Co-Working spaces expand, attract talent in the Tampa Bay region

It’s Tuesday morning and the tabletops on the second floor of Station House are filling up with young professionals checking emails or returning calls. 

The coffee bar hosted by Kahwa Coffee and TeBella Tea Company is open for those who need a caffeine fix. 

It looks like an upscale retro hotel lobby, with its gorgeous black-and-white patterned tile floor, comfortable reading chairs, dozens of tables and ornate living room with fireplace off to the side.

But it’s actually just a typical day at the office, circa 2016.

“I like being able to come here in the morning and setting up for the day on a high-top.  It’s the perfect place for my business – plenty of foot traffic and easy to meet people and start a conversation,” says Andrew Machota.

Machota, who moved here a few years ago from Indiana, is president and founder of New Town Connections, a membership-based social club that connects young business professionals in their 20s and 30s.

He’s just one of dozens of Tampa Bay residents eager to take advantage of the growing number of co-working spaces found throughout Tampa Bay. It’s part of a global trend that represents a major cultural shift in how young professionals think about going to work every day.  

Collaborative and fun

Co-working is collaborative, flexible and social, say its fans. A step up from the isolation of working from home in the spare bedroom. More professional than the local coffee shop. A far cry from expensive class A office space in downtown St. Petersburg, Tampa, Clearwater or Sarasota.

Steve Gianfilippo, developer of Station House and founder of Gianco Companies, originally thought of turning Station House into a boutique hotel. But he changed his mind.

“Millennials and tech companies are looking for cool spaces with a lot of character and charisma,” says Gianfilippo. “The modern entrepreneur is very nimble and doesn’t need large office space. Co-working space is a very timely idea.” 

The ground floor of Station House houses a restaurant and lounge (God’s Waiting Room). The second and fourth floors are set aside for a social club, co-working space and small offices. Iron Yard, a national coding school is on the third floor. There’s also a rooftop garden for happy hour, yoga classes and even weddings.
Nick Hughes is a co-founder of Salus Tampa Bay with partners Brad Andrews and Eddie Perez. The three found the perfect home for their business at Station House, says Hughes.

Salus Tampa Bay provides comprehensive, in-home physical, occupational and speech therapy services.  The young, but growing startup business now has 72 employees in five counties.

A place to branch out

““We originally thought we would be purely a mobile business,” says Hughes, who has his doctorate in physical therapy. “But then we started putting in 90-hour weeks from our own apartments. We quickly realized that we needed a place to branch out.”
At a meet-up sponsored by Machota of New Town Connections, Hughes learned about Station House. He went to take a look. He and his business partners liked what they saw.

“It invokes young entrepreneurship to the 10th degree -- exactly what we needed in terms of progressive, entrepreneurial minds under the same roof,” says Hughes. “If you get stuck, you have people to bounce ideas off. It’s definitely helped our growth.”

Initially, the Salus team used one of the high-top, communal tables on the second floor of Station House.  But as their business grew and they wanted more privacy and space, they temporarily moved into a private office to see how it would work for them. Earlier this year, they signed a lease for a permanent office on the fourth floor.

Innovative and timely

The Innovation Lab@Poynter is part of the world-renowned Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a nonprofit educational institution for journalism located near the downtown St Petersburg waterfront.  The Poynter Institute owns the Times Publishing Company, which produces the Tampa Bay Times newspaper.

Jessi Navarro is the Director of Business and Finance at the Poynter Institute. She also oversees the Innovation Lab.

“We’re not an incubator, we’re a collaborative space; a place that fosters creativity,” says Navarro. “Nelson Poynter (an icon in the newspaper business and founder of the Poynter Institute) was always innovative. Our intention is to continue to be a place that fosters innovation.” The Innovation Lab has 11 offices, which share a common collaborative open and a board room. In addition, there are co-working desks available for rent on a daily or monthly basis.

Michelle Royal is CEO and founder of Royal Innovation Design Group or RIDG. She and her team moved into the Innovation Lab last August.  

