A while back, I wrote an article on Business Insider about how startups are getting tired of New York City’s overcrowded and overpriced co – working spaces. With a lack of viable options, most startups are stuck either staying in NYC, moving Brooklyn, or even going to Jersey City. However, all of those options are not that much cheaper than staying in NYC and more importantly, they do not help the startup create a certain vibe and culture with their workspace. I recently got a tour of a MAJOR effort going on at the old Bell Labs in Holmdel, New Jersey that should spark some major tech investments in New Jersey. As a former startup founder who worked in the heart of Silicon Valley, I know the value of having a big open workspace with a campus environment. Many startups today in Silicon Valley struggle between wanting to have their startups located in the heart of Silicon Valley (Redwood City, Menlo Park, Cupertino, etc.) vs. having their startup move into the city center of San Francisco. If New York City is the San Francisco of tech in the east coast, then the new Bell Works in Holmdel, NJ is trying to become the Silicon Valley of the east coast. To understand what is going on at Bell Works, let’s begin with its history.
Bell Works was previously Bell Labs, a famous research office park designed by legendary architect Eero Saarinen. With over 2 million square feet of space, the facility has more space than the Empire State Building! Imagine the Empire State Building filled with nothing but tech startups and thousands of engineers!
Over 8 Nobel Peace Prize winners worked at Bell Labs during different times and things like the transistor, continuous laser beam, and the touch-tone telephone were invented at Bell Labs.
However, after some hard times by the owner of Bell Labs (Alcatel Lucent), the building was let go in 2006 and a few years later was considered for demolishment.
Luckily, in 2013, Somerset Development bought the entire building for $27 million. A steal when you think about just how massive the building is compared to other buildings. Yet, while the purchase price was reasonable, the amount of work needed to bring it back to life was considerable.
I was given a personal tour of the massive facility by the Garibaldi Group, who is the responsible for filling out the space with tech startups.
The plan is for the entire first floor to be filled with retail stores, restaurants, coffee shops, dry cleaners, a library and plenty of natural light and garden type seating. When complete, this space will rival the offices of Google and Facebook.
This is what it looks like right now.
The first floor is already being used for large-scale community events.
The remaining floors are dedicated to technology / innovation based companies. A hotel in Bell Works is also in the works. Not to mention a full conference space, dining facility, etc. While Bell Works will welcome traditional tenants who work with innovative companies (high tech lawyers, patent lawyers, etc.), the main goal is to have the space filled with emerging technology companies – Biotech, e-Commerce, Internet of Things, FinTech, etc.
Bell Works on the inside actually looks like four massive buildings connected by an outer shell of massive glass blocks.
While most of the space is for long-term tenants, if your looking to get going at Bell Works in a co-working / short-term setting, the official co-working space provider of Bell Works, Work At Vi, is open for business with office space ready to go. Check out http://workatvi.co to see what space is currently available.
One of the big selling points is that Bell Works is located central to many things within the tri-state region. At one time Bell Labs had over 6,000 engineers working in the building! Imagine what it would be like if there where dozens of companies with hundreds of engineers each working on the next wave of innovation in several industries.
I was in awe of the Bell Works facility during my visit. Not only in it’s rich history of innovation and contribution to science, but also to the potential it has as a future hub of innovation. Only time will tell if it succeeds, but if it does, it will change the entire technology landscape of the East Coast.