Healthy, creative vibe at The Ring attracts entrepreneurs to downtown Clearwater

A freelance graphic designer designs a new logo at a conference table repurposed from a sequoia tree. She types away at her Macbook alongside a handful of other creatives, tech professionals, and entrepreneurs. 

An infusion of cedarwood oil recharges the senses as the laughter and camaraderie of brainstorming consultants add to the creative buzz. Others are milling about or quietly working, silhouetted against a 360-degree view of the Clearwater skyline, which can be enjoyed at every individual workstation at The Ring coworking hub in downtown Clearwater -- regardless of status or title. 

Democratically and progressively designed, The Ring encourages productivity for freelancers with healing amenities that placate all five senses, from its cascading oxygenating plants to its circadian-optimized lighting to its natural scent infusions, kombucha on tap, and futuristic nap pod timed to 20 minutes because a minute more would disrupt the REM cycle. 

“It’s very important for us to create a sensory experience,” CEO Daniels Ikajevs explains. “And we keep our members active.” 

None of the offices has a trash can, so you have to get up to throw something away, he says, and workstations convert from conventional sit-down to stand-up desks. 

In one office, a conference table doubles as a regulation-size Ping Pong table.

“We always say if our members have some argument to settle, they can settle it in this room,” Ikajevs jokes.
The Ring is one of just 60 coworking sites worldwide, and the only one in Florida, that is part of the Healthy Buildings study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
If anyone appreciates a good fight, it’s Ikajevs. A former boxer, the 38-year-old investor named The Ring after the sparring rings of his younger days. He hosts Shark Tank-like business-pitch competitions in a space with a roped-off boxing ring, which he removes for special events from time to time.

Standing 6-foot-6, the slender, Latvian-born Ikajevs resembles the hypothetical lovechild of Jimmy Stewart and model Christie Brinkley. He and his fellow Ring founders -- Bangladeshi-born partner/wife, Simi Adhikari, and Grenada-native/Chief Operating Officer Janelle Branch -- bring a sense of international diversity and global awareness to the Ring’s culture.

Even more noteworthy on a global scale, The Ring is one of just 60 coworking sites worldwide, and the only one in Florida, that is part of the Healthy Buildings study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Ikajevs also is pursuing WELL certification from the International WELL Building Institute. 

The Harvard study will monitor air quality, sound levels, temperature, moisture, lighting, and other environmental factors and then will evaluate the variables alongside data gathered from fitness trackers worn by workers.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Ikajevs says, “because we will have more validity about why companies should invest more in an environment that promotes wellness.”

A floating vase adds magic to The Ring's cafe.There’s plenty of eye candy at The Ring, too. The workspace’s aesthetics meld retro-sci-fi coolness with soothing and sustainable design elements. In the cafe that serves organic everything, vases float above the tables using magnetic resistance, which further emphasizes the earthy, otherworldly feel of the place.

Functionality seems not to be sacrificed for the sake of style. Little glass-walled phone rooms with mod lime-green chairs and decorated with recycled-newspaper-sourced wallpaper provide privacy during important calls. 

Coworking space at the Ring starts at $99 a month -- less than the cost of consuming a daily Venti and bagel at Starbucks -- and includes limited amenities, 9-to-5 access, a shared desk or table space (first-come, first-served) and two-hours-a-month use of any conference room or Flex Office except the Ring Room. 

The Contenders Club runs $250 and features 24/7 access, unlimited amenities, a dedicated desk space, one-hour-a-month use of the Ring Conference Room, five-hours-a-month use of any other conference room or Flex Office.

The Private Offices membership can be enjoyed for $370 and up, and includes 24/7 unlimited access and up to 12 desk spaces, depending on membership tier, one-hour-a-month use of the Ring Conference Room and 10-hours-a-month use of any other Conference Room or Flex Office.

Those who are just starting out and don’t need office space but require a mailbox and office amenities can join for $45 per month. Members also have access to networking events, yoga and other workshops, and free downtown parking.

