Artist’s rendering of the Maple Ventures renovation design, expected to open on Oct. 1. Illustration provided by Ramco Innovations.
At Ramco Innovations on Maple Street, the warehouse was not an immediate contender to house up-and-coming startups. In fact, renting space and offering administrative assistance from the 50-year-old Ramco business wasn’t even a formal strategy when the company invited the wearable industrial safety startup MākuSafe Corp. to work out of Ramco’s warehouse space.
Today, Ramco is working to complete renovations that will open office space to five startups-in-residence at the technology distributor’s West Des Moines location.
The addition of workspaces and a new conference center is visual progress for Ramco employees as they launch Maple Ventures, a private entrepreneur support center seeking more partnerships with startups that have outgrown regional accelerators but are still too young to fully support administrative work and facility needs. Renovations are expected to be completed by October 1.
“We’re already visioning for the future a little bit,” President Hank Norem said as he walked through the space-in-progress last week.
A 2,600 square foot conference center is already completed, which will be available not only for partnering startups to rent from Ramco, but for community businesses and organizations as well. Ramco is in the process of renovating 2,500 square feet of space for the use of Maple Ventures, and the company is already looking toward the future of potential expansion if Maple Ventures continues to grow.
Startups located in Maple Ventures will have the benefit of proximity to Ramco employee’s years of industrial distribution and engineering experience, Norem said, as well as space in an industrial facility to test products.
“It takes you from being a 50-year company to a 75-year, 100-year company,” Ramco marketing consultant Nicole Torstenson said. “You have that ability to stay on the leading edge … You have this pod of brainstorming and creativity, and innovation happening right on your doorstep.”
“It’s energizing for Ramco to work with these companies that are developing new technologies with related products that we’re using,” Norem added.
MākuSafe, which has been renting space from Ramco for two years, is already able to test its workplace safety wearable devices with Ramco employees. Iowa City-based startup FarrPro is slated to open a Des Moines office at Maple Ventures in October, and Ramco will be testing FarrPro’s devices before they go to market.
Now, Ramco is seeking to partner with three more startups that connects to the company’s work in technology process engineering, framework assembly and distribution. Beyond an administrative and leasing agreement, Ramco does not currently sign a distribution contract with startups to allow those startups to remain agile, Norem said.
“A big benefit for us was that when we have other foot traffic come through here, they get a really nice look at what we’re doing. And also our folks learn from MākuSafe, and the visitors that are coming here for Maple Ventures. We’re all learning from each other,” Norem said.
Ramco employees will take care of administrative duties for Maple Ventures startups, such as payroll and financial reporting. The conference center’s video production studio will be open for startups to use, and Ramco’s marketing staff will be available for assistance.
“Our engineers are always available, so just being in a facility gives them access to our engineers,” Norem said.
“They’re value-added services that you wouldn’t typically find at that phase one accelerator level,” Torstenson added. “They need these additional services beyond work space to take that product to distribution.”
Maple Ventures isn’t designed to replace other accelerator or incubator programs, Norem said.
“We feel like we’re complementary to the accelerators. FarrPro came through the agtech accelerator, so we are a nice next step for someone like that,” he said.
Ramco doesn’t expect the volume of additional services for the two current startups will take over the administrative staff’s day, but the company is prepared to expand in the future if there is a need, Norem said.
“Any more than two [startups], it will require help,” Norem said.