The corner of Harrisburg’s South Dewberry and Blackberry streets doesn’t scream “technology hub.” It’s quiet, with little traffic, tucked away in the city’s South of Market district. But the former Martz Bros. Hardware building at 316 Blackberry St. is in an area about to see a series of mixed-use redevelopment projects from Harristown Enterprises Inc.
It’s here that local developer Mayur Patel and his wife, Tina, are looking to create what could be a space for tech-related spin-offs tied to nearby Harrisburg University of Science and Technology or other institutions of higher education.
“The building easily lent itself to becoming the contemporary collaborative workspace that today’s technology professionals are looking for,” Tina Patel said, noting that its solid bones and open floor plan can encourage collaboration, research, development and entrepreneurialism.
The development is a positive for Harrisburg, according to Brad Jones, Harristown’s president and CEO. “The idea of having tech-related companies in a building that could be doing a wide variety of tech is all good for the downtown.”
The Blackberry center really took shape over the summer, Mayur Patel said, citing the momentum of the Harristown developments, which will include luxury apartments and commercial spaces, plus a co-working space. That work should be done by next summer.
Patel also is responding from interest at HU in providing more collaborative spaces for its geospatial technology center and gaming incubator. HU is expected to take up the second floor, and possibly the third floor, of the Blackberry center.
“One of the ways we see it working is as an accelerator,” said Charles Palmer, executive director of HU’s Center for Advanced Entertainment & Learning Technologies. “If students want to start their own company, it’s a great opportunity for them.”
HU has had three startups in its internal incubator, an effort that got a shot in the arm last November when the state Department of Economic and Community Development awarded HU a $750,000 grant to collaborate with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Drexel University in Philadelphia to establish the Pennsylvania Media Consortium.
The idea is to help young companies understand the market for their products and services, Palmer said. “Ultimately, our goal is to help them with consulting support and, in some cases, financial. We help them with their next round of funding.”
‘Anything they want it to be’
Patel said he hopes to see multiple tech-related companies gravitate to the Blackberry center, which is surrounded by facilities used by Messiah College, Temple University and SciTech High.
“It can be anything they want it to be,” he said, noting that private facilities such as his could help address the concerns of “brain drain” in Harrisburg.
“I want a hub or center where people discuss, learn and work on tech,” he said. “We need to give them places and opportunities that makes them want to stay.”
His first-floor tenant at Blackberry is BioHitech America, a New York-based company that makes Eco-Safe aerobic digesters for hospitality, health care and food service industries, among others.
Each digester can eliminate up to 2,400 pounds of food waste per day by converting the waste into a liquid that can be safely discharged through standard sewers. “This is an R&D location for our company,” said Bob Joyce, BioHitech’s COO.
The company has five local employees, including four developers, and a full-time HU intern in the space. They are working on cloud technology that helps monitor the digesters’ performance.
“The biggest value is to help customers understand their organic waste stream so they can make business changes to hopefully allow them to minimize the creation of waste in the first place,” Joyce said.
The company’s digester is being used in nearly 300 locations across the globe.