Six months after Ozark Chamber of Commerce relocated to the new Carl G. Hefner Enterprise Center — a business incubator and coworking space — most of the offices have filled.
Ted Smith, certified public accountant, was the first small business to lease space in the new location at South Pointe Center, a development owned by Doug Pitt. By August, the Enterprise Center had also welcomed a builder, designer, Realtor, a security company and a law office. Two offices are still open, and the chamber is working to develop the Dream Center, an open work space available to entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Sharing space in a coworking or incubator facility, while not a new concept, is a growing trend triggered by the use of social media and Internet tools that make doing business more mobile, and the cultural influences of innovation and entrepreneurship, according to research by the NAIOP Research Foundation in a study released last January.
It’s “revolutionizing the concept of workplace,” a summary states, and incubator shared work spaces “have contributed to the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Shared spaces particularly appeal to freelancers, entrepreneurs, programmers, and people with business startups who need wifi, conference rooms, printers, and who want to interact with other professionals and budding business owners.
Ozark Chamber leaders say they’ve been pleasantly surprised by how quickly their new incubator space has filled.
“Because that was truly an X-factor,” said Dori Grinder, the chamber’s executive director. “We knew it would be popular but that was a three-year plan, not a six-month plan. So we’ve been thrilled.”
In the last few years, several incubation and coworking centers have emerged in the Springfield area, responding to the needs of entrepreneurs. In addition to the Enterprise Center in Ozark, they include the eFactory Business Incubator and The Creative Foundry in downtown Springfield, and new to the scene, CAST, a coworking space being developed in southeast Springfield at Farmers Park.
Working in a shared environment “gives one an opportunity to get out of their home and develop their idea at a reasonable investment price,” said Enterprise Center benefactor Carl Hefner, a retired pharmacist.
Although Ted Smith has been a CPA for 15 years and in business since 2007, he was attracted to the Carl G. Hefner Enterprise Center both because it’s economical — “you’ve got first class office space, access to conference rooms, access to technology and someone up front greeting people” — and because he likes the “synergy,” he said, that comes from working with a variety of businesses.
Sonya Wells, a Realtor who needed small office space for her new company, The Firm, learned about the Enterprise Center from another agent. It simplified the process of getting her new business rolling, she said. “Your office might be smaller but your exterior amenities add a lot of square footage.”
She likes that one fee covers all those things, a hallmark of incubator and coworking environments.
Two and half years ago, John Parker Mack and his partner, Eugenia Alcocer, started Brandigm, a marketing communications company. They lease space in CAST, the new cooperative office space at Farmers Park. When they launched the business, they worked out of homes and coffee shops, Mack said. In June they moved to CAST. Mack said the contemporary ambiance is a good fit while providing amenities they need.
“But an equally important benefit,” he said, “is the environment for networking, and how that can lead to clients and valuable resources, vendors, talent and expertise.”
Interaction with other startups and entrepreneurs — and the ability to grow in a secure, supportive environment — is why business incubators are so important, say those involved.
The eFactory may be the largest area incubator operation. Since it opened in March 2013 with six companies, it’s become the hub for many programs, including the weekly 1 Million Cups, a public event where entrepreneurs make presentations. Like the Enterprise Center in Ozark only larger, the eFactory leases private office space to small business-owners who share access to conference rooms and printers, and are provided phone, internet and mail service for one monthly fee.
The goal of an incubator, said eFactory director Brian Kincaid, is to “create a climate of cooperation, communication and developing business-to-business opportunities.” Successful incubators, he added, create opportunities for its participants to interact. That’s where programs like 1 Million Cups come in, and why the Enterprise Center in Ozark also started business events and educational workshops.
To date, 13 full-time companies lease space at the eFactory, part of Missouri State University’s IDEA Commons. There’s a capacity for 24 to 27 companies if fully occupied.
Jody Chaffin is CEO of The App Pros, LLC, a software development company specializing in mobile app development leasing space in the eFactory. Launching the business in June 2011 out of each others’ home, he said working at the eFactory has been good for growth and networking. “With all the activity flowing through here, it feels like the entrepreneurial hub of Springfield right now,” he said.
Open to coworking
Because Chaffin’s business deals with sensitive information, leasing private office space was important. The open environment of a true coworking space wouldn’t work for him. But it may be the right solution — and the most affordable — for freelancers or business owners just starting out.
The Creative Foundry downtown is a coworking establishment that operates on memberships, with no long-term contracts.
Founder and owner Jim Michels started the business three years ago after moving to Springfield from New York City when his wife took a job in the city. His business, Streamix, LLC, is a software development company that can be operated from anywhere. After moving to Springfield, he looked for a coworking establishment because he wanted to work around other entrepreneurs.
“At the time there were none. I started mine and now they are exploding,” he said.
Coworking centers are similar to business incubators but often with lower cost and fewer barriers to get started. It’s a great option for budding startups to work in an environment with other professionals, said Michels.
Jeremy Adams, founder of the former Fresh Cube coworking space downtown, established a new center in June, called Originate, within the eFactory. Originate will fill a need the eFactory wasn’t meeting, Kincaid said.
The 2,000-square-foot space was inspired by innovation companies like Google and Facebook, and includes play space in addition to work space, Adams said. And lots of coffee.
There’s a ping pong table, gaming, a TV, music and a big comfortable sofa. Entrepreneurs can lease a permanent desk area and have 24/7 access or lease for two or three days a week. Either way, people who use Originate also have access to eFactory facilities, Adams said.
Adams was consulted by Grinder and her staff about improving their Dream Center coworking space. While offices have filled quickly, the Dream Center has not yet attracted users. “We’re looking at options,” Grinder said. “I think part of it is the word hasn’t gotten out. It’s the same perks but less rent. Again, it would be 24/7 access. They could bring in their laptop and go to work.”
Ultimately, supporting startups is good for the economy and helps the community, local leaders say. Ozark Chamber staff hope their business incubator will do that in their town, and help businesses stay and grow.
“We don’t want them to leave Ozark. We want to keep them here and/or grow them here,” Grinder said. “We’re trying to offer the kind of programing that will help create a strong business. We want to be seen as a place for entrepreneurs and for business people.”
Birth of an incubator in Ozark
About two years ago, discussions began to move the Ozark Chamber of Commerce offices. “We wanted to be more professional, have more space,” said Dori Grinder, executive director. About that time, Doug Pitt, who owns the South Pointe Center, approached the chamber.
“We started talking about it and literally within that same time period, Doug Pitt called and said ‘Hey, I’ve got this space. Any chance the chamber’s interested?'” The space, once a Carol Jones Realtor location, had been vacant for four to five years.
Grinder was interested, but pointed out the space was too large for their small operation.
“And he said, ‘Have you guys heard of a business incubator?’ And that’s one of the things we had been talking about, possibly using our old space for. So, lots of meetings later, we decided, this is a fantastic deal, let’s go for it.”
They started a capital campaign to fund the construction and found lots of support for both the chamber and a business incubator center. Retired pharmacist Carl G. Hefner and his wife Carolyn were benefactors. Other businesses sponsored rooms and doors.
By July 2013, they had enough to announce they were moving. In January, they moved to the center and had a grand opening in May. Another ribbon cutting last week introduced the latest businesses to move in.