Velocity Collaboration Center, a Macomb-Oakland University INCubator that aids high-technology firms, has proven its worth in Sterling Heights.
Since opening in 2011 the center has been home to 110 clients overall, some on-site and others working as affiliate clients. The incubator says it has so far created 221 high-tech jobs and generated more than $66 million in follow-on funding for clients, providing companies with a jumping-off point in Sterling Heights.
But don’t call it a “co-working space”. The difference between the co-working label that has become something of a buzzword for Metro Detroit and an incubator like Velocity is a point stakeholders are quick to explain. While co-working premises involve a shared workplace, typically attractive to work-at-home professionals and independent contractors, an incubator offers a longer-term arrangement for growing companies.
Both have benefits. Co-working spaces have become a real estate trend that suits dense urban locations, such as Bamboo,WeWork, and TechTown in downtown Detroit. But in a more horizontally-developed area like Sterling Heights, a space such as Velocity may make sense for projects looking for office space for rent while a new company acclimatizes to the city.
Velocity is part of a larger SmartZone designation. Macomb County, Oakland University and the City of Sterling Heights hope it will help to position the countyas a leader in the defense and security industry, as well as making technology-based jobs available to retain young professionals.
Given its location in the county’s “defense corridor” along Van Dyke and Mound Roads, the center at 6633 18 Mile Road targets defense-related businesses in particular, such as the Michigan Center for Defense, which moved its operations from Lansing to the center. But software, advanced manufacturing, robotics and renewable energy businesses have also found a home at Velocity.
Some of the concepts to emerge from the Mac-OU program sound like ideas from a science fiction film. From an ingestible hand sanitizer created for the International Space Station to personal climate control systems for underwater divers, there’s no shortage of innovative ideas coming out of the premises. Other unique developments include driver-less assistance systems, low-profile wind turbines, and 3-D printing technology.
“Keeping in mind that small business creates two out of every three new jobs in the U.S.,” says Macomb-OU Incubator executive director Larry Herriman, “our organization has grown to not only be a magnet for invention and technology, but also an outward projector of entrepreneurial inspiration.”
The Velocity building is a former school, donated in 2009 to the city and supported by local partnerships with organizations such as DTE Energy, Pure Michigan and the Sterling Heights Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Leases start at $185 per month for an office cubicle, and range up to $1,300 per month for a 1,500-square-foot space. Rent includes common-area amenities like conference rooms, Internet access, mail service, access to copiers and phone lines.
These resources were attractive to the people behind Sequris Group,who decided to move their company to the hub. The cybersecurity business started in Royal Oak, working on firewalls and cloud devices, but as they began developing their own frameworks for cybersecurity they found a need for more physical room to grow.
“Thanks to this space we’ve been able to develop those products,” says Sequris spokeswoman Brittani Holsey.
Brittani Holsey works for Sequris out of the Velocity Incubator in Sterling Heights.
Holsey says the incubator has been integral to growth in companies like Sequris and has allowed them to bring in new talent.
“We’ve been able to establish academic partnerships with other colleges and universities in the area,” Holsey says. “We bring in college talent and give them real work experience in a professional setting.
Another area where the venue has seen success is in the hosting of foreign businesses. The Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development vets applications from international companies and Velocity offers a North American address and base as they network with potential customers, locate permanent premises and market their product.
“During this time the companies learn about how to do business in the U.S.,” says building services specialist Kathryn Quell. “They are at Velocity for a six-month period and then, hopefully, launch into the U.S. market.”
Building Services Specialist Kathryn Quell knows just how busy Velocity gets with events that come through the collaboration hub.
Velocity has also proven to be a popular location for business and community events. More than 10,000 people have been through the doors to attend over 447 events so far, according to the latest report. The facility offers state-of-the-art technology and can accommodate up to 150 people.
Sterling Heights Economic Advisor Luke Bonner calls the partnership between Oakland University and the city a 'win-win'. “I honestly think that we are only scratching the surface of the city’s relationship with Oakland University and what they can bring to the table to help accelerate the growth of companies in Sterling Heights,” says Bonner. “So, we’re very excited about that.”