Entrepreneurs find springboard in shared spaces
By Bridgett Hernandez | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly
Starting a business can cost a pretty penny. As the saying goes: “You have to spend money to make money.” However, the cost of operating space and equipment alone may be enough to discourage would-be entrepreneurs from bringing their business idea to life.
Shared work spaces can help entrepreneurs clear this hurdle, said Spencer Mize, director of advancement at the Summit. The campus, located off W. Rudisill Boulevard, is home to Cookspring Shared Kitchen, a 4,800-square-foot commercial kitchen for rent to culinary entrepreneurs.
“Fort Wayne is not the hotbed of entrepreneurship that you might see on the coast, so Cookspring exists to try to help ease that burden so that you don’t have to spend $100,000 on a hood and grill just to get started. You can come in and pay us $18 an hour and you get everything you need to get started,” he said.
That includes three kitchens, storage and a commercial dishwashing machine among other equipment.
Mize said the goal is to help entrepreneurs grow their business until they reach a point where they can support themselves in their own brick and mortar establishment. Junk Ditch Brewing Company, now located on West Main Street, got its start in the shared kitchen as Affine food truck and GK Baked Goods.
Cookspring serves about 25 groups, 15 of which are active members. Its members include food trucks, caterers, meal delivery services and community organizations. Established in 2015, Cookspring recently doubled the size of its kitchen to support member growth.
Bridget Jones, proprietor of Savannah Soul food truck and catering, knows all too well about the high overhead of operating a brick and mortar establishment – she previously ran her own restaurant.
“That was way too much overhead for one person,” she said.
Jones, who now works in the corporate sector, said Cookspring gives her the opportunity to pursue her culinary ambitions on the weekends. Access to equipment and space as well as the diminished cost of utilities and insurance have made it possible to get back into the business she loves.
“To me, it was just a perfect model,” she said.
Jones utilizes the shared kitchen to prep “southern, home-style cuisine” including chicken and waffles, collard greens, corn bread, coleslaw and peach cobbler.
In addition to accessing the tools of her trade, Jones has enjoyed the sense of community and sharing of ideas she has found at Cookspring.
“There’s some synergy there with the others,” she said. “There’s not any competition.”
While shared kitchens are certainly not a new concept, Mize said, the model is new to Fort Wayne.
“We’re entrepreneurs ourselves in this, and it has been a learning experience,” he said.
That means the Cookspring staff continues to make tweaks to better serve its members.
One challenge has been figuring out when it’s time for a member to “graduate” from the shared kitchen, because there comes a point when a business outgrows the shared kitchen and needs to move on in order to make room for smaller members.
Another challenge has been making sure members clean up after themselves. Fortunately, a core group of members have helped establish a culture of responsibility, Mize said.
A canvas for creating
Across town, another shared work space recently opened its doors to hobbyists, entrepreneurs and anyone else who is interested in tackling a “do-it-yourself” project.
The Guild of Allusion, located on the corner of Goshen Road and St. Marys Avenue, hosted an open house June 23 to give the public a chance to tour its facility. The shared workshop offers members access to a variety of equipment including woodworking tools, 3-D printers and a sewing machine.
“[The space] is for somebody to come in and say ‘I’d like to build a chair.’ We have the woodworking tools to do the frame, we have the upholstery tools to do the padding and cover, we have the engineering tools online to be able to put together the plans, we have education tools available online as well. It’s a whole package,” said Larry Brooks, co-founder of the guild.
While the workshop makes a variety of tools available, members who invest in a one-year membership can request additional equipment, he said. He also has plans to create a photography studio as well as a sound-proof area for editing audio and video.
Brooks, who owns an upholstery shop, got the idea for the guild from co-founder Abraham Parra. Parra would use a room at Brooks’ upholstery shop to make things.
“It got me to thinking there are probably a lot of people like him that would love to do things but would have nowhere to do it,” Brooks said.
Rhiannan Yocham attended the guild’s open house and signed up for a membership with her fiancé and a friend after hearing about the shared space on Facebook. She said they were excited to gain access to tools for making costumes to wear to fan conventions.
“I got really excited because I can’t afford a lot of the equipment that they offer here,” she said. “Plus, it gives me an opportunity to meet other people who are interested in the same thing.”