If the Eiffel Tower were a startup incubator, would it still be an icon? Folks at Research Triangle Park hope a planned structure can be both icon and entrepreneurial hub.

Lauren K. Ohnesorge
Triangle Business Journal

If the Eiffel Tower were a startup incubator, would it still be an icon?

Folks at Research Triangle Park hope a planned structure can be both icon and entrepreneurial hub.

While they’re not planning an Eiffel Tower (we don’t think), they are planning something that, conceptually, serves the same branding purpose.

This week I wrote about what Research Triangle Foundation CEO Bob Geolashopes will be an Epcot-esque signature on Research Triangle Park: A landmark to brand the region.

In addition to creating a silhouette that will rise over the pine trees, giving RTP a physical branding identity, the structure will also be home to innovation, housing labs that bring universities and private entities together to solve global problems.

But Geolas doesn’t want to stop there. He wants to use the space as a product launch pad – a destination, even a black-box theater.

Rounding out his wish list? Incubator space, to house the growing number of entrepreneurs that call the Triangle home.

It’s that aspect that created excitement for folks like Andy Schwab, whom I talked toat this week’s Google partnership event. Schwab has the unique perspective of already working with startups in RTP. The facility he manages, First Flight Ventures, houses startups such as materials research firm bioMason.

“We’d very much like to see it happen,” he says, noting that it’s a big wish list, and there’s no specific time table on the center Geolas hopes to build. Schwab is hoping the building provides some needed flexibility. “There needs to be a variety of space available. Companies don’t develop at the same rates.”

He’s looking for a space that can house early-stage companies throughout their development, and he looks forward to seeing what Geolas and company will come up with.

“I think it can be a good focal point for the region,” he says, adding that he has had plenty of conversations with Geolas about what the building could be. “I think he has the ability to pull it off.”

Entrepreneurs are equally excited. For Anil Chawla, founder of Durham startup Archive Social, our conversation was his introduction to the idea – and he has just as many questions as I had.

“When will they know what it is?” he asks. That seems to be a question on everyone’s lips, and no one – not even Geolas – can answer, because the planning stage is ongoing.

“RTP is a great tech hub when you look at big companies,” he says, pointing out IBM’s (NYSE: IBM) reputation.

But small companies like his? Not so much. Could an element like Geolas’ Epcot bridge that gap?

He hopes so.