The Innovation Lab at Poynter evolved from a single instinct.
St. Petersburg resident and up-and-coming serial entrepreneur Reuben Pressman had been working on his business, Check I’m Here, for awhile, and it was growing. He wanted to find a space to house his company, along with his second startup venture, Stacktive – but not just any space. The right space.
Pressman, an award-winning graduate of the Entrepreneurship Program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg
, passed the Poynter Institute for Media Studies
campus frequently in his daily routines.
So, one day in early 2015, he walked into Poynter’s lobby to inquire about unused space.
As a result, a wing of the building now houses The Innovation Lab at the Poynter, one of the largest coworking spaces in the Tampa Bay region. The new space brings a modern focus on innovative digital companies to a campus of time-honored tradition with a global reach that is still working to find a toehold in the local narrative.
Poynter Institute president Tim Franklin says that the school’s efforts are focused on “creating a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation at Poynter. These startups are helping us embed that spirit and vibe throughout the Poynter campus.”
Inspiring innovation, celebrating collaboration
The Poynter Institute’s sun-dappled and streamlined mahogany wood-and-marble interior motif lends the space a quiet, serene atmosphere that exudes tradition.
Nestled against the Bayboro Harbour in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg’s growing Innovation District, the Institute is well-known and highly respected in the global media community as a place of learning for and among journalists. (This writer spent two weeks in the summer of 2001 attending Poynter’s acclaimed High School Journalism Program, and became enamored with the campuses’ lush outdoor courtyard and ivy-shaded reflecting pond).
In a previously unused wing of the building, a group of startup companies now operate their businesses from offices or shared coworking tables. A large conference room with an impressive, embossed table is available to host business meetings or brainstorming sessions. Several gaming tables and balance balls are scattered in the center of the room, offering workers opportunities to unwind.
Most of the offices are occupied, and Pressman has agreed to fill the rest of the space with a specific goal in mind: “To create a culture that we want here. There’s a huge culture we’ve created here, and it’s very informal. There’s no events, there’s nobody in charge.”
The companies inside have paying customers, paid employees and/or they’ve raised money.
“Nobody here is even close to each other when it comes to the type of customers they have or what they’re providing,” Pressman explains. “But they’re all very high tech. It’s another level above what all the other more idea- and concept-based accelerators here have.”
The Lab is open 24/7, and Pressman says that it is often more crowded at midnight than in the morning hours.
“It’s a whole other vibe,” he says.
co-Founder and VP Rachel Carpenter agrees. “You can feel the passion. You can stop by at 3 a.m., and chances are there will be multiple people here plugging away. Everyone here is living and breathing their companies and visions.”
She and co-Founder Joey French are friends of Pressman’s, who jumped on board the co-working concept early.
“We wanted the team at Intrinio to be in a comfortable, open environment, surrounded by other entrepreneurs,” Carpenter explains. “We welcomed the opportunity to work closely with other promising local startups.”
French and Carpenter both have backgrounds in what she calls the “broken system” of the finance and accounting academic world. Setting out to find a solution, the duo learned web development and built proprietary processes to gather and standardize financial data, as well as a web-based valuation platform for valuing investment opportunities. Intrinio launched in February 2015, and is actively seeking angel investors.
Carpenter says the space is distinguished by its focus on entrepreneurs and their businesses.
“The Kauffman Foundation
has released research proving that coworking spaces only work when they are entrepreneur run by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs,” Carpenter says. “We wanted something more organic. Something that didn't feel like summer camp. We didn't need a program -- we just needed a space to focus on our business and keep growing.”
Carpenter says that it can be easy to become distracted in some coworking spaces.
“Promising, post-revenue startups like ours need to focus on growing and building business,” she says. “At Poynter, we're surrounded by like-minded entrepreneurs with no agenda other than helping each other succeed. And it’s working.”
CEO David Chitester enjoys the quiet, professional nature of the Innovation Lab.
“There is a lot of great startup activity in St. Petersburg, and we want to be in the middle of it,” Chitester says. “The space itself is top class and provides an exceptional opportunity for professional firms to prosper.”
Florida Funders raises funding for Florida-based startup companies
, and now has more than 150 accredited investors as members of its online investment platform. In 2015, the company plans to make 12 investments and exceed 500 accredited investors.
Coworking “is the only way to go for startups who cannot plan for a 3-5 year lease,” Chitester says. “Space is flexible and less expensive than traditional space, and gives early stage companies the opportunity to expand or contract as needed.”
