Entrepreneurial ecosystems in the shape of co-working spaces are sprouting all over the country – and St. Louis is no exception. With several, well-known business hubs like T-REX, Nebula and Lab1500 already firmly established in the city, a new and young collaborative working environment in the Central West End called TechArtista officially opened its doors to the St. Louis community on Thursday, May 1st.
The three-story, 13,500 square feet building is located at the corner of Euclid and Washington and houses dedicated desks, over 25 private offices, three conference rooms as well as a number of amenities including a gym, outdoor space, two kitchens and private parking.
The building is the brainchild of Washington University graduates Eric Hamblett, Chris Holt and Khiz Munir. They call the project a “business and lifestyle ecosystem” and a “mixture of offices and co-working space.” Co-founder and managing partner Eric Hamblett says TechArtista offers the perfect blend of work-life balance and the “opportunity to work with creative people, and also have a healthy lifestyle.”
Apart from the other amenities, the hub also provides changing rooms, showers, laundry service and private video-chat booths. Fellow co-founder and managing partner Chris Holt says the team wanted to build a space people can thrive in. “Why not do the things you love at that workspace and have people you like around you who help you creatively expand yourself.” Hamblett agrees: “Every individual has something to offer. Many times, they are just not in the right venue. TechArtista allows them to find the niche they’re good at and shine.”
More than a co-working space
Although ‘co-working space’ is the prevailing term, the founders prefer ‘collaborative working environment’. “The essence of a co-working space is hidden in the word”, says Hamblett. “You can sit in the same area and work with each other, but if you don’t work on a project together, you’re not investing in that individual.” Holt adds: “We also have affiliate members who come by regularly just to bring in new people or throw events here. Working is just one aspect of it.”
One of the other aspects is the gym, which was a major reason for Azim Aziz, founder of AAA Computer Solutions, to apply for an office. “When I was still employed in corporate, I used to take my lunch hour and go run”, says Aziz. “Since I have been my own boss though, finding the time to work out is difficult sometimes, so having a gym on-site is really cool.” When he’s not punishing the punching bag, Aziz works in his 180 square feet office, $450 office or strikes up conversations with other tenants.
Being around other people is something many people working at home could benefit from, says co-founder Holt. “I think it’s going to be a replacement for the more traditional offices. Even a small company with 5 to 10 people – why not put them in an environment where they can continue to expand and be inspired.” Aziz agrees. He says it is important to mingle with entrepreneurs who have a different niche. “The sphere helps you to be thinking in other avenues that you might not have considered before.”
A cohesive and collaborative community
With the Grand Opening, the TechArtista team started their membership drive to fill up the space. “We hope to double our membership in one month”, says Hamblett, who has a degree in International Studies from Washington University. “At this point, the building is 20 percent occupied with 20 members evenly dispersed between office space and dedicated desk space.”
Once the entrepreneurial enclave is full, Hamblett will focus more on facilitating collaboration and interaction. “Instead of merely having a bunch of individual offices with numbers, we will build an active community here by having events, collaborating on projects within the space and encouraging each member to have office hours and impart their skills on other members.”
Holt says the project is bigger than the space itself. “You don’t necessarily need to be in the building to be a part of the network. We want it to be much bigger than the physical space, which is limited – but the network can be as big as we want it to be.”
Expanding the network – that’s something the team hopes to achieve by bringing people together with a variety of happenings including concerts, art events, lectures and meet-ups. “We need to do a better job of telling our story at each of these events so we actually meet people”, says Hamblett. Holt, who studied chemical engineering, adds: “Average run of the mill networking events are not going to be pushing the envelope. We need to find more interesting ways to engage people and get them to a level of comfort where they can not only help but also criticize each other.”
Figuring out what works
To find out what makes cooperative communities thrive, the founders visited other spaces in New York and Chicago. Holt says the experience was essential for the success of their own project. “I didn’t know what the status quo was before. The spectrum ranges from huge tech incubators to tiny little art collectives. It was key to figure out what’s working for people.”
What was working for tenant Laurie Bluestone was the right price point and being able to walk to the space from home. “If it’s raining, there’s free parking across the street. The building is very well suited for what it is because the offices are bright, there is a lot of glass, there’s private space if you want to focus, yet somebody’s always around if you want another opinion, or if you need to bounce an idea off someone”, says Bluestone, who is the co-founder of Indigo Avenue.
The TechArtista team plans to offer their community members even more in the future. Holt says becoming an incubator would be an “amazing” thing for them to achieve, although they are still missing some key elements. “Right now, we don’t have the venture capital backing”, admits Holt.
TechArtista started as an idea that turned into a somewhat elusive goal. Yet, the concept seems to be bearing fruit. Co-founder Holt is excited about the progress the team has made: “We’re kind of the young kids who are just doing it because we think we have a good concept. So far, people have been extremely responsive to that. It has been unbelievable for us and I think it will continue to be one of the biggest differentiating factors compared to other spaces out there.”
The team is currently looking for a community manager who mans the front desk and makes sure the “space is working.” For more information on the latest cooperative community in St. Louis, visit TechArtista.org or send an e-mail to [email protected].