Sacred Heart University has entered the coworking movement.The Fairfield-based university has signed an agreement with Verizon and Alley, which operates coworking spaces nationwide. The new “Alley Powered by Verizon” space, on SHU’s West Campus – the former General Electric headquarters at 3135 Easton Turnpike – will be that partnership’s first Connecticut venture and its first to be on a college campus.
“We’ve been interested in testing out the concept in an academic setting,” said Nick LiVigne, Verizon Global Real Estate manager workplace strategy and coworking lead. “We felt that Sacred Heart’s technology, engineering and computer sciences curriculum seemed like a natural fit.”
The 11,000-square-foot space will offer various levels of memberships and services that include private office space, hot desks – where multiple workers use a single workstation during different times – meeting and conference room space, as well as recruiting, marketing and programming services.
SHU will provide the fully furnished and equipped turnkey facility and a dedicated project coordinator to help identify, activate and create engagement between the innovation community and the university’s faculty, staff, administration and student body.
SHU also will establish a student concierge service that members can use as a resource for making connections with various university programs, internships, recruiting, events, speaker sessions, office hours and mentoring. Members will also have fee-based access to the labs and facilities that include computer, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, engineering/design, gaming, finance and motion-capture labs, as well as a makerspace and production studios.
Alley, which is headquartered in New York City, will oversee marketing and advertising to develop a community of members, manage member experience and help coordinate events and programs.
“This is something we have been talking about with our advisory board for about a year,” SHU provost Rupendra Paliwal said. “We wanted to address the question of how we could provide more opportunities for our students to interact with entrepreneurs, which is something our students have expressed an interest in.
“The university is always looking to create a learning environment and a learning experience for our students that can help prepare them for their professional life,” Paliwal added. “Something like this helps to keep our academics pertinent and relevant to what’s happening in the business world.”
Set to open in late 2019, the facility “is exactly the kind of innovative and entrepreneurial platform that Connecticut desperately needs,” SHU President John J. Petillo said. “The symbiotic relationship between business and technology is critical for incubation, economic growth and job creation. With our partners Verizon and Alley, and the many small and large businesses and organizations that choose to align with our innovation center, we will introduce a new creative working model and rich opportunities for fostering talent, ideas and business growth.”
“This is a major boost to Fairfield’s economic development efforts to bring more jobs and businesses to our town,” remarked Fairfield First Selectman Mike Tetreau, who said the initiative “certainly goes a long way to helping replace the loss of GE in our community.” That company exited Fairfield in 2016 in favor of Boston.
Verizon and Alley have together built innovation hubs in New York, Cambridge, Washington, Palo Alto and Los Angeles. According to LiVigne, the coworking spaces allow Verizon to tap into local startup and innovation networks, build relationships with potential partners and open new doors for ideas and technology.
The new center at Sacred Heart will further Verizon’s commitment to cultivate strong relationships with academic institutions with emerging technology curricula, LiVigne said. While Alley has a presence on other college campuses, LiVigne said Verizon would be closely monitoring the SHU facility to help determine whether it will be further involved with academia. “We’re always open to growth,” he said. “Anything is on the table for us.”
“Sacred Heart has long been committed to innovation and creative thinking, making it a natural fit for attracting and building a successful startup community,” said Alley CEO Jason Saltzman. “Fairfield County has several corporations and businesses that stand to benefit from the work that will be done here, not to mention its ideal location between New York City and Boston.
“We’re helping to create a startup mindset and environment that will provide members much-needed access to corporate resources typically unavailable to small businesses, from key relationship introductions to cutting-edge technology,” Saltzman said.
Paliwal said the university’s West Campus, which includes its new School of Computing – focused on computer engineering, computer gaming and cybersecurity, as well as developing programs in STEM fields like health and life sciences, science and technology – made it a natural choice for the new facility.
“This will not only benefit our students,” he said, “but also entrepreneurs who can access our lab, students and faculty to create and build prototypes for their ideas. This space will allow a wide range of people to become a part of a growing ecosystem.”