The Grid Lights Up

With the flick of a remote-control switch, Mayor John DeStefano fired up a new downtown “power plant” Monday afternoon.

The remote control didn’t send turbines spinning. It illuminated a doorway to a project designed to produce not electric power but economic power.

Click the video to watch the doorway light up. It was the culminating “ribbon-cutting” moment of a ceremony marking the “activation” of The Grid, a new state-funded project designed to be a “hub” of entrepreneurialism and innovation in town.

The Grid, located on the third floor of the former New Haven City Hall at 95 Orange St. (pictured below), will offer entrepreneurs and start-ups office space, advice, mentoring, product testing facilities, and a community of like-minded people.

The Grid is one of four such “hubs” opening up as part of a five-year, $5 million plan to build an “Innovation Ecosystem” in the state.

The Grid is an outgrowth of the Grove, a New Haven co-working space that opened in an Orange Street storefront several years ago. The Grove has grown into a thriving community of freelancers, inventors, and entrepreneurs.

“This is like a little power plant here,” Mayor John DeStefano said as he kicked off Monday’s ceremony on the third floor of 95 Orange St. He reminisced about visiting a business in the building decades ago when he attended St. Bernadette’s school. He’d come to pick up his school uniforms. The economy in New Haven has shifted from those days, and the Grove and the Grid are at the forefront of that change, he said.

After DeStefano pressed the button that lit up the gate to the Grid, the Grove’s Slate Ballard rattled off a list of activities planned and underway in the new space. The Grid has a “Device Lab,” where software developers can test new products on all different desktop computers, tablets and smartphones. It has a “tech talent accelerator” called A100. Mentors and sponsors will meet with entrepreneurs. CEOs can attend a “boot camp” that will help them get their companies to the next level. The space has about eight different offices for young businesses, a 30-person training room for holding workshops, and space for start-up teams to work.

One of the first new tenants at the Grid is Big Bang, a boutique design firm with offices in Atlanta, Georgia. Owner Erick Rios said the New Haven office will eventually have as many as a dozen employees. He’s already hired three, including Chris Otis, a 31-year-old mechanical engineer who lives in Newhallville.

Otis (pictured) stood behind a table showing off some of the products Big Bang has helped design, including the Cuisinart 5-in-1 Griddler and a DenTek tongue cleaner.

Rios said New Haven is a good match for Big Bang because it’s a mid-sized market close to Boston and New York. Big Bang has operated out of the Grove for the last six months, he said. Rios said the Grid presents the advantage of working amid a community of entrepreneurs.

“When you’re creative, that adds value,” he said. “We like stimulation.”

Out in the central room, Timothy McHugh was showing off two new 3-D printers recently purchased by MakeHaven, the tinkerer’s clubhouse on State Street. MakeHaven was able to buy the printers with help from Big Bang and the Grove.

One printer was extruding a chain made of five links.

In another room, CEO Boot Camp was about to begin.

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