“We help companies navigate breakthrough change by providing the tools and the support to help take the companies vision and get it accomplished,” says Royal.  “What better place for us to be in than the Poynter Institute, the center of storytelling in St. Petersburg. Plus, it’s a professional space in which we can host clients.”

The Innovation Lab was also desirable, says Royal, because its location is just eight blocks from where she lives, making the commute a breeze.  

Preston Faykus was leasing an executive office at St. Petersburg’s Carillon Office Park when a colleague told him about the Innovation Lab. His company, Rank Miner, develops software that analyzes voice-based emotions and behaviors to better predict business outcomes – a tool useful in the customer service and call center industry.

“Right now we’re still growing and don’t need a big office space,” says Faykus. “We lease two offices and can use the conference room any time we need it. I also like the Poynter’s location close to downtown.”

Clearwater joins the crowd

A few years ago, an Urban Land Institute study of Clearwater identified the need for an incubator or accelerator to serve as a hub for small start-ups and to attract more high-tech talent to the area.  

Steve Allen, president and CEO of DocuPhase/iDatix, a software technology company, decided to take matters into his own hand. He launched Technical Arts Facility for Innovation or TAFFIE in 2013.

“I had this building for my own company and I wanted to do what I could to support the city’s efforts,” says Allen. “I thought, ‘if you’re an entrepreneur, do you really want to hang out in your bedroom or Starbucks, or for a small fee, do you want to be surrounded by like-minded individuals?’ “

Three years later, TAFFIE serves as a combination business incubator, accelerator and co-working space for small startup businesses. It also functions as a central resource for area companies by offering small business development programs, a monthly entrepreneurs’ roundtable and additional networking opportunities for businesses.

Eliminate the distractions

“At home there were a million distractions – from the TV to the cat,“ says Fuat Karakas, who can be found most days at TEC Garage.

“I started looking for a traditional office, but it was expensive,” says Karakas, a software developer who ventured out on his own last year after working for a corporate healthcare company.  

“When I read about TEC Garage in the paper and went over to take a look, it met my needs perfectly. I’m in the open space right behind the kitchen. Most people here are in the high-tech field and so am I. As an added benefit, I’ve been able to get a few new clients from here.”

TEC Garage offers co-working space, but also much more.  It’s part of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, which nurtures high-tech start-up companies with everything from workshops and mentoring opportunities to onsite incubator space.

The program moved to downtown St. Petersburg a few years ago from its previous long-time location at the STAR Technology Enterprise Center, a former defense industry plant in Largo.

Similar to TEC Garage, Tampa’s Tampa Bay Wave and HuB Sarasota also offer value-added services. Both facilities provide co-working space, while also serving as a support system for startup companies looking for additional networking opportunities, collaboration and mentoring.  

Hip space for millennials

Sometimes you need a creative environment to help spark the next brilliant business idea. CoWorkTampa is housed in the former Garcia & Vega cigar factory.  
Genius Central is located in St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District, an area known for its edgy approach to interior and exterior building design.  

Inside Genius Central, a retro silver Aerostream trailer was repurposed as small private conference rooms. Gym bleachers function as both a staircase to the second floor and communal workspace. Commercial refrigerator doors are now table tops. Big urban murals done by local artists decorate the building inside and out.

Initially the company, which develops ordering software for independent natural and health food stores, had the building all to itself. But then it began leasing out small amounts of space to startups like Reuben Pressman’s Check I’m Here and Intrinio

Now Genius Central is moving to the next level. The company has decided to turn over a significant portion of its space to entrepreneurs and startups looking for a cool atmosphere to work in.

“We offer a liberal work-from-home policy and our team takes advantage of it by doing a lot of telecommuting,” says Angie Jula, marketing director. “That left us with a lot of unused space. We thought why not make our building available to people interested in the co-working trend.”

Co-working spaces are a fast-growing, new sub-sector of the real estate market, according to a March 10th article in Forbes magazine by columnist Falguni Desai. That trend is certainly on the rise in Tampa Bay.
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Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.