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Co-work Space Comes to Clay

Co-work Space Comes to Clay

Clay Today - August 24, 2016    By Jesse Hollett  READ FULL ARTICLE HERE

Brian Knight seems like a stranger to failure after a number of profitable business ventures moved him from his garage to the owner of Fleming Island-based information technology company Pragmatic Works, but he’s well aware of the hurdles small businesses face.

To remedy an underserved clientele base and increase entrepreneurial opportunities in Clay County, he’s jump-started a trial run for the county’s first “co-work space.”

Knight will use a portion of his Pragmatic Works office space located in Fleming Island Business Park, and co-owned with Dynamic Corporate Solutions Inc., as the headquarters for a virtual office. A virtual office gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to have a physical mailing address without having to purchase or lease office space.

Dubbed the Fleming Island Conference Center, the virtual office will only be the starting point for Knight. If the trial run for the co-work space goes well during the first quarter, then he hopes to expand the operation into the vacant office next-door and transform it into a fully fleshed out headquarters for entrepreneurs and start-up businesses.

“We want to grow these businesses in Clay County so they stay in Clay County,” Knight said. “The goal of that is to help you grow your business to a point where you’ve passed a one-man shop, passed a first-tier business and onto a second-tier business. Our main goal is to get you up the ladder much faster.”

Co-work spaces work because they give entrepreneurs all of the essentials for a successful small business – a desk, a coffee pot and the ability to network with other entrepreneurs without fear of direct competition. Co-work spaces are an outgrowth of the tech. industry where they have helped budding companies grow in such tech. hubs as Austin, Texas, San Francisco and Atlanta.

Naturally, Knight wants to see his hometown’s business ecosystem thrive in the same way his business grew.

Knight began Pragmatic Works in a garage, but their next place was just as bad. His initial office was a dump, he said, located right next to a dog groomer. Like a puzzle, Knight had to arrange all of his business demonstrations around when the dogs would arrive so the customers wouldn’t hear the barking.

Nine years later, Knight employs more than 100 employees in offices from Fleming Island to Minneapolis.

Knight was surprised to see familiar faces in the crowd of some of these Jacksonville based co-work spaces – people who live in Clay County. A fully realized co-work space in Clay would pull back entrepreneurs into the county by giving them a local desk.

“A lot of job growth comes from new business startups, so that’s what this effort is all about, its looking to support all those new businesses that have great energy but maybe they don’t have a great support system,” said Bill Garrison, president of the Clay County Economic Development Corp.

Arguably, a co-work space’s chief advantage over a home office is its ability to constantly introduce entrepreneurs to each other.

While a co-work facility is the overall goal, Knight also hopes to use the facility as a small business incubator and accelerator. Essentially, he would provide services and classes for pop-up entrepreneurs to learn the minutia of the business world, as well as gain access to capital.

“The majority of small businesses fail because of a lack of small business skills,” Garrison said. “(He) might not be a good business person, so these incubators and accelerators, they provide some of that assistance too.”

The number of jobs created from start-up businesses outweigh any kind of charity necessary for their start-up from local investors. The Department of Economic Opportunity lists 78.9 percent of Clay County businesses as having fewer than 10 employees – making small business Clay County’s business engine.

In 2009, Knight formed the Pragmatic Works Foundation to assist veterans with their often times turbulent transition to the civilian workforce, as well as assisting unemployed and underemployed individuals gain skills to help evolve them into the technology business.

Clay has itched for a co-work space since the 90s, according to Knight. Only now, as part of the EDCs five-year plan to drive new business into Clay gains momentum, has the project gained traction.

Knight said the trial virtual office will probably cost more than $60 a month. If the trial run does well, then Clay could see a much more expanded program.

“It’s been a passion of mine for a long time to build an accelerator in Clay County,” Knight said. “If you give [entrepreneurs] the right amount of mentoring, they could go from where they are now to much, much further in the next few months.”

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The Clay Florida Economic Development Corporation provides concierge service for companies who want to re-invest in expansion in the county or relocate their companies to the region.

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