View this article as it originally appeared on the Gazette-Virginian website here.
SOVA Innovation Hub: A small town place with a big-city vibe
When Tad Deriso, president and CEO of Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation, walks into his downtown South Boston workplace at the SOVA Innovation Hub in the morning, he is greeted with the latest technology.
Lightening speed internet access, curved glass walls when he walks in the door of the building, an office with an automated adjustable desk where he can stand or sit as he goes about his day, a spacious conference room with a large flat-screen monitor, an open work space for collaboration and whiteboards for brainstorming ideas, a cutting-edge Microsoft Experience Center just below Deriso’s office on the building’s first floor and an electric car charging station in the parking lot all contribute to the big-city feel of the building.
Deriso’s new office may have a big-city vibe, but when he surveys his surroundings, he is reminded that he is in South Boston. When he looks out the second-story windows or ventures out onto the balcony of his broadband company’s new headquarters, he does not see skyscrapers dotting the landscape but rather old tobacco warehouses and small downtown businesses.
There are plenty of local touches in the Hub itself: the building is the work of local construction company J.E. Burton, the landscaping outside the building was done by Charles Anderson Lawn Care Service, the plants in the second-store conference room are from Wister’s, the florist right down the road from the Hub, and [some of] the signage in the building was designed by the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center’s program ProductWorks.
The SOVA Innovation Hub is in the midst of the town’s old tobacco warehouse district, at 715 Wilborn Ave.
Deriso joked while leading members of South Boston Town Council on a tour of the Hub Thursday afternoon that the building looks a little nicer now [than] a tobacco warehouse.
Vice-mayor Bob Hughes commented that with the opening of the Hub, which opened its co-working space Feb. 1, the future is looking brighter for South Boston, which in the recent past has struggled with the loss of tobacco and textiles on which it was once heavily reliant.
“When we lost textiles, we were bleeding. Now…we’re leading,” Hughes said.
The Hub is well suited to guide South Boston as a whole, and Mid-Atlantic Broadband, which is experiencing exponential growth, into the future.
“In the last year we’ve grown faster than we’ve ever grown in the last 15 years of our history,” Deriso commented.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for access to broadband internet access, and Mid-Atlantic Broadband is poised to meet that mission of continuing to expand its fiber-optic network to provide high-speed internet access throughout rural Southern Virginia.
Mid-Atlantic Broadband’s partner at the Hub, Microsoft Corporation, will contribute to the collaborative innovation that takes place in the state-of-the-art structure.
A Microsoft Experience Center is located on the first floor of the building. While the center has not yet opened because of the COVID-19 pandemic, when it does open likely in late summer or early fall, it will offer an experience unlike any other in the area.
Deriso explained the concept of the Microsoft Mixed Reality Experience as he led the town council members on the tour of the Hub: You put the headphones on your head, and it’s hooked into content.
“You see people doing alternate reality-type stuff. That’s right here, and I don’t know where that exists other than maybe Research Triangle Park in a lab,” Deriso said.
While the experience will be enlightening for visitors touring the Hub, Deriso said it also would be helpful to manufacturing companies such as ABB and also could help recruit new industries to the area.
“In a local market, companies like ABB as they’re working with Microsoft can say, ‘Hey, I need to automate some things, or I need to be able to have a technician look at this piece of equipment, but I need my expert in Sweden who knows this inside and out to see what this person is seeing and interact with them in real time and actually highlight what that person needs to do.’ That can all happen through that Hololens,” Deriso explained. “It’s a whole new world for manufacturing. We’re going to be one of those places here in southern Virginia where you can actually experience that and do some things that you can normally only do in a big city. You can do it right here in South Boston.”
The Microsoft Experience Center has the ability to aid not only manufacturing companies but also the agricultural community.
A FarmBeats interactive display is part of the Microsoft center. FarmBeats is a project initiated by Microsoft to enable data-driven farming to help produce high crop yields.
While the community is not yet able to take advantage of the Microsoft Experience Center, community members are already enjoying other amenities on the first floor of the Hub.
The Hub has eight offices, 15 dedicated workspaces and a flex seating area designed for collaboration on the first floor.
The spaces are available for rent by community members and are ideal for small business owners who had been working from home, said the Hub’s community manager Rebecca Stimson as she led the tour of the area along with Deriso. Six of the eight offices have already been rented.
Deriso explained the concept for the open-floor design of the office space with plenty of shared spaces for collaboration is reminiscent of large companies such as Microsoft’s West Coast offices.
“There’s so much collaboration and innovation,” Deriso said, thus the name of the SOVA Innovation Hub.
Modeled after those collaborative office space concepts, the office even has an open kitchen stocked with canned drinks, bottled water and coffee for community members renting space in the office to enjoy freely.
Other amenities the office space provides are two phone booths ideal for teleconferencing and a mothers’ room for new mothers needing a private space away from their baby. Stimson added those renting the office space also have the option of using the Hub’s professional address rather than their home address for their business.
The first floor of the Hub features a training space with 25 seats also designed for collaboration. The tables and chairs are moveable and can be situated in any type of format needed for training and group discussions. That training space is available for rent by community groups, as well.
For more information about renting office space at the Hub or to make an appointment for a tour of the building, visit https://sovainnovationhub.com.