Robert Herrera, co-founder of The Mill, is shown in the Nemours Building coworking space Wednesday in Wilmington. Coworking spaces allow startups, freelancers and consultants to pay rental fees for equipment and desk space.(Photo: WILLIAM BRETZGER/THE NEWS JOURNAL)Buy Photo

Story Highlights

  • The Mill will be the largest coworking facility in Wilmington when it opens April 1.
  • The 12,000-square-foot space is on the fourth floor of the Nemours Building.
  • Coworking is a relatively new model of commercial real estate.

Robert Herrera’s timing could not have been better.

After years of designing shared office spaces for New York City coworking giant WeWork and others, the young architect was hoping to secure a space for his clients closer to home in Wilmington.

So last summer, the 30-year-old Dover native placed a cold call to Chris Buccini, managing director of the city’s biggest commercial developer, the Buccini/Pollin Group.

“He had no idea who I was,” Herrera said. “But I was hoping to convince him that a new coworking space was exactly what Wilmington needed.”

Coworking is a relatively new model of commercial real estate. Rather than renting whole offices, coworking spaces allow startups, freelancers and consultants to pay monthly rental fees for shared equipment and desk space, where they often work elbow-to-elbow with one another. The entry cost for renters is low, while the opportunities for collaboration and community building are high.

Buccini, as it turned out, didn’t need a hard sell.

The developer had just toured a WeWork space in New York days earlier and was already chewing over how to bring a similar model to Delaware.

“Getting a call from Robert at that moment was a very odd coincidence, to say the least,” Buccini said. “But, it was clear we felt similar about where the world of commercial real estate was going and quickly decided to work together.”

As it turned out, WeWork was less than interested in coming Wilmington.

But Herrera and Buccini were still convinced an entrepreneur-focused, shared office model could work here, as evidenced by the success of existing coworking spaces, such as the coIN Loft on North Market Street and 1313 Innovation in the Hercules Plaza Building.

After nearly a year of planning and construction, the duo are now set to unveil the first $1.7 million phase of their shared vision early next month.

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The first phase of The Mill coworking space is slatedThe first phase of The Mill coworking space is slated to open in Wilmington’s Nemours Building on April 1. (Photo: PROVIDED BY THE MILL)

Named The Mill, the 12,000-square-foot space on the fourth floor of the Nemours Building will be the largest coworking facility in Wilmington when it opens April 1.

Yet it still may not be enough.

The Mill is quickly becoming the hottest new real estate option among the city’s local startup set.

All nine of its private offices and 34 rentable desks have been leased while the number of monthly community memberships is growing on a daily basis. The space is now building out a waiting list for a $1.3 million, second phase that will add another 18,000 square feet on the same floor later this year.

“What’s really crazy is we haven’t even done any marketing yet,” Herrera said. “Clearly, we’ve shown this can work and we haven’t even opened the doors.”

The first phase of The Mill coworking space is slatedThe first phase of The Mill coworking space is slated to open in Wilmington’s Nemours Building on April 1. (Photo: THE MILL)

The next stage on coworking

Part of The Mill’s allure, according to its tenants, is the attention to detail Herrera has put into the space.

“It just looks fantastic,” said Fritz Lowrey, director of IT operations for Aztec Exchange’s Americas division.

A high-tech supply chain finance company based in Ireland, Aztec has signed a lease to operate its four-person quality assurance and platform development office in one of The Mill’s $1,200-per-month private offices.

“It’s got all the advantages of a typical coworking space, which are low rent and an opportunity to work alongside other businesses,” Lowrey said. “Plus, it’s got a bit of flash.”

That wow factor starts as soon as guests step off the elevator into the coworking space’s chic reclaimed wood-wrapped lobby complete with a polished concrete floor and 60 Edison bulbs hanging from the ceiling.

From there, guests step into The Mill’s lounge, a seating area walled with custom-built cigar leather and military canvas sofas.

To the left is a library nook filled with reclaimed wood bookshelves. A similar space to the right offers a gamer’s lounge where members can blow off steam while playing on vintage Nintendo NES and Sega Genesis game systems.