Encompassing 18,000 square feet on the second and third floors of One Clearwater Tower, The Ring can be found at 600 Cleveland St., which Ikajevs bought in 2013. The downtown investor’s portfolio includes the Waters Edge condo tower.

Some background on the coworking trend

According to DeskMag, C-base, founded in Berlin in 1995, was one of the first “hackerspaces” in the world. The nickname was inspired by their orientation toward computer technology. Hackerspaces offered a  communal, collaborative atmosphere that’s considered to be the precursor of the coworking spaces of today. In 2002, hackerspaces made WiFi networks available and promoted free public access to the internet. The first official coworking space, opened in San Francisco in 2005 by programmer Brad Neuberg as a reaction to "unsocial" business centers and the unproductive work life at a home office, according to Neuberg. 

Facilitating the trend more recently, freelancers have worked their way into the mainstream. They now make up 23 percent of the small-agency workforce and 8 percent bump swivel chairs with larger company employees, according to a 2019 Forbes article.

While a boss-less routine sounds like a nine-to-fiver’s fantasy come true, self-employment is not the nonstop pajama party it’s cracked up to be. Solo careers sometimes come with crushing moments of social isolation, financial instability, and cabin fever. 

“Our members are leveraging the services and knowledge of their fellow professionals, and, indeed, that's one of the beauties of co-working,” says Branch, Chief Operating Officer at the Ring. 

Branch adds that The Ring members are more engaged and aware of the environmental and health initiatives she helped establish with Ikajevs and his wife/partner Adhikari, who just gave birth to their first daughter and was indisposed during the time of our interview.

“There is a sense of pride and community in being part of The Ring. Everyone is collectively trying to preserve an eco-friendly standard, which we hope extends beyond our walls. Simple things such as our decor selection or recycling -- we are seeing more and more of a community effort.”

A business K.O.

Since opening in late spring, there are already 59 companies with 81 individual professionals using The Ring. 

“Growth has been steady with 92 percent of the private offices filled (38 out of 41 offices),” Branch explains.  

Lina Teixeira's daughter and son, Bianca and Lucas Persechino, pose in the The Ring's phone room during grand opening party.Fashionista and civic leader Lina Teixeira, owner of Pour Yours wine bar and a member of the Clearwater Downtown Development Board, wears several hats at The Ring -- literally and figuratively. She says that having an office at The Ring has helped her compartmentalize her disparate obligations and provide a meeting space for her clients. In addition, her “formidable” Ring-mates, she says, bounce back ideas and inspire her to keep her on her A-game.

Teixeira adds that, as a merchant and taxpayer, she supports the city’s subsidy of $600,000 to The Ring. 

“The Ring incentivizes more like-minded pioneers to invest in Clearwater and move downtown forward,” Teixeira says.

“It's certainly rewarding to see the culture of our space and ecosystem transform,” Branch effuses. “Indeed, I think many feel as though The Ring is a Clearwater business haven.” 

Other Clearwater-based coworking spaces:
  • HQ Loft starts at $75 a month and can be found at 2729 State Road 580, Clearwater. Members have praised the space for its central location, diverse membership and accommodating staff. Check out their offerings here.
  • The Qworking runs $150-plus a month and provides executive suites, sleek decor, and complimentary tea and coffee. Located downtown at 715 Pinellas St., Clearwater. Learn more about their perks here.
  • 1253 Park: A dynamic community of creative professionals, startups and freelancers operates with the ethos that creativity, business, and entertainment to offer a unique working experience. Runs from  $60 a month and is also located in the downtown area at 1253 Park St, Clearwater. Check out their membership offerings here.
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Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto grew up in Clearwater and now has a home in the Ocala National Forest. Between writing assignments, she's teaching English courses at Saint Leo University and other colleges. Julie has written arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine ArtsCoast Journal, Creative Loafing, Florida travel pieces  (Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville), the Cade Museum, and features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.