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First Ascent marketing firm grows in Wilmington

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WILMINGTON – First Ascent Design, the homegrown digital marketing agency, has expanded its headcount in downtown Wilmington and moved into a larger office space – one that is familiar to its founders.

First Ascent Design, a homegrown marketing firm, recently leased the former coIN Loft and CompassRed office in the Crosby and Hill Building at 605 N. Market St. | PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIPEDIA

Led by husband-and-wife co-founders John and Pauline Himics, First Ascent was launched eight years ago in the now-defunct coIN Loft coworking space. Established through a state-supported public-private partnership known as Start It Up Delaware under then-Gov. Jack Markell, the coIN Loft was Delaware’s first coworking space and the entrepreneurial ecosystem helped to grow First Ascent’s clientele.

By 2019, the agency had outgrown the coworking space and moved into its own offices on North King Street. During the pandemic, the firm saw a rush of new business as clients sought to transition their marketing efforts online.

“A lot of folks that had leaned on a lot of traditional methods just couldn’t lean on them anymore. They had to do digital things for the first time, and we were a great partner to get that done,” Himics told Delaware Business Times.  “We doubled our headcount in both 2020 and 2021 and added 50% last year. It’s been an interesting sprint for us.”

Now totaling 20 employees, First Ascent was in need of bigger office space once again.

That led First Ascent to 605 N. Market St., the home of the former coin Loft, where John Himics said it felt like “an opportunity to bring the story full circle.” They signed a lease for about 4,400 square feet with landlord Buccini/Pollin Group that will keep them in their hometown city for the foreseeable future, Himics said. It fills the space left after former tenant CompassRed was acquired by LabWare.

“We’ve got beautiful, exposed brick in the front. In the back, we’ve got three skylights to let a lot of natural light in. Everything that made it attractive as a coworking space is still here and is very attractive for an agency vibe as well,” he said.

While some firms have given up office space in favor of coworking space or remote work, Himics said he felt that it was important for First Ascent’s culture to have space of its own. The firm works a hybrid schedule of three days in the office and two at home, but when leaders discussed the future of office space during the pandemic, the employees were emphatic.

“I had multiple folks on the team tell me, ‘I don’t care if there’s still paint drying or exposed wires or walls are drying. I want to get off my kitchen table and get back in and be with the people that I enjoy working with,’” Himics recalled.

In finding new office space, Himics said the firm did consider its options, but it didn’t think long about whether to stay in the First State. He said it was the encouragement of a coIN Loft colleague that convinced the couple to start the firm, and since then the network of professionals in Delaware has helped the firm grow. First Ascent counts Delaware State University, Goodwill of Delaware and Delaware County, the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement, Buccini/Pollin Group, Delaware College of Art & Design, The Mill, and Delaware Innovation Space among its clients.

“That community here in Delaware has been the reason why we won’t go anywhere else,” he said.

For now, First Ascent continues to focus on quality service, offering branding and identity, graphic design, web development and digital marketing. It’s also been branching further north, taking on more projects in the Philadelphia suburbs, but also taking select projects up and down the East Coast.

“I’ve answered RFPs anywhere that Amtrak will take us. I don’t feel that we’ll be moving out of Wilmington anytime soon because I can do work in Baltimore, Boston, New York, etc., just by hopping on the train,” Himics said.

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