The Bounce Innovation Hub’s first floor Generator space is open for business in Akron.

What had been long-empty warehouse space dating back to the days of a once thriving tire-making complex is now repurposed with an eye to the entrepreneurial future.

And it retains a strong Akron-y feel by showcasing the work of nearly 80 local artists and makers who created and put together 160 original works including furniture and decorations, made with locally sourced materials including some from the former tire factory.

Bounce on Wednesday took the wraps off its now-finished $3.5 million renovation project and attracted hundreds of people to a daylong open house and grand celebration that stretched into the evening inside the former B.F. Goodrich building.

“This is beyond expectations,” Mayor Dan Horrigan said in remarks during the formal opening ceremony.

He called Bounce important not just for Akron but also for all of Northeast Ohio, saying it will be inclusive and provide opportunities for everyone.

Deborah Hoover, head of the Burton D. Morgan Foundation and chairwoman of the Bounce board, called Bounce a “pivotal community resource” in the heart of a growing Akron ecosystem.

“We’re standing in the first open innovation hub in the region,” said Doug Weintraub, Bounce chief executive. Bounce and its Generator are designed to help founders and others in the region, he said.

“Be a part of something big. Be a part of Akron. Be a part of Bounce,” he said.

Jon Hallsten, the 41-year-old CEO and founder of Custom Electronic & Software Solutions, with offices in Barberton, Chicago and the U.K., tried out one of the Generator’s small meeting rooms prior to the grand opening celebration.

“I’m all about technology and innovation,” he said.

Hallsten said his Chicago office is in a place similar to Bounce and that Akron did a “phenomenal job” with its facility.

“I’m excited about what an event space like this can mean for Akron,” he said. “My hope is there will be a long-standing vision here and they will stick to a strategic plan.”

The 27,000-square-foot first-floor space was designed with the goal of helping entrepreneurs and others with formal and informal networking and support services.

The floor includes an eSports lab, makerspace and creative workshop, small meeting rooms, event space, conference rooms, private booths, Remarkable Coffee and Cafe, and more, with the locally created art and furnishings throughout.

Artist Nichole Epps created a freehand mural with a “street art vibe” that runs the length of a long hallway.

She said she likes the Generator space and that besides being important for business it was also important that something the size of the Generator used all local art.

“I’m obsessed. I was able to see it come together when it was empty,” Epps said. “I think Akron needed it.”

Karen Starr, co-owner and lead designer of Hazel Tree Design Studio, coordinated the interior design. The Akron firm specializes in locally sourced, custom designs.

“We really wanted it to be an artful space to inspire the entrepreneurs and the creatives and the workers who will come here and use the space,” Starr said. “The inspiration of the space is, we wanted to be a nod to our industrial past but more of what is possible in our innovative future.”

Hazel Tree went into the decommissioned B.F. Goodrich steam plant and other buildings in search of materials to use, Starr said.

“It was so much fun,” she said. “It touches on what we wanted to do here. The past, the present and what could be the future all incorporated into the design.”

The Generator space was designed in part to foster soft, unexpected “collisions” where people meet and interact.

Wednesday, those collisions started early in the day when the floor opened at 8 a.m. and visitors could take advantage of free co-working space, participate in yoga or later in the morning sign up for a one-on-one meeting with a business expert.

Beth Elle Cata, a college student and fine art model from Chagrin Falls, visited the Generator at the invitation of a friend.

“I think the space is absolutely beautiful,” she said. Cata said Bounce and its Generator could help her bring ideas and projects to fruition — she said she needs to learn how to successfully create a business.

Bounce provided tours of its upper floors and tenants as well. Bounce is the successor to the Akron Global Business Accelerator and uses the entire 307,000-square-foot structure at 526 S. Main St., hosting about 50 early-stage businesses.

The state, Summit County, community block development grants, two local foundations and a loan from the Akron Development Fund paid for the Generator renovations.

 

Jim Mackinnon covers business. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