Innovation Square teeming with progress; Mindtree shows off how far it's come in a year

Waqas Mazhar Sr. a test engineer with Mindtree, explains the tool Webex used for face-to-face conversation via computer as clients and staff tour the building as Mindtree celebrates its first anniversary, including hiring and taking over a new floor at the Ayers Technology Plaza in Gainesville, Fla., shown during an open house event Thursday, October 24, 2013.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 8:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 24, 2013 at 8:28 p.m.

On the third floor of the old Ayers Medical Plaza, Mindtree clients from New Jersey, Dallas, Charlotte, N.C., Chicago, Boston and Gainesville shuffled from station to station Thursday afternoon as employees demonstrated their open-collaboration method of work known in the industry as agile software development.

The quick-response needs of U.S. clients led the India-based company to bring software development back to America's shores and to grow to 12 clients with two more being added next month and hire more than 100 employees in the U.S. Development Center's first year of business.

As the center celebrated its first birthday with an open house Thursday, Scott Staples, company president of the Americas, said Mindtree is right on track in terms of the number of customers and employees as they work toward their original goal of hiring 400 people.

"We're really happy with how things have progressed," Staples said.

Ed Poppell is also happy with how things have progressed. As the man in charge of overseeing development of Innovation Square between campus and downtown for the University of Florida, he said Mindtree accelerated development by raising Gainesville's profile and even referring companies to the area to take advantage of computer science talent coming out of UF.

Since Mindtree's announcement last year, Boston-based mobile application company Mobiquity opened an office in Innovation Square with plans to hire 260 people, Sears Holdings said it would open an information technology center with 25 employees and publisher CurtCo Robb Media moved in as it expands its mobile applications and digital publications.

Staples brought Gainesville to Mobiquity's attention, and CurtCo's Trae Walker said the presence of both of those was a big selling point for the company to come here.

Their combined presence has lured other businesses that provide services to businesses to move in and around Innovation Square, such as construction companies, an architect, office furniture businesses and a patent attorney, while nearby shops and restaurants say they have seen a boost.

Across Second Avenue from the Ayers building, new streets are under construction through the tract of land that once housed Shands at AGH and now includes UF's Innovation Hub and the future site of the eight-story Infusion Technology Center for businesses interested in being near UF.

"Mindtree is like the first cherry out of the bottle or the first little ketchup that flows and the rest of it gets a lot easier," Poppell said. "It was proof of concept that an international company with a lot of large-salary jobs was attracted to our community."

Poppell said Innovation Square has a few more prospect companies that he can't announce yet as they work through the tax-incentive process, "and there are others that we're trying to push over the edge."

"We're dancing with a lot of people right now," Poppell added.

Joelle Smith, general manager of Mindtree's Gainesville center, said they have hosted visits "once or twice a month" from prospects that want to talk or see what they have done with their space.

After moving into the third floor of the south tower of Ayers with an open floor plan and officially opening for business in October 2012, Mindtree is now renovating the fourth floor with a higher level of security required for financial clients.

Smith said their work with the financial industry is one reason the company decided to open a U.S. center since regulations require a lot of their data to stay in the U.S.

They hope to occupy the fourth floor early next year and gradually add another 140 to 155 jobs there, Smith said.

The company initially had trouble hiring out of UF since they started after graduation last year when many computer science and engineering graduates already had jobs. Smith said the word is out and traffic to their career website increased 15 times from where it was a year ago and they are getting requests to attend other universities' job fairs.

During Thursday's tour, interns Jonathan Hernandez and Audrey Simonne from UF's computer science department showed off a 3D pong-like video game they helped develop using Kinect motion technology. Two employees from a national retail client faced the video monitor on the wall and waved their arms to control the characters competing on the screen.

At another station, user experience and interface developers Jason Williams and Scott Purcell drew up a design for an app requested by a volunteer from the tour group to show the process of designing and improving apps to meet client needs.

Williams, the senior developer, said in a later interview that he has gone as far as following a store manager around to get an idea of how to design an app for the aforementioned national retailer, while on another part of the tour a "pod" of people developing mobile applications showed off a prototype of an app for managers to track store sales and payroll data.

Smith said they wanted to show their clients the agile process that was another big reason Mindtree brought software development to the U.S. and Gainesville.

"It has to happen in real time where we speak to people on an hourly basis and produce working software every two weeks," Smith said.

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