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VOL. 37 | NO. 22 | Friday, May 31, 2013

Tech firms find new home in Germantown

By Hollie Deese

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Julie May is one of many technology company owners who have fallen in love with the location, unique spaces and convenience of Germantown, moving to 6th Avenue North from West End.

-- Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

Julie May has come a long way from teaching people how to use the internet back in 1995, working out of Joe Dougherty’s Bean Central cyber-coffee shop.

Today, her company, Bytes of Knowledge (b:ok), is a 22-employee professional services firm that provides a variety of tech support, app design, infrastructure tools and more to support small and mid-sized businesses, offering a breadth and depth of IT knowledge a fledgling entrepreneur or mid-size business might not have.

With a move to Germantown, an area of Nashville that is increasingly attracting tech companies with its interesting spaces, access to the interstate, downtown and plentiful parking, Bytes of Knowledge is fitting into an active technology community.

It’s far removed from Julie May and her laptop, patiently showing a client how to use email.

“I would go in there [Bean Central] and meet people and train them on how to use applications or the Internet,” she says.

Bolstered by the promise of three months of steady work from a client, she was able to leave her corporate gig at Service Merchandise in 1995 and start her own company, along with the support of her husband and business partner, Charles May.

“Shortly thereafter it turned into, ‘What is this website stuff all about?’ ’’ she adds.

“This was in 1995, and if I can take you all the way back there, we were using AOL and Yahoo for email. And people would have to go to their home pages and look up stuff. This was before the days of Google where you could search outside of a particular realm.”

That first sweet deal

She landed Christie Cookie as a client and built its first e-commerce website. She added a few people, and after a few years found some very small office space. She continued to hire until 1999 when Clayton Associates came on board as an investor.

At that time Charles, a former horse trainer who already had experience selling a business in England, came on board day-to-day and used his salesmanship to help sell the services Bytes had to offer.

“Technicians are very good at technical stuff,” he says. “But they rarely possess people skills.”

Since those days, the company continues to expand and change services to accommodate the needs of its clients, especially if the client isn’t sure what is needed.

“A lot of times we listen to their preconceived notion of what they need, but if we ask just the right questions we can either validate that they are on the right track here or if we can find a less expensive, more efficient way to resolve that problem,” Julie adds.

Bowtruss Building

-- Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

“Our responsibility is to really understand their business issue – whether it is hardware related, software related, or marketing related – and then apply the right technology solution to it. But you can’t do that if you only have technologists on staff and they don’t understand business.”

Finding a Germantown address

For Charles and Julie May, buying space in Germantown is kind of like upgrading from a starter home to a dream house. It wasn’t a decision they took lightly, and they took their time looking for just the right space.

“We had outgrown our space, and the lease was up,” Julie says. “It was a great time to buy what is a fantastic property. The price was right and interest rates are fantastic.”

The new building at 1212 Sixth Ave. N., is a multi-zoned building, constructed in 1999 with a historic design that fits in with the neighborhood.

The building itself is just under 6,000-square-feet with a lot nearly three times that size – plenty of room for their 22 employees, with space to add as needed.

“We had probably been looking on and off for four or five years, just waiting for the right place at the right price in the right location,” Charles says.

“And even since we’ve started the process of getting the place back in November, we have heard of more technology companies moving into that area and it is going to become, if it is not already, a hotbed of technology.”

Young talent, unique space

As other, younger tech companies are experiencing growth, businesses are also looking to Germantown as an alternative to SoBro or other more traditionally recognized tech-friendly parts of town.

Two of them – IT company Concept Technology and health care data analytics company Stratasan – have signed up to operate out of the Bowtruss Building, which was once the old Crescent Furniture Warehouse.

“SoBro has been getting a lot of attention, but I think Germantown is going to wind up very competitive with [SoBro] just because of the proximity of where it lies within relation to the talent that these companies are trying to bring,” says Allen Arender, vice president of development for Holladay Properties, management for the Bowtruss Building.

The two-acre property had been on the market for a while when Halladay bought it in September 2012.

“We looked at it and really liked what was happening in Germantown and that side of town and felt like there was a lot of untapped area,” Arender says.

