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VOL. 127 | NO. 182 | Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Local Entrepreneurs Will Soon Have ‘Urban Workspace’

By Sarah Baker

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A shared open work space, modeled after incubators in Los Angeles and New York City, is on the brink of being launched in Downtown Memphis.

Urban Workspace Powered by Cricket Wireless will open Oct. 1.

(Photo Courtesy of Innovative Solutions Group)

Urban Workspace Powered by Cricket Wireless, located in the City House Memphis Condos at 6 W. G.E. Patterson Ave., will provide an affordable, shared working environment for freelancers, entrepreneurs, small businesses and startups eager to collaborate and share resources. The co-working facility opens Oct. 1.

Kier Thomas, senior government liaison at Innovative Services Group, the nonprofit behind Urban Workspace and owner of the space, said the functionality of the building spurs the advancement of entrepreneurs who might have hit a plateau while working out of a home office. The target demographic is those primarily in the information technology fields, such as Web developers, bloggers and Search Engine Optimizers.

“The user defines the space,” Thomas said. “We’re fostering individuals who have ideas and concepts, who are the start-up point, who have limited budgets in terms of putting towards an office space, because you can’t really grow a business when you can’t get past a certain stage. We just want to do our small part in contributing in helping that person who might be the next Bill Gates, the next Steve Jobs, the next Mark Zuckerberg just get over the hump.”

Urban Workspace is similar to The Hive at 55 co-working space in New York and the io/LA co-work incubator café in Los Angeles. The concept came to Thomas, a former employee of Shelby County Juvenile Court and Memphis City Schools, while being furloughed from the National Football League a few years ago when the stock market crashed.

“At that time, community based organizations were really suffering because of so many corporations laying off and so many people becoming unemployed,” Thomas said. “Those who were not able to be employed lacked the skills, so it was really a bad situation for us as a country.”

Working with Finard Properties, Thomas set up a space in Whitehaven Shopping Plaza on Elvis Presley Boulevard in collaboration with United Way’s Gifts in Kind program and AmeriCorps VISTA program.

“During the daytime, it was entrepreneurs, and then evening times, we had training classes in IT-related fields,” Thomas said. “AutoZone donated 175 computers for our computer training course, it was an absolute wonderful time, especially with the economy.”

Amenities include 24 workspaces, high-speed wireless Internet, a conference room, presentation materials, office equipment, a dry-erase wall for brainstorming and planning, a lounge area and a full kitchen. Urban Workspace will also host informative workshops, seminars, cooking classes, meet-ups, and monthly lunches and happy hours.

Rental options include conference room only, daily, weekly or monthly. Thomas, who recalls times when he was forced to meet at Starbucks to close deals, wanted the membership levels to reflect flexibility for those in various stages of business.

“Some individuals might not want a full membership here during the full month. They might want just conference room only, for things they possibly can’t do in public venues,” Thomas said. “We also have a lot of Apple products that allow our iPads and iPhones to communicate with the flat-screen televisions using Apple TV.”

Meanwhile, there will also be cooking class programs offered for the home chef. Students will be able to learn how to make healthy meals from canned fruit to pizzas and desserts, cooking alongside top local chefs like Michael Patrick of Rizzo’s Diner and Ryan Spruhan of Chez Phillipe.

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