District // CASE STUDY
Connecticut has long been known for innovation. From Eli Whitney and the cotton gin to Igor Sikorsky and aviation, some of the most innovative breakthroughs have taken place here in the Nutmeg State. But over time, Connecticut started to fall behind—and with the birth of the internet came the mass exodus of the state’s young talent.
Ultimately, what Connecticut needed was possibility. It needed hope and promise for a brighter and more economically prosperous future. It needed a focused and central experience for early-stage businesses—one that could spark a technological revolution and bring jobs and innovation back to the city of New Haven and the state of Connecticut. And, in 2018, that revolution commenced: District New Haven—an early-stage business ecosystem, tech campus, and startup incubator conceptualized by Digital Surgeons and Urbane Design—opened to the public.
Combining our future-forward mentality and understanding of human behavior and trends with the physical design and development prowess of Urbane, District came together at breakneck speeds. Its supreme look & feel speaks for itself and there’s an infectious energy within the building that’s palpable the moment you walk inside. And, even more apparent is the collaborative spirit and invested community of District—one that has a burning passion for progress supplemented by a shared sense of brand ownership.
Today, District New Haven is proving to be the catalyst for transformation that the Elm City and its community—as well as the entire state of Connecticut and its economy—desperately needed. And, more importantly, New Haven finally has the ecosystem it needs in order to successfully nurture and foster promising talent and high-potential companies of all sizes—from early startups to large-scale enterprises.
Decades upon decades and centuries ago, New Haven, Connecticut was home to some of America’s greatest inventors and entrepreneurs. But with the birth of the internet and the subsequent, rapid evolution of technology, New Haven started to fall behind – not because there were no longer inventors or entrepreneurs coming out the city or graduating from world-famous institutions like Yale University, but because there was no real ecosystem in place to help them develop and grow their ideas into full-fledged, thriving businesses. With District, we had to prove that we could create genuine, long-lasting change in the city. To do that, we showed not only what the physical space and design would look like, but also how a development like District would attract the right people with the right energy to kickstart a revolution, create job growth, and turn the city into a hub of innovation.
The outcome? A $22 million tech and innovation campus that’s become the center of economic transformation in the Elm City. Already at 99% occupancy, over 70 of the most forward-thinking companies and organizations in Connecticut call District home. And today, after just one year in existence, the campus is legitimately shaping the future of New Haven and the entire state. With a combination of state-of-the-art tech, innovative design, and nods to New Haven’s history, everything about District is redefining what’s possible. It’s also winning awards, too, including ConnectiTech’s 2018 Workplace of the Year and Fast Company’s 2018 Honorable Mention for Innovative Office Design.
Working together with community members and potential tenants to co-create design elements of District was absolutely necessary for us to get it right. This stage of the process helped us discover a number of things, including our own employees’ interest in having gender neutral restrooms, an affinity for live plant walls in hallways, optimal audiovisual solutions, and a preference to maintain the industrial, natural-light of the original building. With these solutions in mind, it was time to let our creativity take over. And that’s precisely what happened, evidenced by the photos and videos you see of District today, by the rush of energy you feel when you walk through the campus doors, and by the community buzz and chatter you hear throughout the city of New Haven and state of Connecticut.
District, though a bustling campus with businesses in every industry imaginable, was designed to be much, much more than a place to work. Modeled after some of the most successful coworking spaces in the world, we set out to make District a true community, the type of place where tenants felt like family, where they could work and live. United by a shared interest in innovation, entrepreneurship, and social impact, the community at District really is forward-thinking, driven by a desire to make a genuine impact on our city, our state, and our world.
District doesn’t limit its community to traditional tenants. With Drive, our coworking space inside District, you can come in as a single entrepreneur, freelancer, or startup, giving you the chance to treat District more like an incubator or accelerator than an office space. And, it really is more like an incubator and accelerator, because District provides these entrepreneurs and startups–which range from blockchain companies to Microsoft Hololens–with the proper infrastructure, talent pools, amenities, networking opportunities, and mentorship and funding resources necessary for businesses to experience smart, successful growth.