Child rights lawyer and author Sherry Sacino uses an office at the Innovation Lab to run Rescue Writing, a project of the global child advocacy organization Sacino founded in 1999, Youth Empowerment Alliance, Inc.
Through a partnership with a photobook software developer, Rescue Writing allows students in classrooms or home schools to create and compose storybooks, offering teachers the tools free of charge. The program will pilot in Tampa Bay area elementary schools this summer and launch nationally in fall 2015.
“Every child has a story, and the earlier they learn the value of this story, the sooner they become rooted in their world and see themselves as contributors,” Sacino says. “This company is a way of teaching vital writing skills while it also empowers young people to find their own voice; priceless as they grow into adults.”
Sacino “loves the co-working environment, and the free flow of ideas and great energy among the other businesses” at the Innovation Lab.
REUNIONCare CEO Monica Stynchula calls The Innovation Lab at Poynter “engaging,” noting “the camaraderie pulls us together. There's no competition; each of us is focusing on different industries with the common intersection of creating scalable companies.”
The company helps to integrate health care professionals with family members as an active care team. REUNIONCare
aims to change the way we care for each other by shifting healthcare industry focus “from paying for volume of services provided, to paying for the value or results of the care plan,” Stynchula says. “This is a huge shift for doctors and patients alike. REUNIONCare is the product that will make this new care model valuable.”
Stynchula moved the company to the Innovation Lab in an effort to “be more visible and engage with the energy of fellow startups who are getting traction in their industry.”
Outside of dedicated offices, a small coworking space in the heart of the Innovation Lab serves several companies, including Startup Weekend 2013 winner
WazINit. The company uses a mobile app to identify hundreds of ingredients and potential allergens in food products.
co-Founder and CEO Brian Di Vito says that convenience, location and the cohort of coworkers drew WazINit to the space. Di Vito describes the Innovation Lab as “a great space,” noting that “having a space with dedicated purpose helps to keep focused.”
Also in the community coworking space, Anthony Diaz runs Health Hero, Inc.
According to Diaz, 3.16 billion people in the world work for businesses that lack effective wellness programs.
That’s where Health Hero comes in. The tech company focuses on health engagement and behavior change by supporting organizations’ employee wellness goals.
“We help businesses improve the health of their people in the simplest and most rewarding way possible,” Diaz says. “Wellness programs are the only way to reduce healthcare costs.”
Health Hero became a part of the Innovation Lab at Poynter “to be around hungry and talented entrepreneurs. It’s all about the energy and helping each other solve problems.”
Check I'm Here and Stacktive
Pressman’s two companies, Check I’m Here
, are fully operational and growing.
Check I’m Here, a mobile software engagement tool used by college campuses and students, is hiring for several positions and recently closed a round of funding.
Stacktive, a startup that Pressman cofounded with Evan Brady, is a one-size-fits-all membership card to many different local gyms or workout centers that plans to expand to other Florida markets, including Tampa, Orlando and Miami, in 2015.
Carpenter describes the daily scene at the Innovation Lab as “heads down, focused -- the way startups should be. But, on occasion, a competitive game of ping-pong can break out, and on Fridays there is usually beer being passed around. Most of the doors are usually wide open, the boardroom is typically occupied. Most people don't wear shoes -- I personally opt for my office slippers.”
In short, “The environment is awesome,” she says.
The companies at the Innovation Lab at Poynter express general enthusiasm over inclusion at the renowned institution.
“I am honored to list the Poynter Institute as our address,” Stynchula says. “The Poynter faculty and staff make us feel at home and a part of their mission. REUNIONCare will stay at Poynter as long as possible.”
Carpenter enjoys the “great environment” the campus provides, adding, “The staff at Poynter has been extraordinarily helpful, supportive and friendly.”
Poynter grows from its roots
Located at 801 Third Street S., The Poynter Institute was built in 1985; its campus, adjacent to the USFSP campus along the waterfront, comprises almost 50,000-square-feet.
The institute houses more than 10,000 books in the library named for former Poynter Chairman and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eugene Patterson. The Institute, named for the famed Journalist and Publisher Nelson Poynter, owns the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tampa Bay Times
and regularly conducts classes for award-winning broadcast journalists, columnists and other representatives of global media.
Poynter President Tim Franklin embraces the diversity of entrepreneurs and industries that are represented in the Innovation Lab.
“Would it be ideal if these were all media startups? Sure,” he explains. “But the main benefits of having these startups here are: Fostering an environment of innovation, and making the most out of our available building space. By having these firms with us, it continues to amplify that environment and could lead to media startups wanting to be here in the future."