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Behind the Build: Delaware Innovation Space Creates a Community of Success

By Peter Kray posted 01-25-2021 02:57 PM


In this new CSI Behind the Build video, Marvin Kemp, FCSI, CDT®, a Principal at Design Collective, and Mark Dorsey, FASAE, CAE, take a virtual tour of the Delaware Innovation Space, in Wilmington, DE.

CSI also sat down with Tim Mueller, PhD, VP of Facilities and Operations, to discuss the impact this space will have on the success of its tenants, and for the future of our planet.

What were some of the key factors you first considered in redesigning the Delaware Innovation Space, especially in regards to what to keep, and what to renovate?

Laboratory renovations are highly complex and expensive, so they are, to some degree, always budgetarily limited. In support of our mission, we developed a strategy to lower the barrier to entry into class A lab space for newly formed start-up companies while giving them broader facility support that is unmatched. We spent over a year doing market evaluations, looking at other spaces, and talking to potential clients to really understand the critical must haves, and this helped drive the basic design principles for the lab and shared equipment spaces.

Our renovated community spaces were designed practically and focused on an area that would encourage a thriving communal and collaborative environment. This mindset fosters a unique supportive atmosphere, which is critical for small science-based start-ups. Our flex spaces can accommodate virtually any type of event or conference situation and give our founders credibility when they host guests/investors. We wanted a space where our client companies would be proud to bring in visitors and call “home.”

How is working on an “Accelerator Space” different from other projects?

The biggest challenge in an Accelerator/incubator environment is the dynamic nature of our client base – there is no crystal ball to describe the technology mix and required future facility needs. Science based research takes on numerous forms and requires a diverse facilities capability. Each new year affords new clients, delivers existing client growth, and graduates our success stories. We had to design with core flexibility and functionality to support a wide range of capabilities across a broad technology landscape. Many incubators focus only on one technology vector (e.g., Biotech), which affords a more singular design viewpoint. Since we equally support Bio-, chem-, and materials-based research we needed to understand these diverse needs and incorporate them into a single design to ensure our client success.

What design features did you consider in regards to helping start-ups succeed?

Critical to success is protection of IP so we spent a lot of effort and time developing ways to make sure that this lifeblood of our start-up community is well protected, so privacy and security were at the forefront. For ease of use, we wanted to make sure that, in addition to all the lab requirements, we had advanced AV and IT services that were all plug and play and worked every time. Working with our AV partners, we developed a consistent implementation and equipment profile which is deployed equally from our small phone booths to our large multipurpose rooms. This also includes wireless mics which can be used across multiple spaces and floors.

The central concept of community is woven into all the design elements, including our kitchen and meeting spaces. This included centerpiece live edge tables and coffee stations. Pre-COVID 19, the ability to have impromptu hallway discussions, seminars, happy hours etc., provide an environment for start-ups to work together, learn from each other and provide support. These partnerships are critical and can make a substantial difference in the success of a start-up business.

What are some of the ways you worked to encourage a sense of community among the different tenants?

To be successful in a science-based start-up, it truly takes a village. We developed multiple ways for our communities to engage both formally and informally. Our team and extended partners sponsor simple opportunities like “Lunch and Learns,” that provide access to modern techniques or partners capabilities that help our community grow. These types of events are perfect for our multipurpose lunch/seminar facility which was designed to easily support a host of different event types.

Our small conference rooms provide areas where our legal and business support partners work to quickly answer questions and help develop strategies for optimizing start-up success. Our newly launched Accelerator Program, “Science Inc.” is based on a cohort model where sharing start-up challenges and learning in a real-world environment is meant to develop both a broader business understanding and critical business relationships. Our growing EIR (Entrepreneurs in Residence) work with each of our clients to reduce barriers and are a critical component of our offering portfolio, which continues to evolve and supports all aspects including science, technology, funding, organizational development and business acumen.

How did you ensure the space has multi-purpose benefits, and is also growth mode flexible?

We started with a great shell and worked hard to open the space and increase the flow, which adds flexibility. Colors were chosen to be warm and inviting and the furniture selections were based on functionality and not flash. This space/furniture combination provides fixed multipurpose gathering spaces but also, easy reconfiguration supporting multiple needs.

Client growth is a key metric of our success. Our mission is to identify high potential growth companies, so we needed to have expansion as a core tenet of our design. Our lab model allows companies to start small in a lab pod, which is attached to a shared lab facility. This is critical as our companies do not need to fill their lab with equipment that we can sponsor providing greater growth potential for the given space. Once they outgrow a pod, we can readily graduate a company to a larger lab or multiple labs – all in a minimally disruptive way.

Since so many of the tenants are lab workers, what’s the sense of pride in developing this space during the time of COVID-19?

Our project was mostly complete when COVID hit so, thankfully, it did not impact construction. The pride really comes from allowing our critical workers to work in a complex technology arena safely and we spend a great deal of time focused on continuing operations and the safety of our clients. One challenge arises from the community aspect which, because of the personal connection aspect, is very challenging to deliver in today’s “virtual” environment. We continue to provide meeting, communication, and seminar options to help in every way possible.

When you look at the finished product, what do you feel will be its impact on society?

Being a scientist, I see the potential of the next generation of scientists and the wonderful new technologies and innovative products being developed. Our potential societal impact is derived from the challenges facing our planet. We have companies working on new energy solutions, cures for cancer, ways to reduce greenhouse gases, new approaches to agriculture and aquaculture just to name a few. These are the investments that will drive a better tomorrow for our global neighbors. What could be more exciting?

Anything else?

I would like to call out the partnerships that make this all possible. The lab facility is vital, but working with such a great in-house team and wonderful partnerships at the industrial, academic, local, and federal levels is critical to our success. As a nonprofit, we are blessed to have such a vibrant ecosystem to support our efforts and I cannot wait to see what the next few years will hold.

Do you have a project you think is worthy of a ‘Behind the Build’ story? We’d love to hear about it, along with some insight on your specific project’s history, and how it benefits the community. Send your suggestions to Sarah McMurdy, Director, Marketing & Communications at