SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — To Trevor Barlow, executive director of the Black River Innovation Campus (BRIC), a thriving digital-tech economy is comparable to building an ecosystem. The sustainability and potential of both derive from a bounty and balance of resources.
Springfield already has several of the key ingredients to grow a vibrant digital culture, Barlow said yesterday in an interview at the BRIC campus. Barlow said BRIC could be both a center and a catalyst for a tech-focused economy and culture in the region by supporting aspiring entrepreneurs and career-seekers in computing and multimedia professions.
Planting the initial seeds
“The pieces are here [in Springfield],” Barlow said. “Springfield has the most cost-effective, fastest bandwidth in the country and a collaborative network of community partners who buy into the vision and say ‘Let’s do it’.”
In some ways, Springfield chose the right time to focus on computer career development, Barlow said.
“A decade or so ago, the hardware, space, fastest bandwidth to start a tech company could cost a couple of million dollars,” Barlow said. “Those costs are so much lower today.”
Modern advances in bandwidth and equipment also allow computer-and multimedia professionals to have greater flexibility in where they work, including in other states or countries from their employer.
BRIC, a tech-focused business incubator aims to make Springfield a destination for tech-driven workers and entrepreneurs by providing essential resources and support to help people find employment or launch start-up businesses in the digital industry.
The mission of the incubator is to address three major hurdles that often discourage people from taking the high-risk jump into a tech-business venture or from moving their tech business to Vermont, through providing housing, mentorship and investment. Barlow said that he expects the residential component to launch in about two months, though he wants to hold the first public open house in two weeks, which will give the Springfield community its first look at the completed renovation at the Park Street School building.
A cultural shift
In partnership with the Springfield School District, BRIC plans to provide career-side education and mentorship to students at Riverside Middle School and Springfield High School, to supplement the school district’s computer science program.
The schools will provide the content-based instruction in computing and digital media, while BRIC will provide experiential mentorship for students with an interest in career paths in computer technology.
Through mentorship, guidance and cutting-edge digital tools becoming available at BRIC, Barlow said that students with a passion for computers and multimedia will have the potential to apply their learning across a spectrum of digital technology, from data-focused coding and processing to multimedia forms, such as video games, film and music.
As a student, Barlow said that he didn’t connect passionately to math and science until he began discovering computers and their inter-workings.
“All of a sudden that math and science had a living application,” he said.
Another component of educating students for careers in computing is to prepare them for the cultural shift from the traditional office culture.
When people work in an office, there are often rules and a structure already in place, Barlow said. Many people employed in computing today work outside of an office, either as remote workers or self-employed contractors. There are advantages to having that flexibility, but that also means knowing how to balance work time with personal time.
“You may have a project with a deadline, but it falls on you to figure out the schedule,” Barlow said. “If you want to attend your child’s soccer game, you may need to work in the evening instead.”
Being successful in self-employment requires strong personal responsibility and self-discipline. For students or adults with those in place, BRIC’s mentorship can show them the type of structure and schedule needed in order to successfully work from home.
“Those who are motivated enough may be able to start at a young age or even support others who want to try,” Barlow said.