IOWA CITY — The people trying to create a collaborate hub for budding entrepreneurs in Iowa City say $800,000 in federal funds will make the plan a reality.
Daniel Reed, vice president for research and economic development at the University of Iowa, said the grant from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration — approved in late June — will help fund renovations to the 13,000-square-foot downtown space planned for the MERGE project.
“We have all the pieces in place. We’re ready to roll so expect to see bids and contracts go out for renovation,” he said.
Reed said work could begin later this summer on MERGE, which is a collaborative project between the Iowa City Area Development Group, the city of Iowa City and the University of Iowa.
In addition to the federal grant, MERGE also received a $1.5 million grant earlier this year from the Iowa Economic Development Authority for the purchase of 3-D printing and related equipment. Reed said the UI also is making direct contributions.
Iowa City owns the space destined for MERGE — the former Wedge pizzeria space in the Iowa City Public Library.
ICAD late last year signed a four-year lease — $24,000 a year for the first two years and $30,000 a year for the final two years — with the city for the space.
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The office will have co-working space for up to 30 people plus 18 private team offices and conference and event space.
But what exactly is MERGE?
Reed said MERGE will be a co-working space and prototype lab geared to entrepreneurs in tech fields. The collaborative space will bring together UI students and faculty with coders, developers, engineers, 3-D designers, program writers and entrepreneurs in tech-based fields.
The goal is to create such items as biomedical devices and high-precision prototypes.
“We really view this as a real opportunity to bring all the players together,” Reed said.
MERGE will be connected to similar hubs at Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.
The MERGE space already has become the new home for ICAD’s Co-Lab, which had become cramped in its former home at 316 E. Court St.
“We envision there to be programming, pitches, competitions, classes, meetups, mentoring and collaborative opportunities happening day and night in the space,” ICAD president Mark Nolte said in a statement. “This is an amazing opportunity to help create jobs and expose more people to the potential of entrepreneurship and technology.”