Phil Sigler met with fellow entrepreneur Jay Panuska last year and pitched a business plan for the Boise TechMall over a cup of coffee.
Sigler explained that auto malls are successful because they offer myriad makes and models for customers to peruse. Each dealer benefits from the increased traffic at the mall even if each loses some customers to competitors on adjacent lots. Why couldn't that work for technology businesses?
"I listened and thought, 'Wow, that makes a lot of sense,' " Panuska said Wednesday. "What if we took all the best technology solution providers in the Valley and gave them a home?"
Panuska agreed to go in on the project as a partner with Sigler. Construction crews are scheduled to break ground Thursday on the nearly 12,000-square-foot TechMall at 1550 S. Cloverdale Road, near the Computer Central store that Sigler owns on the corner of Cloverdale and Overland. Panuska said Gov. Butch Otter and his challenger in the Republican primary, Sen. Russ Fulcher, will be on hand for the ceremony, as will Boise Mayor Dave Bieter.
The three-story TechMall will feature an exhibition area on the ground floor. Companies including Apple, Google, Advanced Micro Devices, Microsoft and Intel have signed on to operate kiosks to show off their products, Panuska said. The TechMall website, boisetechmall.com, lists 29 vendors. A virtual receptionist will suggest vendors for customers to visit based on their needs or interests.
The second floor will have offices. Panuska said about two-thirds of the space has been leased to companies including Boise's Belnap Legal firm, Boise marketing firm MarkitShare Builders and Boise accounting firm Online Accounting. The second floor will also house the Boise Tech Cafe, a coffee shop with notebook devices at each table for customers to use.
The third floor will feature a business meeting area and classrooms for courses offered by the TechMall, ranging from simple consumer classes on how to use smartphone applications to business-minded topics such as viral marketing and how to use cloud services. Panuska said classes could cost as little as $15 or $20.
Panuska said he hopes Boise contractor McCarter-Moorhouse Co. will finish the TechMall in time to open in September.
Idaho Surveillance Systems of Caldwell will lease a kiosk space to demonstrate how its home security systems work. Employees in Caldwell will communicate with TechMall customers through the interactive kiosk, co-owner Susan Waterman said.
The TechMall was appealing because, like dealerships at an auto mall, other vendors will help bring customers to the Idaho Surveillance Systems kiosk, she said. That's especially true of the Apples and Microsofts that will be on the exhibition floor, she said.
"Having those big names as vendors at the TechMall absolutely gave it validity," Waterman said.
Panuska opened an accounting consultancy in Sacramento and a frozen yogurt shop in Midland, Texas, before moving to Boise last year to be near his children. He said he owned each business for five years before selling and is looking for his next five-year venture. He was sold on the TechMall in part because - as far as he, Sigler and their business consultants can tell - the TechMall might be the first of its kind.
"The closest thing is Best Buy," he said. "A business owner can go there and buy QuickBooks off of the shelf, but he can't talk to experts from different companies helping them find the best fit for their need."
Zach Kyle: 377-6464, Twitter: @IDS_zachkyle