Making Drive the most exciting shared working space in the state required us to take inspiration and best practices from the world’s most prominent coworking companies, including WeWork (The We Company) and NeueHouse. This informed the visual aesthetic and physical design of the space, and led us to develop Drive in a way that would maximize community collisions, resulting in impactful conversation and collaboration.
Education is failing children today, especially when it comes to technology, so we saw District as a ripe opportunity to set up an entity that could curb some of that damage. We created District Innovation Venture Center, a 501(c)(3), as a way to partner with established organizations in hopes of leveling up tech education in the area. Together with Comcast as our premier partner, we set up the Comcast Innovation Business Lounge outside of one of District Innovation Venture Center’s amazing stories: the Holberton School.
Based in San Francisco, the Holberton School is an inventive and progressive full-stack engineering school. Passionate about changing the face of the technology industry, the Holberton School champions a bias-free interview and application process, along with a peer-based learning model. With Holberton inside District’s doors, the tech talent in Connecticut is guaranteed to exponentially increase and remain in the state, considering the inordinate demand for those positions at Fortune 500 companies from Stamford to Hartford.
In an effort to assist emerging businesses, we worked with the Murtha Cullina law firm, an innovative legal entity, to launch the first ever Law Lab. The Murtha Cullina Law Lab is designed to provide entrepreneurs and early-stage startups with free advice and counsel on the legalities of owning and operating a business, ensuring the members of Drive and District have the legal resources they need throughout every stage of their entrepreneurial journeys.
From CrossFit competitions to CEO keynotes, District has quickly become the go-to spot for New Haven events. In just its first year, District has played host to Ruth Porat (CFO of Alphabet and Google), Jenny Lawton (COO of Techstars), Ned Lamont (Governor of Connecticut), Toni Harp (Mayor of New Haven), and hundreds of other executives and venture capitalists from across the world.
To truly champion the vision of District New Haven as a forward-obsessed campus where people could do more than work, we had to put an emphasis on physical and mental health. And this didn’t mean designing a single gym. For us, this meant building a CrossFit gym, a general recreational gym, a private gym, a yoga studio, a spin studio, and a sauna. Heart rate, engage.
When conceptualizing various aspects of District, we wanted to accurately reflect a mix of work and play. What says “play” more than a world-renowned BBQ restaurant and beer garden? In November 2018, Bear’s BBQ at the Stack opened at District New Haven, becoming the second location of Bear’s BBQ in the state and providing New Haven with its best barbecue joint of all time. And the beer there? It’s run by the owners of Black Hog Brewing, winners of the 2016 Gold Medal in the World Beer Competition for its Granola Brown Ale.
As if a restaurant and beer garden wasn’t enough, we considered some more outdoor amenities that District’s community members might enjoy. To give everyone a shared space to compete, laugh, and have fun, we designed a beautiful stretch of land next to Bear’s BBQ that includes an amphitheatre, a bocce court, and a kayak launch. Imagine getting out of work on a Friday and being able to enjoy some BBQ, a beer, and a nice game of bocce – all just a hundred feet away from your building’s doors. Now that’s how you start a weekend off right.
Design thinking, playful imagination, and a lot of hard work made District New Haven a reality, and that paid off with a few shiny trophies in 2018. ConnectiTech awarded District and Drive as the “Coolest Tech Workplace” in the state, and Fast Company named District as an honorable mention for in its “Innovation by Design” for workplaces competition.
From the moment District opened its doors in early 2018, there’s been an increasing buzz throughout the city of New Haven and state of Connecticut. People who work at District feel the natural energy every day they walk into the building. Because of its innovative and human-centered design elements, collisions are happening every minute inside these walls, and these collisions are fostering new connections, new ideas, and new possibilities. With all that’s going on here, District is no longer part of the conversation in New Haven; it is the conversation.
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