Though construction of The Ring in downtown Clearwater only began in December and won't be complete until late spring, the list of entrepreneurs and small business owners interested in calling the co-working space home keeps growing.
“We haven’t done any marketing yet,” says Simee Adhikari, the project’s co-Founder. “But there’s already word of mouth; there’s a buzz. People are excited about what we’re doing. It’s needed here.”
Her husband, real estate developer Daniels Ikajevs, who owns several buildings downtown, including One Clearwater Tower (previously known as the Bank of America building), says the early interest is a good indicator of what’s to come in Clearwater.
In short, the city is on the verge of a revival, he says. “And we want to be the driving force behind revitalizing downtown Clearwater. We want to see busy streets. We want to be known for repopulating the area.”
In recent years, smaller tech companies have started moving downtown, some nurtured by Florida Business Incubator, which started out as the Technical Arts Facility for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (TAFFIE). It was founded by Steve Allen, the CEO of Docuphase/iDatix
, a consortium of partners, including the city’s Economic Development and Housing Department, has provided resources for entrepreneurs in the greater Clearwater area for nearly two years.
Combined with the Imagine Clearwater
project, a complete overhaul of the downtown waterfront and bluffs, as well as new restaurants, residential developments and retailers heading downtown, the city’s urban hub has a brand new image, Ikajevs says.
Cultivating an entrepreneurial renaissance
He hopes The Ring in One Clearwater Tower
will be at the center of the city’s entrepreneurial renaissance, he adds. There is no other space like it in the area -- even in Tampa or St. Petersburg, he says.
While creating the concept for the co-working space, he and his wife, joined by project manager Janelle Branch, studied similar co-working space concepts in “more advanced markets” around the globe.
The $1.8 million project already has a uniquely global feel to it -- Ikajevs is Latvian born, while Adhikari hails from Bangladesh and Branch is from Grenada. To add to that, for a year-and-a-half, the trio traveled the world, visiting business incubators in the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Stateside, they toured co-working spaces in New York, California and Texas.
“We wanted to see what else was out there,” Ikajevs says. “We didn’t really want to copy anyone, but we wanted to see how everyone else does it, and then find our own unique identity in the market.”
A boxer from a young age, he developed the concept of The Ring, a metaphor for the scrappy, fighting spirit of the entrepreneur. It also refers to a boxer’s support team.
“Part of the boxing is also who is in your corner, who is your support system. You have your coach. You have the guy who fixes up your scars, your wounds. You have your team behind you,” he says. “We are building the infrastructural amenities, everything a member would need to succeed in a real-life situation, in the real world.”
Similar to a gym membership
Thanks to a $600,000 grant from the city of Clearwater, they’re able to keep member costs down, he adds. The most basic membership costs $45 per month and includes mailbox space and the opportunities to rent conference rooms or office space by the hour.
The next membership level taps into The Ring’s co-working spaces that will operate “sort of like a gym membership, Ikajevs says. For $99 a month, entrepreneurs can utilize any of the open work stations on a first-come, first-serve basis. Members will also have access to networking events, yoga and other workshops, and free downtown parking.
As businesses grow, they will have the option to move into personal offices, which will cost around $240 a month, or larger suites for up to 12 employees, which start at $370 monthly.
“The idea is for companies or young professionals to sort of get a grip in the space, get things going and eventually outgrow the space and move on, either within this building or somewhere in downtown Clearwater,” he says.
In the middle of this space, the team will construct an actual boxing ring. Once a year, the incubator’s highest tiered members will have the opportunity to participate in The Ring Main Event, where they’ll enter the ring to pitch their concept in front of venture capitalists, potential investors.
Entrepreneurs are often limited by access to capital, Branch says. “They might not have the capital they need, but capital is a big part of the growth of your business.”
So the idea is to connect small businesses with investors through this special event.
“We’ll bring venture capitalists to the floor,” she adds. “We’ve seen that model work on ‘Shark Tank,’ and it’s fun and it’s interesting. Entrepreneurs will get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pitch their business plan, pitch their needs to this panel of venture capitalists.”
“Three minutes, one round,” Ikajevs says. “You’ve got to give it everything you’ve got.”
The team behind The Ring
is just as passionate about health and wellness as they are about aiding the growth of small businesses.
Adhikari recalls the several years she spent working for a software company. Often, she’d work 10- to 12-hour days indoors -- in a poorly ventilated space that wasn’t well lit. “I got very sick,” she says. “I started questioning the way we work.”
On average, people spent 93 percent of their time indoors, either in a building or in a car.
“If you spend such a significant time indoors and if that does impact, that environment, our quality of life, our productivity, what is the purpose of that?” she says.
Maximizing human potential
This becomes even more of an issue as society moves toward an inevitable urbanization -- the United Nations predicts that by 2050, 75 percent of the world’s population will live in cities and mega cities, she says.
“With such a large number of people together and working, the work environment becomes critical going forward.”
Though there is legislation to control outdoor air pollutants, there is no regulation for indoor air, despite the fact that indoor pollutants are two to five times more concentrated, Adhikari says.
The Ring will attain WELL certification, she adds, and will also take on the Living Building Challenge.
Rather than using plastic or other manmade materials, most of the space’s design touches will utilize natural materials, such as wood.
“We want to be able to bring the natural environment into the artificial environment,” Branch says. “That became our premise in terms of design and aesthetic. What we’re looking at is lots of greenery, lots of plants things to produce oxygen, things to remove carbon dioxide.”
Members will be able to customize temperature and lighting, which will be designed with the body’s natural circadian rhythm in mind. And while most hip workplaces offer free flowing beer and wine, instead The Ring will offer healthier options -- organic tea and coffee, and kombucha.
“If we’re able to reduce stresses in the workplace, hopefully we’ll also give our members a fighting chance to concentrate and achieve their objectives,” Branch says.
Ikajevs adds, “It’s all about maximizing human potential. It’s about how they feel in their workspace. We’re investing a lot in technology so that it’s almost a customized, personalized space. There’s nothing else like it in Clearwater. This could attract from throughout the region. This is a destination. This really helps the downtown by revitalizing the younger population in the area.”