The new Groover Labs won’t officially open until the new year, but owners Tracy Hoover and Curt Gridley have started showing off their downtown space through a few events, and they’ve opened the doors to the inaugural users of the $5 million technology hub.
The former Printing Inc. building at 334 N. St. Francis has a gallery, event space, a variety of rental spaces, a studio and a maker’s space, which Gridley calls a first for Wichita.
“There’s no place that has all these pieces in one building.”
Hoover says there are a lot of pockets of activity around Wichita with start-up and technology companies, but she says there wasn’t an easy way to bring them all together. That’s what Groover Labs is designed to do.
“And from that greater things will grow,” Hoover says.
The nonprofit is named for a combination of the names Gridley and Hoover.
The two were involved in a number of different start-ups in Boston, which is where they met and married.
They sold one — Amber Wave Systems, which made ethernet switches — for $50 million.
They’ve been involved with philanthropy since then and also became empty-nesters, which left them with even more time.
Gridley says heading to the beach was an option, “But we’re not really beach kind of people.”
Also, the two wanted to return to their technology and start-up roots while also giving back.
“Here’s a chance to really kind of make a difference in Wichita,” Gridley says they decided.
With the help of Hutton, they transformed the former Printing Inc. building — a 1920s space that grew through the 1980s with additions — from a dark and in some areas dirty labyrinth of rooms into a 42,000-square-foot series of bright, open spaces.
“Like a blank piece of paper, we find that open space leads to creativity and people working together,” Gridley says.
They also incorporated some nods to the building’s history.
Howerton & White proposed using pops of cyan, magenta, yellow and black — the traditional colors used in printing — throughout the building. Gridley and Hoover loved the tie-in. The accents appear in several areas on an otherwise mostly black-and-white canvas.
Just off of a new, sunny entryway on the east side of the building — the opposite side from Printing Inc.’s former entrance — is the Wichita State University ShiftSpace student art gallery. It’s the only long-term tenant at Groover Labs.
Next to that is an event space for up to 275 people and an outside courtyard that events can spill into. There’s a gate that will open to space for food trucks.
In the middle of the building is a variety of rentable space, from hot seats, dedicated desks and offices to conference rooms. Everything is available on a month-to-month lease. Prices will soon be posted at grooverlabs.org.
There’s some original brick and paint around the perimeter of the co-working space, and the building’s barrel roof now has some skylights, too.
“We’ve tried to keep a mix of the old and new,” Gridley says. “We think that’s really cool.”
Hoover says she’s especially excited about a variety of tables that Patrick Walsh of Walsh Oak and Iron has made for the spaces.
In addition to some standard things that renters won’t have to worry about taking care of, such as printers, copiers, a kitchenette and coffee, there will be representatives from legal and accounting firms at least one day a week for lunchtime talks. The idea is to help new companies in their early stages.
Gridley says the focus is on start-ups with just a few employees. Firms with about seven or more people are probably ready to move beyond Groover Labs, he says.
“That creates a pathway of companies starting and growing in the downtown area.”
Next to the co-working space is a 14,000-square-foot maker lab.
It includes studio rental space, a wood shop, a metal shop, an electronics lab and a fab lab with laser cutters and 3-D printers. There also will be equipment for people to assemble small printed circuit boards, which will allow them to take a design from a computer and send it to a machine to produce it.
Gridley and Hoover say they’d love for people to start companies around what they create and then have those products manufactured in Wichita.
They say they don’t want other companies to feel like they’re competing, but they do hope the building will be 65 to 70 percent occupied by late 2020 so it can be self sustaining.
There are four full-time staff members including Hoover and Gridley, and there are four part-time consultants.
In addition to being just north of Wave and the new Cocoa Dolce headquarters along with restaurants such as Nortons Brewing and Bite Me BBQ, Gridley and Hoover say they like that their property is in an Opportunity Zone and think that’s an added benefit to potential users.
“Plus, it’s two blocks away from where we live,” Gridley says.
He says he and his wife took it as a sign to invest in the building.
Gridley says they realized, “If we’re willing to invest significantly in the building, we could have something that’s really great.”