At the heart of South Boston is a center of technological innovation and exploration, and that hub is on the cusp of further expansion.
“We’re starting to be known as a rural tech hub,” said Tad Deriso, CEO and executive director of Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation.
The technology company partnered with Microsoft TechSpark to bring the SOVA Innovation Hub to South Boston. Part of the hub opened its doors at 715 Wilborn Ave. in February, offering a co-working space and private office space ideally suited for start-up companies and small business owners.
Plans are already in place to construct a building next door to the Hub in the near future – the SOVA innovation labs. The innovation labs will expand upon the vision of the SOVA Innovation Hub – a place for entrepreneurs and technology gurus to create and collaborate.
“The SOVA Innovation Labs is designed to facilitate entrepreneurs and technology businesses involved in everything from software development to artificial intelligence,” Deriso said.
Deriso shared that Mid-Atlantic Broadband applied for a grant from the Tobacco Commission last week for the engineering design phase of the project.
If awarded the grant, Mid-Atlantic Broadband will match the grant funds awarded by the tobacco commission, each contributing $100,000 for the project.
Deriso added that private investors also have shown interest in the innovation labs project and federal funding for the project is available, as well. He estimated the total cost of building construction would range from $2.5 to $3 million.
“The innovation labs brings something to the region that we don’t have here today. It will have a maker space – an area where people can come in and produce and put prototypes together,” Deriso explained. “It will also provide additional office space for businesses that need that lab setup.”
Deriso said he sees the innovation labs’ offerings as complimenting things already in South Boston and Halifax County, such as the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center’s Product Works, a product development and design program headquartered at the Imperial Lofts, the office space available to businesses at the Southern Virginia Technology Park just outside of South Boston, and Destination Downtown South Boston offering support to local small businesses.
Mid-Atlantic Broadband plans to use the same architect that designed the SOVA innovation hub – P.S.H. Plus of Richmond – to design the Innovation Labs, and Deriso said that look will include brick work to blend in with the nearby buildings in the old tobacco warehouse district, also incorporating more modern design elements as well.
“We wanted to keep that same look and feel as the innovation hub, a nice look that integrates with the community,” Deriso commented.
While the SOVA Innovation Hub is a two-story building, the SOVA Innovation Labs will be one story, encompassing between 10,000 and 13,200 square feet. Construction on the SOVA Innovation Labs will begin once funding is in place.
The SOVA Innovation Labs aligns not only with Mid-Atlantic Broadband’s mission of expanding broadband access throughout rural Southern Virginia but also Microsoft’s goal of expanding the digital skill set of southern Virginians by providing more access to training.
Deriso noted the GO Virginia State Board is set to vote on final approval of an entrepreneur training pipeline program this week, and the innovation labs will be a player in that program.
The SOVA Innovation Hub and the Longwood University Office of Community and Economic Development partnered on the proposal for GO Virginian Region 3 entrepreneurship and innovation implementation.
The entrepreneurship training pipeline seeks to meet those pursuing new business ventures where they are and support them in their journey, according to an executive summary of the proposal.
The summary states the pipeline will include multiple levels of content including “entrepreneurship mindset, entrepreneurship skills and product development and commercialization.” The makerspace in the SOVA Innovation Labs will be suited for entrepreneurs to development and commercialize new products.
All in all, Deriso said he looks forward to seeing further economic development spurred by the SOVA Innovation Hub and SOVA Innovation Labs.
He added that he is glad Mid-Atlantic Broadband has a “multi-billion dollar corporation” – Microsoft – backing its efforts to expand technology training and broadband access to Southern Virginia, with economic growth and vitality in the region as the end goal.