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Former Albany School Turned Entrepreneurship Hub Spews STEAM

The first part of a S.T.E.A.M. entrepreneurship hub has been unveiled in Albany, New York.

Once complete, officials say the S.T.E.A.M. Garden will focus on the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics through coworking space, makerspace, classrooms, and even a podcast studio.

Central Avenue Business Improvement District Executive Director Anthony Capece led a ceremony on the first floor event space surrounded by the incubator’s co-supporters.

“We hope to move in this space at the speed of business,” he says.

Central Avenue BID executive director Anthony Capece
Credit Michael Apollo
Central Avenue BID executive director Anthony Capece believes S.T.E.A.M. Garden will promote economic, technological, and creative activity in Albany

S.T.E.A.M. Garden inhabits a more than 100-year-old hulking brick building near the corner of Central Avenue and North Lake Avenue. The building formerly housed the St. Patrick’s School.

“I was a student here in 1960 to ’69. We started kindergarten here at St. Patrick’s Institute as it was known,” Frank DeNucci says.

S.T.E.A.M. Garden
Credit Michael Apollo
S.T.E.A.M. Garden is located at 279 Central Ave. near the corner of Central and North Lake Avenues in Albany

Frank DeNucci says he is excited about the benefits the S.T.E.A.M. Garden will bring to the community.

“I am so pleased number one that the church has not a vacant building next door. And not only is it not vacant but it has a future. A bright future in the West Hill, west Arbor Hill neighborhood,” he says.  

He continues:

“And now this place stands as a shining gem to maybe bring back some life and innovation and be a leader to lead the neighborhood in to the next future of what’s going to happen here,” he says.

S.T.E.A.M. Garden classroom
Credit Michael Apollo
Local academic institutions plan to host classes in S.T.E.A.M. Garden classrooms this spring

$1.8 million in public and private funding made the S.T.E.A.M. Garden a reality. Several regional organizations including the Legal Aid Society, National Grid, Hudson Valley Community College, and the University at Albany are involved.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says S.T.E.A.M. Garden fosters local economic development and job opportunities.

“And any mayor will tell you that while you hear a lot on the news about trying to attract these big huge mega multibillion dollar companies to your city the way that you succeed is by growing your own businesses and that’s what you are going to do here,” she says. 

Like hundreds of other cities and regions, Sheehan hoped to attract Amazon’s HQ2 to the Capital Region through the company’s open competition in 2017. The online retailer eventually settled on Arlington, Virginia. Amazon is planning a one million-square foot warehouse in nearby Schodack. Despite not landing Amazon’s second headquarters, the Democrat says she is looking to attract business ventures to the city regardless of size.

City of Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan
Credit Michael Apollo
City of Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says Albany is ready to host businesses of all sizes

“We remain laser focused on making sure people have the opportunity to start their business here and grow their business here and as you look across the region many of our big successes are successes that started here and we are really fortunate to have a place like the S.T.E.A.M. Garden, now we have a physical place where when we meet somebody who has a great idea for a new business they have a place to come, they have a place to get advice, they have a place to be able to test out that new idea and grow the next Amazon right here in the City of Albany,” she says.

Democratic State Assemblywoman Pat Fahy represents part of the City of Albany.

“Small business is absolutely the lifeblood of especially the upstate economy but of the economy in general and millennials, I have to say, I just never cease to be amazed at the creativity right here in the Capital Region,” she says.

The S.T.E.A.M. Garden joins several other Capital Region institutions that cater to the creative economy and emerging trends in the future of work. The Albany Barn transformed the abandoned St. Joseph’s Academy in Arbor Hill into a creative arts incubator with studio and living space for artists. In Troy, the Tech Valley Center of Gravity offers a shared workspace space, makerspace, and kitchen to innovators for a monthly fee.

S.T.E.A.M. Garden makerspace
Credit Michael Apollo
Saws, sanders, and 3D printers will fill S.T.E.A.M. Garden’s basement level makerspace

“I’m a small business owner. My company’s called Pangea Ventures and my work involves building bridges between African entrepreneurs and American companies and investors,” John Scicchitano says.

John Scicchitano is one of S.T.E.A.M. Garden’s first coworkers.

“So I found out about the STEAM Garden just a month or two ago and I was just desiring having a coworking space so that I could get out of my basement,” he says.

Coworking is an emerging trend in which teleworkers, independent contractors, and small business owners share communal workspaces and infrastructure.

“Even though it’s a young space, I was one of the first if not the first to come sit here working full-time but I knew this was a space that would grow and that would really enable me to find an environment where I would get a lot of work done and make connections and meet people and just be in an area that has a lot of potential for growth just as I’m working on growth in Africa being a part of a neighborhood that is bound for growth here is exciting,” he says.

Proponents of coworking say the practice is cost effective, environmentally friendly, and builds community among people in the space, resulting in fresh ideas and collaboration. Scicchitano has already experienced some benefits.

“Any time you put together entrepreneurs you’re gonna have lots of exchange of ideas and there are only a few of us here so far but already one of my colleagues we’ve exchanged ideas about African business and about real estate, which is another side interest of mine. So yeah I mean it’s great to be in a space where you have thinkers innovators that can you can bounce ideas off of what you’re doing and they can do the same and why not co-create together,” he says.

Democratic Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy applauded the center’s impact on the community’s youth.

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy
Credit Michael Apollo
Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy highlights S.T.E.A.M. Garden’s future impact on the youth

“This is gonna be such a unique opportunity and a game changer for a lot of kids that might’ve not had hope,” he says.

I toured the basement and unrenovated upper floors of the hub with the Garden’s director of operations Ronda Shayne. We rode in the newly installed elevator up to the third floor.

Future office space awaiting renovations
Credit Michael Apollo
After renovations, former classrooms on the upper floors will serve as office space for businesses

“The upper floors are where eventually is gonna be office space for people once they start out down in the bottom level in entrepreneurship/cowork space things like that then they are going to move hopefully create their business and move to the next level so they will go in to one of the offices upstairs before they get too big for there and then eventually move on. But that’s the different phases that we’re going to,” she says.

The elevator opens to a large blue barrier blocking off the construction zone. Ronda moves the barrier out of the way.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan with former Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings
Credit Michael Apollo
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan speaks to former St. Patrick’s School student and former five-term Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings

“We don’t want people coming up here. There is six classrooms up here. The ceilings are all the tin ceilings we’re gonna keep. They’re all gonna be refurnished again. We have some of the light fixtures from the original building downstairs we’re gonna put those back in. All the windows are brand new which we had to do here. The ones downstairs are the ones for the historical people. And this is an old classroom. They had classes in here K-8. And as you know Mayor Jennings went to school here if you heard the speech earlier and a lot of the people that are downstairs went to school here. So there is six of these on both floors, so pretty cool,” she says.

Michael Apollo is a graduating senior majoring in Journalism and Homeland Security at the University at Albany.

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