NC State and HQ Raleigh open co-working space on campus, aimed at startups and students

The lobby of HQ Raleigh’s new Centennial Campus space at N.C. State University.
The lobby of HQ Raleigh’s new Centennial Campus space at N.C. State University.

When a manufacturing researcher moved out of its Centennial Campus space a few years back, it left N.C. State University with an unusual space to fill.

The researcher left behind a hulking shell of space inside a building that, today, feels more like your average office building than manufacturing floor.

“You can still see some of the bolts in the floor,” said Imran Aukhil, the assistant director of asset management for N.C. State’s real estate and development office. “They had a machine that was basically the span of the room.”

With around 23,000 square feet of space available, the university realized it needed to be a little more creative with how to fill it. “We needed to think through with what we could do here to add value to the university,” Aukhil said.

That’s when they made the call to the folks at HQ Raleigh, the co-working company that has spaces across the city, about possibly setting up shop at the school.

“We saw it as an opportunity to let students be exposed to the private sector and what private entrepreneurship really means,” Aukhil said.

It’s a continuation of the mission of Centennial Campus, he added.

NCSU Centennial Campus
N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus, as seen from aerial view. Roger Winstead

Centennial Campus, the ever-growing extension of N.C. State University, was created on the promise that public-private partnerships between the university, government and private enterprise would be fruitful for everyone.

Today, the sleek, modern Hunt Library stands on the campus just yards away from private companies, like Lexis Nexis, Bandwidth and ABB.

And when state and local officials hope to attract employers to Raleigh, they often show them space on Centennial Campus as a potential landing spot. That was the case in last year’s failed bids for both the Army’s Future Command Center and Amazon’s HQ2.

For HQ Raleigh, the new space is an opportunity to deepen a commitment with a key partner and stakeholder in the area’s economy.

N.C. State has had a longstanding relationship with HQ Raleigh, even before adding the Centennial Campus space. The university’s entrepreneurship clinic is housed at HQ Raleigh’s Warehouse District space on Harrington Street.

HQ Raleigh’s Centennial Campus space spans two floors inside the Partners I building at N.C. State University in Raleigh. Zachery Eanes

“We have always had a good relationship with N.C. State and this is the natural next iteration of that relationship,” said Jess Porta, the director of HQ Raleigh. “There’s just an interest in general in forwarding our relationship with universities, because I think that is where the future of co-working and collaboration is coming from.”

Beyond HQ’s normal amenities, like open desks, private offices and a kitchen, the space features a maker’s room for the university’s entrepreneurship garage, a program designed for undergraduates to build prototypes. It features multiple 3D printers, a laser cutter and buzz saws. There is also classroom space for the university and for companies to use.

The idea is that interested students could get hands-on experience with companies working at the co-working office, perhaps landing internships or helping a startup prototype a device in the entrepreneurship garage.

“There about 800 students who come through the garage program each semester and they will get exposed and used to the HQ way and the HQ collaborative mentality,” Porta said.

HQ Raleigh’s Centennial Campus space features room for the Entrepreneurship Garage, a makers space reserved for use by N.C. State University undergraduates. The Entrepreneurship Garage has tools like 3D printers, laser cutters and buzz saws. Zachery Eanes

Co-working spaces have grown in popularity in recent years with companies that don’t want to spend a lot or commit to long building leases, as well with for freelance workers who don’t have a permanent office. Flexible, month-to-month leases allow startups to grow and subtract space with ease or give them a cheap outpost in a city they are thinking about expanding in.

HQ thinks that many companies will be interested in having an outpost at N.C. State, so that they can be closer to future talent.

Live Oak Bank, started out of Wilmington in 2005, is one of those companies hoping to gain from being located on a college campus.

The bank, which has invested heavily in its online platform, is renting space at HQ’s Centennial Campus, while it builds out a more permanent home nearby.

Matthew Bosch, a Raleigh-based software developer for Live Oak, said the bank’s Raleigh outpost is all about bringing in talented workers.

“There is a limited talent pool in Wilmington,” Bosch said while eating from a food truck that HQ invited out to Centennial. “They recognized that there is a lot of opportunity to dip into the talent pool (in Raleigh) and get some space on campus ... and build that relationship with the university and provide opportunities to students.”

HQ Raleigh_1.jpg
A mural of Raleigh landmarks inside HQ Raleigh’s new Centennial Campus space. Courtesy of N.C. State University

Haley Huie, director of the Albright Entrepreneurs Village at N.C. State, thinks there will be a lot of companies like Live Oak interested in working at Centennial.

She said having more companies of all sizes potentially located on campus will make it much easier for students to make connections with possible employers.

“It’s a huge value add,” Huie said. “It brings students front and center (with companies), whereas before you would have to make an appointment and go downtown.”

There’s also a potentially longer-term vision for what success could look like.

The university thinks that HQ could be a solution for a student looking to start a company after graduation or that a fast-growing company could start out renting space at HQ and then eventually turn into a permanent tenant somewhere else on Centennial Campus.

“Our hope is that this will allow the innovation ecosystem to continue to grow and provide opportunities for university stakeholders, like faculty and students, to be more engaged,” Aukhil said. It also allows “private companies to come in and build their organizations here on campus in partnership with the university, which I think is a win-win for both sides.”

This story has been updated to correct a list of companies with offices on Centennial Campus.

This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control. Learn more.

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Zachery Eanes is the Innovate Raleigh reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. He covers technology, startups and main street businesses, biotechnology, and education issues related to those areas.