An expanding tech company with a global focus has moved in downtown—and is hoping to bring more new digital business with it as it expands.
That company is Checkmate Digital, a software development and design company that just relocated from Hamden to New Haven. Thursday afternoon, city officials joined cofounders Tom Nassr and Matt Cameron for a ribbon cutting at its Temple Street offices. Held in the company’s largest workroom, the ribbon cutting also drew all 17 Checkmate Digital employees.
Started in February 2014 with an official launch in 2015, Checkmate Digital is Nassr and Cameron’s fourth and only surviving business venture. It does software design specifically for startups—“technical or nontechnical entrepreneurs that have a crazy idea,” Nassr said. Those have included very young startups up through large institutions like Yale, united by their interest in new programming and audiences.
When it was started, Nassr had just graduated with his B.A. from Quinnipiac University, and said he and Cameron (also a Quinnipiac alum) felt compelled to stay in the area.
With four employees, the company started in the basement of the Whitneyville Cultural Commons, fueled by a single project from Bobby Palmieri. The fee, to build a website for his then-fledgling organization Have A Heart, was just $500. But word about Checkmate’s work spread, and soon Nassr found the team expanding just to handle project load.
From 2015, the company grew—first to five, then 10, then 17. Nassr and Cameron scored business partners in New York, Boston, Washington, and soon Lebanon, Beirut and London. As projects multiplied, so too did the group’s need for space.. By the time it was honored by Chris Murphy earlier this year, Checkmate was feeling the need to move acutely.
So they did. Nassr said he liked downtown for its walkability and proximity to New Haven’s Union Station, of which he sees a lot on frequent business trips to New York. Working with Olympia Properties landlord Chris Nicotra, he worked to redesign a second-floor suite to the company’s tastes and needs, with several “brainstorming” and programming rooms in which team members can work. At the end of a long hallway, the office opens into a main room that is furnished with a pool table and lots of free, sun-soaked space. The company is Nicotra’s first tech-focused tenant in the building.
“We think that the tech ecosystem in New Haven is really just beginning,” he said at Thursday’s event, motioning to a project-covered whiteboard behind him. “We see a pretty bright future in 2018, and we’re excited to be a part of it.”
“I think New Haven is super underrated in sort of where it sits in the tech ecosystem both domestically and abroad,” he said. “I think we have an enormous opportunity … the community in New Haven in particular is much more of the mindset that a rising tide raises all ships than it is that we’re against somebody else.”
His enthusiasm radiated through the room, passed on to both city officials and employees who were in attendance. As he spoke, employees continued to work, keyboards tapping quietly every few minutes.
“Your presence in the city is the latest reason New Haven has increasingly become known as the technology hub of the region,” said Mayor Toni Harp. “Your move to New Haven from Hamden also underscores what so many other technology and bioscience businesses are learning: this city has a young, talented, well-educated workforce ready to help these businesses prosper and expand and succeed.”
“Connecticut is a great place for new businesses to start and grow, and Checkmate is proof of it,” added Senator Chris Murphy in an email after the event. “I’m excited to see Checkmate use their expertise to help other businesses turn their ideas into reality, and I wish them continued success.”
After the cutting—a pale, gauzy blue ribbon and stubborn pair of scissors—Nassr said that he is eager to hunker down and get to work in the new space. Surrounded by large decorated pumpkins, swivel chairs and a pool table, employees continued to tackle several confidential projects, from building out apps to website development and assisting with digital presence.
Of the projects he can talk about, Nassr said he is most excited about a collaboration with The Glimpse Group, an augmented and virtual reality holdings company based out of New York City.
In addition, he said, he is looking forward to this weekend, when Checkmate Digital will be part of DevFest New Haven, a 100-plus convening of developers from Google, Mozilla, and others at Southern Connecticut State University.
To find out more about DevFest New Haven, visit its website. Nassr said that Checkmate Digital can provide a promo code to students and professionals who can’t afford $40 tickets. For that code, email Don Tirea at firstname.lastname@example.org.