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A 28-foot American Chestnut docking station is theA 28-foot American Chestnut docking station is the centerpiece of The Mill’s community space. The project is in the Nemours Building in Wilmington. (Photo: PROVIDED BY THE MILL)

But Herrera’s pride and joy is a 28-foot-long American Chestnut docking station where more than two dozen members can set up shop at cost of just $45 a month.

“This is a little dorky, but American Chestnut is actually extinct, so millworkers drool over this stuff,” he said. “It was built by JKB Design, this rock star millworking shop near Winterthur. I’m just in love with it.”

On either side of the long table are four conference rooms that seat eight to 10 people, and a fifth that holds up to 25. The conference room tables were made by the Challenge Program, a vocational training program for at-risk teens and young adults.

“What’s really crazy is we haven’t even done any marketing yet. Clearly, we’ve shown this can work and we haven’t even opened the doors.”

Robert Herrera, The Mill

The space also offers shared offices with 34 desks available to rent for $350 a month, a price that includes access to a private locker. All memberships include shared WiFi, a discount card to area restaurants, discounts to CoreTen Fitness on the first floor of the Nemours Building and other amenities.

That includes access to the Mill’s full kitchen, sponsored by DogFish Head Brewery and featuring a working bar for after-hours events.

“It’s not just about designing a new workspace as much as it is designing a new lifestyle for Wilmington,” Herrera said. “This is very much a 9-to-5 city and we want this space to sort of combat that.”

Tapping a growing trend

Robert Herrera, co-founder of The Mill in the NemoursBuy PhotoRobert Herrera, co-founder of The Mill in the Nemours Building, at the bar area of the co-working space as renovation work is in its final stages on Wednesday. (Photo: WILLIAM BRETZGER/THE NEWS JOURNAL)

Herrera’s timing, again, could not have been better.

Thanks to the efforts of the coIN Loft and 1313 Innovation, a nascent tech-scene has taken root in Wilmington in the last few years that’s now hungry for the next-level coworking space being offered by The Mill.

“The ecosystem we helped to build here is now at various stages of growth, while other startups are starting to wake up to the fact that Wilmington is a great place to locate,” Mona Parikh said.

The managing director of Start It Up Delaware, the organization that manages the 4,500-square-foot coIN Loft, Parikh also serves as a community liaison for University of Delaware’s Horn Program in Entrepreneurship, which is helping to produce the state’s next generation of startups.

“The more that community grows, the more it needs the right resources for every phase of a startup’s evolution,” she said. “Robert has done everything right in terms of learning about that community and making sure The Mill provides the resources those companies need to take the next step.”

For Austin-based tech startup Counsl, the chance to join a community in the making at a “world-class coworking space” was the biggest draw.

“When you’re starting a company, it’s so important that everyone drink the Kool-Aid and buy into the culture,” CEO JC Glancy said. “We really got the sense there’s a true entrepreneurial ecosystem being created at The Mill and that’s what we wanted to be a part of.”

The company now plans to open a development office at The Mill where about six programmers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will spend their days building out Counsl’s incorporation services app.

Patrick Callahan, co-founder of the Wilmington-based Archer Group marketing agency, said The Mill presented the ideal location to headquarter his newest venture, the data analytics firm CompassRed.

The five-man operation initially began at a WeWork space in San Francisco before moving back east in search of less expensive accommodations.

“When Robert told us about his vision, it sounded exactly like what we had left in San Francisco,” Callahan said. “Plus, he’s so obviously passionate about it and that’s contagious. That kind of energy is exactly what we needed.”

Wilmington's newest coworking space, The Mill at 1007Buy PhotoWilmington’s newest coworking space, The Mill at 1007 N. Orange Street, will open April 1st. (Photo: SUCHAT PEDERSON/THE NEWS JOURNAL)

Tech is not the sole focus of The Mill, however.

Other early tenants include attorneys, a digital marketing company, an interior designer and a host of freelancer and consultants.

“My feeling about coworking spaces is that a lot of them go wrong by pigeon-holing themselves in to being tech-centric or design-centric,” Herrera said.

“Coworking spaces that are successful have a fintech guy sitting next to an interior designer next to an artist,” he said. “That’s when you get these really cool products, ideas and companies that spin out. And that’s what we want for The Mill – a little taste of everything.”

Contact business reporter Scott Goss at (302) 324-2281, or on Twitter @ScottGossDel.

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The Mill sets new bar for Wilmington coworking spaces.

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