Vermont’s first co-living and coworking business accelerator will find a home at Burlington’s Cambrian Rise.
Local investors will help pay for and design one of 12 buildings that will make up the development. The “innovation hub” will allow entrepreneurs to work and learn together, get access to startup funds for business and live in a place that facilitates “the intense collision of ideas and mentoring,” according to a description of the project provided by its creators.
The project, called the Vermont Innovation Commons, will “bring talent and capital and business growth and, ultimately, jobs to a place that really needs it,” said Mark Naud, who’s heading up the effort. “There’s … nothing like that in the state of Vermont or in Burlington, certainly.”
Vermont Works, an investment firm started last year by Charlotte residents Robert Zulkoski and Frank Koster, launched the project. The duo hired Naud, a lawyer and former head of Burlington’s Community Sailing Center, to get the initiative off the ground.
The goal? To help startup companies grow, create living-wage jobs, and attract and retain young workers.
Naud said he settled on Cambrian Rise for its proximity to downtown, the gigabit internet available from Burlington Telecom, and the variety of housing, retail and offices that will make up the planned community on North Avenue. He reached out to project developer Eric Farrell about two months ago. The sides shook hands on a deal in late May, according to Farrell.
The innovation commons will provide an “anchor” for the development, Naud said. The 60,000-square-foot building will include offices, coworking space, meeting and event venues, common areas and temporary living quarters — “dorm rooms for grownups,” according to Naud. Young entrepreneurs could live there while they participated in a six-week course; remote workers would be able rent office space; business owners looking to relocate to Vermont may use the dorms as temporary living quarters while they scout out the area, he explained.
The project “is going to add a whole other dimension” to Cambrian Rise, Farrell said, though the existing building design will likely first require some “tweaks.” The two groups will discuss potential changes and get permit amendments in the coming weeks, he added. Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2019.
As part of the deal, Vermont Works also agreed to invest in the rest of the Cambrian Rise development. Naud did not reveal how much the group would shell out.
All told, Farrell’s project will include 739 units, as well as retail and mixed use space on the property once home to Burlington College. The first building, Liberty House, opened last year, and construction on other housing has already begun.