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Founding fathers: Entrepreneurs open co-working space

September 28th, 2012

News Coverage:

Founding fathers: Entrepreneurs open co-working space

DOUG LEDUC - dougl@fwbusiness.com

Friday, Sep. 28, 2012 at 5:50am

The lone innovator working on a wildly ambitious project with enormous potential at a grueling pace for long stretches in a garage converted to an office to minimize business startup costs is one of the most common entrepreneur stereotypes.

While the isolation depicted in this scene may bolster a heroic image, many innovators have found they can accomplish more in an environment that presents opportunities for collaboration — particularly if it surrounds them with like-minded entrepreneurs who respect their drive and need to stay on task with their work.

Places like this have been popping up across the country, and three entrepreneurs who saw the need for one in Fort Wayne opened the Founders co-working space on July 27 in the Randall Building at 614 S. Harrison St. in Fort Wayne. Unlike most other co-working spaces, Founders is free.

“We have a person here who works for Red Hat (an open-source software company) and a person who is an SAP enterprise software consultant. We have more than one graphics designer and photographer, and we have some videographers. We have people who run nonprofits, and there’s a lady who is starting up a new Fort Wayne farmers market,” said Steve Franks, a co-founder of Founders.

“Some of the people here are software developers or people working on software ventures … who in the past worked at Starbucks or at home,” he said. “It’s lonely to do it that way. You don’t have anybody who’s got your back.”

The idea for Founders grew out of discussions Franks had with Ryan Imel — the founder of WP Candy, a news and information website for the WordPress publishing community — and Ray Angel, a serial entrepreneur who saw success in the early days of Facebook with applications and games that became popular.

The three had met at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, where Franks was program director. Franks left the tech-company incubator this spring to focus on developing some of his own business startups, which he works on at Founders.

Founders is a no-frills co-working space of a little more than 2,500 square feet with tables, chairs, electrical outlets, Wi-Fi access, coffee and soda. In addition to a few whiteboards on some of the walls, front windows are filled with multicolored notes from planning meetings, taken with dry-erase markers.

Visitors bring their own laptops, tablet computers and other equipment they need for projects and sign into a wall-mounted tablet computer when they arrive so other people who use Founders can tell who is there.

“As far as people checking in and checking out, we’ve probably had 250 to 300 come through,” Angel said. “I was definitely surprised. I thought we would have 25 to 30 who came through on a regular basis.”

With room for about 40, Founders tends to be at least half-full during the daytime, and its traffic thins out some at night.

“We’ve had a couple of people who have come in and said, ‘I came because like the energy here and I’d like to work on stuff here,’” Angel said.

“Once you come, you’re almost peer-pressured into continuing your work,” he said. “If I come in and don’t feel like working and see three guys next to me who are just working away really hardcore, it really puts the pressure on.

“It brings out the competitive spirit in people. They will do more to get more things done just for the bragging rights.”

Founders opens every day at 8 a.m. but has no scheduled closing time.

“We never know when people are going to leave; there’s typically someone here until 3 or 4 in the morning,” Angel said “And if somebody really has a great idea at midnight, we don’t want them going to bed and forgetting about it and not doing it.”

The $3,000 monthly cost of Founders rent and utilities is covered by Angel, Franks and Imel, as well as donations. Donors can make online “powered by” contributions via PayPal in various amounts ranging from $5 to power Founders for an hour to $3,000 to power it for a month.

Most co-working spaces charge membership fees, and the three could have decided to open Founders to the public only part of the time, reserving it for member use the rest of the time.

“Then we thought, ‘Would we really want to turn people away?’ We’re helping the entrepreneurial community and … younger entrepreneurs in general,” Franks said.

Angel, Franks and Imel hope some of the funding for Founders will come from success with projects they are working on personally. And they plan in the coming months to raise funds through a campaign on Kickstarter, a website specializing in crowdfunding projects.

In just a few months, Founders has had an impact on the area’s entrepreneurial community. Some innovators who have visited Founders to work on freelance projects have been inspired to start businesses after associating with entrepreneurs there, Angel said.

A visitor living out of town who was motivated at Founders to focus more on development of a startup recently relocated to Fort Wayne just to live closer to the co-working space.

“I believe entrepreneurs will continue to receive this well,” Angel said. “It’s the people who come in who make it. We’ve put a space in place and they’ve turned it into what it is.”

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