Salisbury Rising: Entrepreneurial Center will be cutting edge

Successful cities are hubs for innovation and entrepreneurship. They foster an environment where ideas are generated, exchanged, developed and put into practice.

As Salisbury University’s Director of Entrepreneurial Activities puts it, the top communities know all about creating businesses, creating jobs, creating revenue flows and instilling innovation.

Over the next three years, Downtown Salisbury will become a true hub for entrepreneurial development and inspiration. Thanks to Gillis Gilkerson gift of The Gallery Building to SU, the Perdue School of Business has an ideal locale for the creation of an entrepreneurial center.

Backed by a $5.5 million contribution from local businessman Dave Rommel, the Center for Entrepreneurship is expected to open in spring 2020. It will offer shared co-working space for SU student entrepreneurs, including six offices and six individual “garages” for winners of the Ratcliffe Shore Hatchery and the student Entrepreneurship Competitions.

Another planned feature is a “makerspace” for robotics, small product assembly and technology-enhanced products with 3-D prototyping, including a textile workshop for fashion and theater creations.

Thirty years ago, The Gallery Building was the city’s Woolworth’s 5 & 10. In the late 1980s, developer Palmer Gillis and his associates transformed the building into a collection of store, offices and art-oriented public space.

The entranceway area for the Entrepreneur Center will be located approximately where the old Woolworth’s lunch counter once was. At a total size of about 5,300 square feet, it will encompass space long occupied by the Internal Revenue Service.

Becker Morgan Group of Salisbury is serving as the architectural firm that is designing the center. Working with SU officials, Graig Williams, Sandra Carpenter and Brad Hastings have produced a set of utterly compelling drawings which features raw steel, natural plywood, original brick walls, and natural wood floors, thereby creating an industrial feel.

The plans show multiple spaces for breakout discussions, a central corridor “ramp” that extends through the building — even outdoor deck space in an old back-alley area.

“We’re opening up a lot of space,” said Williams. “When entering the center, people will see collaborative spaces where (students) can do presentations. It’s casual, with tiered seating — a good place to study, have group sessions.”

Salisbury University’s Bill Burke.

Many of the doors in the center will be garage doors. There will be floor-to-ceiling whiteboards almost everywhere.

Hastings credited Burke with coming to the architects with lots of good ideas.

“Bill and SU have done a lot of homework. They’ve gone around to other entrepreneur centers around the country, so they’ve seen a of things and are very open to new ideas,” he said. “It’s made it exciting to work with them.”

Burke was equally complimentary.

“Becker Morgan did a great job in their first cut back to us,” he said. “They did some additional investigation, looked at various centers, What you’re seeing (in the plans) is 90 percent of their first draft, so they did a great job envisioning, putting it down on paper and quickly understanding what our vision was.”

SU President Janet Dudley-Eshbach has worked consistently to make the university an institution that touts entrepreneurship. The Perdue School of Business, of course, is named after, and was greatly funded by, the Lower Shore’s most famous entrepreneur, the legendary Frank Perdue of Perdue Farms.

The university has played host to numerous business competitions, from the nationally famous Shore Hatchery to a local version of TV’s “Shark Tank.”

“Anyone who has attended Salisbury University’s business plan competitions in the past 30 years knows our students frequently combine outside-the-box thinking with practicality,” Dudley-Eshbach said.

“During those three decades, many have built on that winning combination, creating stores, restaurants and service-based businesses that continue to be successful today. The new Center for Entrepreneurship will give our students even more support in making their business dreams a reality while generating new jobs, helping to fuel the economy.”

The Gallery Building on the Downtown Plaza.

Burke points out that role of the university is to “provide higher education to students from the state of Maryland and beyond.” The campus’ proximity to Salisbury Downtown and business district increases its abilities to foster entrepreneurship.
“Being less than two miles from Downtown and being close to the regional businesses, there are lots of job opportunities for our students, Burke said. “Our presence Downtown helps make that connection. It helps the community interact with our students.”

Burke said the center will be open to everyone and will serve as a stage where local business people can interact with students who have shown imaginative ideas.

Brad Hastings.

“We’re putting on an ‘exhibit,’ is how I describe it. We’re putting on exhibit in the center, and showing our best and brightest entrepreneurs . The entrepreneurs who will be residents in the center will be winners of our competitions.

“They’ll be applying to get in this space. The reward for being a serious entrepreneur with a business idea or product that has the potential for success, is residency in the center, as well as support,” he said. “That support would come not just from Salisbury University, but what I call the ‘entrepreneurship eco system’ — people in the community who provide marketing, accounting legal support, as well as people in the city, county and state government who can provide entrepreneurial support.

Both Dudley-Eshbach and Burke has stressed that the center will be part of the overall community, not a sanctum for SU business students.

“It’s not just set up for the resident entrepreneurs,” Burke said. “It’s set up to be a connecting place for anyone who can provide support with a community of entrepreneurs or interested parties.

Craig Williams.

“The goal is for the community to reach into that center and pull those entrepreneurs out (for use in local business). “And that frees it up for the next group of entrepreneurs.”

Groups including Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development, Maryland Capital Enterprises and the Small Business Administration will be invited to share in this Downtown space, all with the opportunity to provide support to the entrepreneurs.

“But,” said Burke, “they will also connecting with the community and opening up events to others in the community who may be interested in being an entrepreneur.”

“Yes, it has Salisbury University on the door or on the wall, but it is for the community — not only the Downtown community but beyond.”


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