perspective on innovation in the Triangle.
The September 2016 event focused on fashion and featured designers, fashion entrepreneurs, researchers at local universities, a fashion consultant and two nonprofit organizations, all of which are thinking differently about their industry.
Private offices, flexible lease terms
Starting at 100 square feet and $375 per month, private offices at The Frontier have been available to freelancers, entrepreneurs and small and startup companies and like other coworking spaces, with flexible lease terms. The initial 45 offices filled up and a waiting list of 100 people has continued since The Frontier opened.
An additional 34 offices will soon become available in the original building, and the demand has prompted the expansion into the 600 building across a suspended bridge.
At 129,000 square feet, RTP will market that facility to teams looking for as much as 20,000 square feet.
And if that building takes off as quickly as the 800 building did, there’s always 700 next door. Meeting the needs of nontraditional RTP tenants is helping the foundation prep for the unique leasing and office space arrangements likely to come when Park Center opens.
This group of business professionals provides a variety of counseling and educational opportunities for small business owners and entrepreneurs. It’s a partner in the Bunker Labs program, and offers other seminars and workshops around finance and capital formation, women empowerment and business planning.
On its website, EntreDot
says it’s taken 300 companies through its Six Steps to Success business planning course.
An affordable public transit project conceived and in testing at NC State University won one of two new Catalysts for Innovation awards from the RTP and TUCASI foundations. With the $175,000 grant, EcoPRT
will help RTP consider ways to better connect the corporations on campus with The Frontier, and eventually Park Center.
EcoPRT's research and development focuses on eliminating the weight and cost of its vehicles, so it becomes an affordable option for urban centers to consider over massive parking lots and road infrastructure projects.
A new organization out to train adults with autism and intellectual development disabilities to work in software and tech jobs is creating a year-long program that includes nine months in a classroom and three-month internships at local companies.
According to Persever8
, 3.5 million people in the U.S. live with Autism Spectrum Disorder and several thousand of them are in the Triangle. Its goal is to train workers and match them with jobs while also educating the business community about the advantages to hiring men and women with these disorders. A kickoff event is happening October 17 at The Frontier.
Side note: Founder and executive director Allison Zoller has been exposed to entrepreneurship for years. She’s wife of Ted Zoller, a serial entrepreneur and director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at UNC. The Zollers’ oldest child was diagnosed with autism in 1987 and they’ve been advocates ever since.
The North Carolina Newsroom Co-operative
is in the process of moving its operations to American Underground in Durham, but The Frontier offered a place for this group dedicated to supporting small and startup news organizations and freelancers to meet and establish roots. The co-op opened a coworking space for people in media as it created structure around the group. Moving forward, organizers will work to provide educational programming and resources to these new organizations and the people (designers, freelancers, editors) who support them.
Park Center’s development could mean these buildings may eventually be demolished in favor of state-of-the-art structures, but for now, they're serving the community's need for flexible, affordable and creative space to dream up and launch new projects, companies and endeavors.