Innovation Quarter News

When Work Is About Play

The comic strip character Zippy the Pinhead first used the phrase “Are we having fun yet?” back in 1979.

That was five years before Lindsey Yarborough was born.

But if any phrase describes the job she’s been hired to do for Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, that line written by Zippy creator Bill Griffith fits the bill.

Officially, Yarborough has been manager of public activities for Innovation Quarter since November. Her job, in a nutshell, is to find new and unique programs and activities for people both inside the buildings of Innovation Quarter or outside in its public spaces.

In essence, Yarborough is charged with making sure that Innovation Quarter is a place where people come together and interact, fueling innovation among tenants and throughout the community. Yarborough says she already understands that in collaboration and with a shared play and learn environment, creativity flows.

She’s got a pretty broad canvas with which to work. Besides Wake Forest Biotech Place and all of its bells and whistles, part of Bailey Park opens in June, a rails-to-trails linear park will be completed in 2014, as other new buildings will come on line by then, too.

Previously an events marketing manager with Silk Road Technologies for five years, Yarborough says she was inspired after training for her new job with Dan Biederman in New York City. Biederman was behind the makeover of Bryant Park, directly behind the New York City Public Library on 42nd Street. Bryant Park had become a haven of drug dealers and a symbol of the city’s image problems in the 1970s and ‘80s.

“Biederman’s knowledge base was built, in part, on social research behind space activation,’’ Yarborough says. “It was really interesting to learn tips to bring people together in a public space and how to keep them there. Utlimately, with so many great minds in Innovation Quarter, there is great collaborative potential.’’

Today, more than 20 years after reopening, Bryant Park is wildly successful, with restaurants, greenery and even an outdoor ice rink.

Plans for Bailey Park, which will be alongside the old Bailey power plant building, are more modest.

Even so, Yarborough is excited about yoga, a film series, music and other events designed for the public in a new downtown green space. She wants to grow Bailey Park slowly, as is typical with most new spaces as word gets out. The rest of the park is set to open in 2014.

“We want it to be a really fun, unique space for Winston-Salem,’’ she says. She envisions chess clubs, salsa nights, and other things, and is working to attract program sponsors for such events.

Besides the expanded park in 2014, Yarborough also will be planning for the new rails-to-trails linear park to open next year. She hopes to have 5K runs there and encourage other public uses.

Inside the buildings of Innovation Quarter, Yarborough has a mix of science, social and tech programs.

Most of the events are in Wake Forest Biotech Place, 575 N. Patterson Ave., a building featuring a large atrium and conference center.

Innovation Café will be a monthly conversation with an innovator held in the new Brioche Doree, a cafe and wine bar, in the evenings after work. Start-ups & Spin-outs will be a series focusing on entrepreneurs, while monthly Lunch and Learns will continue.

Other plans include:

  • A bi-monthly social research event to promote tenant and colleague interaction with the community.
  • A monthly TED talk at lunch in the Biotech Place atrium beamed onto the 14-foot-wide video screen.
  • Quarterly cultural events featuring evening performances in the Biotech Place atrium.
  • Enrichment or personal improvement sessions that might, for example, include a talk by the city’s bicycle expert to promote biking to work.

One special highlight for Yarborough will be when Biotech Place this month hosts the annual “Clip Reel’’ event for the RiverRun International Film Festival.

All in all, the new job has been fun so far for Yarborough, who has spent most of her life in North or South Carolina and now lives in Ardmore. Because she already enjoys seeing live music and cultural performances, being able to do that for a living has made for a fascinating job so far.

“I get to meet a lot of interesting people and work in this beautiful, historical building (Biotech Place) every day,” she says. “Anything I can attend that shakes up my day and inspires me just a little bit is a great thing, and there are so many interesting people that live and work in Winston-Salem that the possibilities are endless.’’