With 38,000 workers at more than 170 companies in 22 million square feet of buildings over 7,000 acres, Research Triangle Park is the largest research park in North America. And RTP isn’t just about its big corporate campuses—it has five buildings devoted to start-up ventures, and 60 percent of its companies have 20 employees or fewer. But today’s entrepreneurs, Mr. Geolas said in an interview, want more-inclusive settings where they can meet with one another, share ideas, find new workers, and just enjoy themselves.
For inspiration, Mr. Geolas has visited leading places of commercial innovation around the country, including Silicon Valley and Boston. But he also recognizes worthwhile examples nearby. Down the road, in downtown Durham, N.C., the abandoned remnants of a once-mighty tobacco industry have experienced a high-tech revival over the past decade. The showcase example is the longtime home of the American Tobacco Company—several blocks of century-old brick factories that have been transformed into an entrepreneurial playground of offices, apartments, restaurants, retail stores, and meeting spaces.