`Digital Harbor' draws tech firm

Branch: Internet and Web site services company G1440 opens a design center in Canton.

January 20, 2001|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

Outside, the building screams G1440 Technology Center in neon lights. Inside, the space is filled with futuristic meeting rooms with walls but no doors, rows of new cubicles and - at least one day this week - piles of cardboard boxes.

The newly renovated building on Boston Street in Canton is the home of Columbia-based G1440 Inc.'s design arm, which it established by acquiring Baltimore-based Impreza Design Inc.

Monday was move-in day for the department, signaling G1440's new presence in Baltimore and the expansion of another technology company into the "Digital Harbor."

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption in Saturday's Business section misidentified a technology company executive and gave an incorrect title for him and his business partner. Matt Goddard and Dave Taub are co-founders of Impreza Design Inc., which was recently acquired by G1440 Inc. The Sun regrets the erors.

"We're happy to finally turn Boston Street into the street that it should be by renovating this building," said Matt Goddard, a co-founder of Impreza and president of G1440, Baltimore.

G1440, which was founded in 1998 under the name NETfanatics Inc. and is 80 percent owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., began as a back-end Web engineering business, meaning that it did the behind-the-scenes work on Web sites. The company targets customers in retail, business services, manufacturing, financial services and homebuilding.

One of the business' applications takes users from the time they click into a sales center to buy a home, through the design of their homes and through the closing. It also allows homebuilders to keep information about the buyers so that they can contact clients if they move again.

In October, after a national search for a Web-design business, G1440 acquired Impreza Design, a Baltimore Web-design company with 25 employees founded in 1996 by two friends in their Fells Point apartment. G1440 bought Impreza for $4.7 million in cash and stock.

With Impreza as part of the company, G1440 says it can offer customers the complete Web site, from what users see and click on to the brain behind it. With Sinclair's stake in the company, G1440 says, it plans to pioneer the convergence of television and the Internet.

Although backed by a big, established company, G1440's design office feels much like a dot-com start-up. The company fills the first floor of the Boston Street building, which was built in 1947 and used to be a plumbing supply house. The second floor is being marketed to technology tenants, said Josh Neiman, development director of Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse Inc., which renovated the building.

In small letters below G1440's neon logo on the building is "Welcome to the Digital Harbor," a phrase used loosely to describe the Baltimore-area technology community.

On the building's first floor, the walls are orange, blue, green, red and yellow. Some of the walls, including the ones that separate the meeting rooms from the rest of the office, are wavy and have built-in lights. A shiny BMW motorcycle is parked beside the conference room for show, and funky cabinets have been built into some of the walls.

"We wanted to build out pockets of space to have personality," said Dave Taub, a co-founder of Impreza and G1440's national senior art director.

Working in the department, formerly Impreza, also has some typical dot-com qualities. The average age of workers is 23 and, in November, the bosses gave their employees a trip to Cancun, Mexico, as a reward for meeting growth and design goals.

As another perk, the company will pay a security deposit and the first month's rent for employees who move into an apartment in the city. Or, if a worker finds an apartment he or she wants to rent that's for sale, the company will buy the home and rent it to the employee. (G1440 owns three rowhouses in Canton.)

G1440 also began in a characteristically dot-com way. Founder Larry Fiorino, 39, used his Chevrolet Tahoe as an office for several weeks until he moved into a small Columbia office crammed with workers and their computers.

"It was 12 people with a bunch of folding chairs around a 10-foot banquet table with a bunch of laptops," said Ryan Houck, a spokesman for the company.

The business continued to grow. In November 1999, Sinclair acquired its 80 percent stake in the Columbia Web company for $2 million in cash and other services. In April last year, it moved into new, larger headquarters in Columbia. In August, the company changed its name from NETfanatics to G1440 (the G is for Global and 1440 is the number of minutes in a day).

G1440 has grown from 12 employees in January last year to about 130, including the employees it gained with the acquisition of Impreza. The company is expected to be profitable in March, and revenue went up 76 percent between the third and fourth quarters of 2000, Houck said.

"So we have grown," he said, "like a weed."

With its growth, G1440 seems to be bucking the trend. Most Web development companies are cutting back, as demand slowed.

"All of the major players ... they're reducing their sizes," said Neal Goldman, director of Internet computing strategies for Yankee Group in Boston.

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