tampa coworking project

In an industry built around moving in, moving out and moving on, a few visionaries are making room within self-storage facilities to help entrepreneurs move up.

In the spring of 2015, a vacant storage facility in Tampa, FL, will reopen as the 5508 Co-working & Collaboration Exchange, a business incubator for startups operated by the nonprofit Tampa Hillsborough Action Plan (THAP).

For rates as low as $175 a month, budding entrepreneurs will be able to enjoy a fully furnished, climate-controlled workplace complete with Wi-Fi, videoconference rooms, a mailbox and mailroom, various business services and even free coffee. THAP will pick up the utilities. It also will make business mentors available to help tenants with accounting, financial planning, regulatory compliance, intellectual property, presentation skills and even business etiquette.

“Our facility is seeking small business owners who are tired operating out of a Starbucks or their home and want their own space,” membership coordinator Naeem Youngblood said. “The outdoor courtyard will probably be the hot spot where individuals can socialize or work outside and still have their Wi-Fi.”

Grinding It Out

The 5508 Exchange is just the latest in a growing number of business incubators for newbies, accelerators for early stage businesses trying to overcome obstacles and reach the next level, and coworking spaces for lone wolves looking for inspiration and collaboration.

The Tampa Exchange models itself after Grind, which operates coworking spaces in Chicago, IL, and New York City, NY. Grind takes its tongue-in-cheek name from its antithesis: the daily grind.

While Grind has yet to explore the possibilities of a self-storage setting, spokesman Anthony Marinos said the appeal of working in congenial, non-corporate surroundings with like-minded “free radicals,” as Grind calls them, is replacing the cube dweller’s dream of a corner office.

“It’s extremely liberating and a lot easier to concentrate than people would lead you to believe,” Marinos said. “It’s the freedom to work whenever is convenient for you, so the space is buzzing with different levels of energy throughout the day. There really is no such thing as a 9-to-5er at Grind.”

Grind coworking

The Tampa project is patterning itself after coworking spaces run by Grind.

Diverse Clientele

With the flexibility to rent by the day or month, Grind’s tenants run the gamut.

“It’s not all startups and it’s not all tech. It’s also a place for more established businesses,” Marinos said. “We have everybody from food to fashion to education to design. We even had an archeologist in our Chicago space for a while.”

There’s one thing “free radicals” won’t find at Grind: competitors.

“If we have someone in the space who is working on something, we don’t think it’s right or fair to admit someone that is doing almost exactly the same thing and would clearly be competing for customers or funding,” Marinos said. “We want this to be a collaborative environment and not a competitive one.”

Part of the fun—and much of the reward—of running a coworking space comes from helping members connect for success.

“We’re very high-touch here. We get to know every member and what they’re working on, then introduce them to other members,” Marinos said. “Many of our members have worked on projects together, hired each other and even formed companies together.”

Tampa coworking project

The Tampa coworking space is scheduled to open in the spring of 2015.

Testing the Waters

There’s no need to sell Eric Isaacson on the value of operating a coworking space. As the managing partner with his father, Doug, of A Mini Flex Storage in Montgomery, AL, he’s been renting out the 13 climate-controlled offices they converted from 10×20 storage units since 2007.

For $350 a month, members enjoy a carpeted office with Wi-Fi, tech support, discounted phone service with voicemail, and assistance with business and licensing questions. Current clients include a designer, a cloud computing company, a labor employment service, a school fundraiser and an eBay sales specialist.

Isaacson said the combination of affordable rent (half the going rate for office space locally) and month-to-month terms make vacancies rare at his incubator.

“In this economy, you don’t know if your business is going to succeed,” he said. “This allows them to test the waters for only $350 a month.”

Word of that kind of success travels fast. In Huntsville, AL, city leaders repurposed several street-facing units of Downtown Storage into boutique incubators for up-and-coming entrepreneurs as part of its Clinton Row revitalization project.

Isaacson said there’s just one downside to his thriving business incubator: “A lot of our tenants love this so much that they want to stay.”

Looking to rent storage in Tampa? Be sure to check out SpareFoot’s Tampa page to find the best deals on storage units in the area!

Jay MacDonald