When the sports video company Hudl opened its new headquarters in the West Haymarket, it made a bold alteration to the city's skyline.
But for many of the startups who call the Haymarket home, the company, which started in Lincoln and has experienced tremendous growth, also made a bold statement. Hudl’s new headquarters, a sleek building that peeks out above downtown Lincoln, is a monument of sorts, representing the city's growth into a Midwestern hub for entrepreneurs.
“I think Hudl is kind of that iconic building now, as Hudl has been kind of the golden child of startups,” said Rena Valentino, executive director of Fuse Coworking. “Everyone else has had many successes as well, but their (claim) is a globally well-known startup that started here in the Haymarket.”
Hudl’s move may have indirectly laid the groundwork for more startup growth in the city. After Hudl moved out of its previous office space on the second floor of the renovated Salvation Army building at 151 N. Eighth St., Fuse Coworking, which is headquartered on the fifth floor in the same building, filled the vacancy.
Fuse provides entrepreneurs and fledgling startups with coworking space to experiment with ideas, launch businesses and collaborate with other entrepreneurs. Fuse’s expansion into the second floor adds 20,000 square feet for its clients to work in -- double the size of its original fifth-floor space.
With more room, Fuse is looking to continue to grow as a hub for Lincoln’s booming and collaborative entrepreneurial community, whose members hope to join Hudl one day in putting Lincoln on the map.
“We provide the space for (businesses) to really gather, which then fosters organic collaboration,” Valentino said. “That goes into continued growth and sustainability for not only Fuse in the micro setting, but also a larger piece of our ecosystem -- new ideas are happening, new connections are being made, new collaborations are being made.”
Fuse got its start in 2013 above The Mill Coffee & Tea at Eighth and P, just across the street from its present location. It moved to its current space in 2016 following investment from Lincoln business partners Nelnet and Speedway Motors.
Fuse’s fifth-floor space offers a coffee-shop atmosphere -- tables and desks set up in casual open rooms with a communal kitchen that has coffee from The Mill and local craft beers on tap. The hope is to facilitate interaction, an exchange of ideas and collaboration that benefits the entire startup community.
“Startup ecosystems really progress quickly when it’s a condensed area,” Valentino said. “When people are in the same space, more things happen.”
Clients can reserve drop-in time, an assigned desk, or one of several offices that accommodate teams ranging from 4 to 12 members. These can be rented on a month-by-month basis, targeting early-stage businesses hesitant to commit to traditional commercial leases.
In its new second-floor space, Fuse is seeking more established clients. It includes spaces meant for larger teams of up to 30 people that are rented out on a yearly basis.
Lincoln-based startups Bulu Box and NXXT will be Fuse’s first second-floor tenants, Valentino said. Bulu Box, established in 2012 by Paul and Stephanie Jarrett, is a subscription service that offers monthly assortments of vitamins, supplements and healthy snacks. And NXXT, a research and consulting company, is the brainchild of Brian Ardinger, who also founded the NMotion startup accelerator, which occupies a permanent space on Fuse’s fifth floor.
Valentino says that bringing in more established companies on the second floor, in addition to the early stage startups at work on the fifth floor, helps Fuse become a “full-circle on-and-off ramp,” providing resources and collaborative opportunities for entrepreneurs at all stages.
It’s that collaborative environment that makes the Haymarket so dynamic and welcoming to new businesses, according to Paul Jarrett of Bulu Box.
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Jarrett started Bulu Box with his wife in San Francisco, but moved it to his native Lincoln to pursue an investment opportunity. He found a city primed for tech startup success -- low overhead, a pipeline of talent from nearby colleges, hardworking people and available space. It’s a perfect combination that allows Lincoln to compete with the hot startup communities on the coasts.
But Jarrett also found a less cutthroat environment where startups routinely work together and genuinely cheer each others’ successes.
“Everybody wants you to succeed -- arguably, we need people to succeed,” Jarrett said. “Hudl’s success is our success, our success is everybody else’s.”
Hudl’s move to its new headquarters building, for instance, gave Fuse an opportunity to expand, which in turn provided space for Bulu Box to move into the heart of the Haymarket. The new location is valuable, Jarrett says, because it’s at the center of Fuse’s collaborative environment and the surrounding tight-knit startup community of downtown Lincoln.
It’s an environment where incidental encounters between business leaders, developers or other key figures regularly occur, often leading to informal chats that yield advice and insight, according to Ardinger.
“I love that aspect of Fuse, I love that aspect of the Haymarket, because you have these valuable collisions that you don’t necessarily have in other spots,” Ardinger said.
And with Fuse expanding its space, more “collisions” are bound to happen, he added.
“We’ll be able to have bigger companies also participate in the conversation -- and more of them,” Ardinger said.
Entrepreneurs recently came up with an idea for the “Heartland Innovation Tour.” This month, several members of Lincoln’s startup community planned to tour other Midwest cities to exchange ideas.
It can be difficult competing for attention with startups based on the coasts, but Valentino believes members of the Lincoln business community can succeed by promoting their success stories, especially in the areas where Nebraska businesses prosper -- agriculture and sports technologies, finance and food.
“We can bang the drum a lot louder,” Valentino said.
In an emailed statement, Hudl’s Jeffrey Scott said that the company’s new headquarters could help bring more growth to the city.
“The new HQ is a statement of our commitment to Nebraska, Lincoln and the Haymarket,” said Scott, a facilities design lead. “Our hope is that we can provide another strong anchor to the Haymarket and help spur further growth and innovation.”
Fuse, in keeping with its mission, celebrates Hudl’s success. It altered Hudl’s old space -- the bright orange walls have been repainted with Fuse’s more neutral colors. But it kept Hudl’s old reception desk, built from the wood of a gymnasium floor to match the company’s sporty aesthetic. The only alteration is a sign that says “FUSE.”
“We’re keeping this up as kind of an homage to Hudl,” Valentino said.