Entrepreneurs Thrive in the Miami Valley
By Beth Langfels
Entrepreneurs have played a pivotal role in the growth of the U.S. economy since the founding of the country, when risk-taking settlers became innovators seeking a new life. And that innovation has long powered local economies, such as those in Dayton, whose many entrepreneurs have helped changed the world.
From small businesses, which are now reported to generate almost half of all economic activity in the country, to investors and technology innovation, entrepreneurs are behind much of the social change we see today. They also create products and services that contribute to local social and economic well-being.
The Entrepreneurs’ Center (EC) of Dayton began in 2000, supporting Miami Valley entrepreneurs with free resources to help with start-ups or scale-ups. In 2016, Scott Koorndyk joined EC as president. “Scott partnered with the University of Dayton to help make our current center a reality,” Katie Ausdenmoore, EC director of marketing, says. “He worked with Vince Lewis of the UD Crotty Center on the concept.”
Both the university and the EC saw an opportunity for the development of a shared space–in the former McCrory’s five-and-dime store on Main Street in downtown Dayton. They wanted a space large enough to support entrepreneurs and students and to create an innovative coworking environment.
“They were definitely looking at downtown to help in the effort to revive the city,” Ausdenmoore says. “The Dayton Arcade has been the heart of the city that just needed a bit of TLC.”
In 1924, a three-story white building was built in the heart of downtown on Main Street. A year later, the McCrory chain opened its first Dayton location there. It had two entrance doors and was attached to the Arcade, which closed in 1991. Then, in 1997, after years of declining business, McCrory’s downtown Dayton store closed for good. But thanks to the partnership between the University of Dayton and the EC, the building has been given new life, as The Hub, powered by PNC Bank. The EC and the university are primary tenants of the 95,000-square-foot space, which includes the former McCrory’s and other buildings in the Arcade Complex. It also houses University of Dayton’s Crotty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership.
“The EC used to have multiple physical locations, so we were pleased to offer our entrepreneurs one space solution,” Ausdenmoore says.
With the grand opening of The Hub March 4, 2020, the former five and dime and other empty spaces became attractive. In fact, the Hub is thought to be the largest coworking space of its kind in the nation. Besides offering opportunities for students to network with entrepreneurs, this is the first time in its history that UD has offered in-person classes off campus. The center has 72 office spaces, all of which have been leased since June, and there are coworking spaces, meeting rooms and dedicated desk spaces with locking file cabinets.
“As a nonprofit economic-development organization, we saw this as an opportunity to bring our community together and support regional growth,” Ausdenmoore says. “Finding this historic landmark gave us an even bigger opportunity to preserve a bit of our history in Dayton.”
Knowing most lifelong Daytonians love the history of their city, the university and the EC, along with developers of The Hub and the Arcade, wanted to honor that history.
While the entire space could have been gutted and renovated, the developers worked to renew the space without eliminating all traces of what was there before.
“This building is very nostalgic to Daytonians,” Ausdenmoore says. “We have the Wright Brothers and the Kettering family and so much innovation that came from Dayton.”
Anyone who enters the building from Main Street and into the “Innovation Hall” area will notice that glass over the doors is the original etched design featuring the McCrory’s name. Care has been taken to preserve large areas of the original wood floors, some exposed brick and concrete floors and even the original staircase, featuring marble that shows the history of the many thousands of store guests through the worn indentations on the landings. Inspirational quotes offer a nod to the many innovative and creative entrepreneurs that color Dayton’s history.
Today’s entrepreneurs have similar goals as those that went before. Building successful businesses, coming up with innovative new ideas and adding diversity to the local economy are among the most important goals of entrepreneurs. The EC is dedicated to supporting all of them.
From food trucks and freelancers to designers and manufacturers, entrepreneurs are flocking to the EC to utilize the many resources and solutions, including networking with other business owners, startups and potential investors. The EC offers confidential consulting and training and spaces for group meetings or for individuals who just want a quiet place to work on achieving their dreams and goals. There are also resources for tech startups, and the Entrepreneurial Services Provider program acts as both an accelerator and business incubator.
Funded by local companies and individuals, the EC also offers The Hub membership packages, including day passes, four packs of passes and monthly and annual passes, all with flexibility to create a package to fit individual needs. The Hub and EC are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with security on-site at all times.
“People like having a space where they can work outside of their home and office,” Ausdenmoore says. “And with many folks converting to hybrid schedules, they often need to just get out of their homes or their relatives’ homes to get their work done.”
The Hub currently has 877 members, including students, teachers, mentors and entrepreneurs. UD and Sinclair Community College together offered 23 classes in the fall at The Hub.
“The history is here, but so is the future,” Ausdenmoore says. “It’s important to recognize that technology is thriving in Dayton, and these are very exciting times for us.”