By Aadit Tambe
After a year of supporting local startups and entrepreneurships, MERGE invites community members to celebrate with a breakfast so they can get to know the space.
MERGE, 136 S. Dubuque St., is a collaborative office space for startups run by the Iowa City Area Development Group, the city of Iowa City, and the University of Iowa.
Before MERGE came to fruition, the lower level was owned by the UI Hospitals & Clinics, and there were a few retail establishments on the first floor that were leaving, said Mark Nolte, the president of the IC Development Group.
“The city helped us get the lease affordable, and the university helped to build out, so we have been open for a year now, and it has been great,” Nolte said.
The offices have been full the entire time, he said, and MERGE has witnessed several events and discussions.
“We are fulfilling our goal, which was to form a place in which collaborations and community conversations can happen and do more to bring ideas and innovations to the forefront in a public way,” Nolte said.
There are approximately 20 companies that use the space on a daily basis, he said.
“Now we’re starting to see a turnover, so we’re bringing in new ones … so it’s been great,” he said.
As the economy continues to change, we need to a better job of starting the next generation of companies, and that is what this is about, Nolte said.
“MERGE is trying to create new jobs and wealth in the company that keeps everything else going,” he said. “So it is critical that we have more robust entrepreneur ecosystem.”
Andre Wright, the director of entrepreneurial advancement for the IC Development Group, connects startups at MERGE with mentors and helps them garner resources.
“[MERGE] gives entrepreneurs a chance to express themselves and build their companies,” he said. “Anybody who does anything from remote working to startups to creating a business, can come and purchase desk space. We also have 16 rentable offices downstairs,” he said.
This gives them the platform to get the resources they need so that they can take their business and actually graduate outside of MERGE and go find space in the community, he said.
There is an hourly, daily, and monthly fee, Wright said.
“[MERGE] has been like a heartbeat for Iowa City, so when someone is looking to do anything in entrepreneurship, or anything related to community development, [he or she] can be managed from this space,” he said.
The IC Development Group has worked for several years on how to enhance the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region, said David Hensley, the executive director of the UI Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center. The center has worked closely with the group on the conceptual development of a working space and how to also integrate the space with events, he said.
“We saw MERGE as a great opportunity to have another place in which entrepreneurs, students, supporters of the ecosystem can come together, collaborate, and help to launch and grow to become successful businesses,” he said.
Establishments such as these will also help to keep the graduates of the university in the area, Hensley said.
“My sense is that MERGE will continue to be a core asset for the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and as we continue to evolve programs and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs, it’s going to be the launch pad,” he said.