“We felt like this space could be repositioned into creative loft office space. We had done the Sawtooth Building, which was the Griffin Technologies headquarters, so we felt like a lot of the tech companies are relying on a younger demographic who want an interesting and unique space. Not just what we call commodity office space with a drop ceiling. They want something unique.”

Three buildings were torn down to create the current structure, which is drawing interest from more tech companies as well as cafés.

“It is something unique and interesting,” Arender adds.

The Bowtruss Building at 3rd and Jefferson, previously Cresent Furniture, is promoting open spaces and its proximity to Germantown restaurants, downtown and 1,000 nearby residential units.

-- Lyle Graves | Nashville Ledger

“And it is at a price point that is compelling. One group came through and said their employees are young people who either live in East Nashville, Germantown, The Gulch or they are coming from Vanderbilt. In this building, they can pull from all of those easily.”

Germantown as recruiting tool

For growing tech companies, Germantown offers the best location since it is close to downtown, but still with plenty of parking, near the interstate, but with a number of restaurants within walking distance.

All of that makes current employees happy, but it also helps with recruiting. Concept Technologies owner James Fields is in a position to appreciate both so he has kept his business in South Nashville, waiting to find the perfect place.

“The challenge for us is that we need to have a great, dynamic space and be in town,” he says. “We are not going out to Brentwood. We need to be in the central business district. But, we also need to have lots of close parking because we’re in and out all day.”

Downtown office space that required his employees to park in a garage and walk a few blocks back and forth to work were just out of the question. “That car-to-desk time is important,” he adds.

His new office needed to have close, quick access to the interstate.

“That is the great thing about being on the east side of Germantown,” Fields says. “You just hop over the river and you are on the interstate in less than 60 seconds.”

Fields started Concept Technologies in 2003. A Vanderbilt graduate, his company provides IT services to small and mid-sized companies.

“It was just a one-guy shop for a while,” he explains. “And then I hired a guy, then another guy and now we have 37 people and are continuing to grow.”

In 2012 the company experienced 30 percent growth over 2011 and is on track for another 30 percent growth this year.

Fields is currently actively recruiting systems administrators and desktop support and is confident that the new Germantown location, which is about double his current office space at nearly 8,000 square feet, will help him pull the best of the available talent in town.

Dazzling recruits with open spaces

Fields and the Mays, as well as other tech executives in the area, often can’t find the IT people they need in Nashville.

“We are bringing a lot of IT folks to town and do a lot of our recruiting from out of Nashville,” Fields says.

“It is a challenge to find quality IT folks in Nashville. There are a bunch, but there also 1.25 as many IT jobs as there are IT people. It is a seller’s market in the IT business.”

Julie and Charles May hope the new space in Germantown will help appeal to those same people.

“There is a lack of technical expertise, professional expertise in Nashville,” Charles explains.

“There is a gap. I forget the number, but it’s something like 1,500 or 1,600 more technology jobs than there are people to fill them right now.

“So we are filling a much needed void of providing access to high-quality, highly trained IT people.”

Arender says the type of space offered in the Bowtruss – open and airy – also appeals to a number of companies, especially ones about to experience a breakthrough.

“Concept Technologies is a very established tech company, and we are seeing some of that, but we’re also seeing interest from those guys who have moved beyond the incubator stage and are in that next step in the life cycle of their business.

“They are coming out of the space they used to get the ball rolling, and now they’re looking for something they can commit to a little bit longer that will help them grow a little faster, a little smarter.”

Arender thinks the layout of the space at Bowtruss can help young companies achieve growth. Fields agrees.

Moving from 4,000 square feet to 8,000, Fields is looking forward to introducing a work environment to his employees that will boost creativity, morale and ultimately, growth.

“The space is open, which will be much more collaborative, whereas now we have people tucked away in little rooms,” he says. “It will just encourage better communication.

“And when you couple that with the ‘wow’ factor of the new space, when I bring on prospective hires their initial reaction is going to be ‘This is a place where I want to work.’

“Not only will it benefit our current team members but we will continue to add quality team members.”

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