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Proposed co-working space could foster fresh business growth

Proposed co-working space could foster fresh business growth

November 22nd, 2017 by Philip Joens in News

A Jefferson City entrepreneur wants to create a co-working space to help other entrepreneurs tinker and innovate.

Brett Welschmeyer and other backers of a proposed co-working space on Madison Street will hold a meeting Monday night to solicit community input. Welschmeyer said they want to hear what entrepreneurs in the region want in the space. If built, Welschmeyer hopes the space will allow Mid-Missouri entrepreneurs to innovate and create startups from a cheap community hub.

Welschmeyer said he has explored the idea of creating a co-working space in Jefferson City for a while. Feedback from the small community of entrepreneurs here told him people want a space with access to expensive tools, 3-D printers and other gadgets that can be used to create new products.

"People want a place where they can come and tinker and do it in a fun environment," Welschmeyer said.

"It's a place for those who have a hobby but can't afford the tools."

In cities large and small, co-working spaces, maker labs, incubators and accelerators serve as community centers for entrepreneurs. Unlike an incubator and accelerator, the proposed space does not have the goal of launching companies and helping companies grow through seed funding and other direct investments.

Co-working spaces traditionally give entrepreneurs places to work for a small membership fee. In return, entrepreneurs and wannabe small business owners get access to networking and career-building events and classes run by like-minded people, along with a place to work on budding small businesses.

On its website, Mid-Mo Maker Labs states it will hold classes teaching technical, computer and coding skills like soldering basics, robot drive trains and intro to computer programming.

Welschmeyer said the goal is to create a place where entrepreneurs and other community members can pick up career skills and learn to do new things in pressure-free environment.

"We're going to be offering these classes in a friendly environment," Welschmeyer said. "You don't have to have a lot of experience."

The community input meeting will be held from 6-8 p.m. Monday in a house at 900 Madison St.

If the center moves forward, it likely will be housed next door because the owner of the adjoining house offered to make rent concessions and do other things to help the project move forward, Welschmeyer said. He was unsure whether the house would need to be re-zoned by the Jefferson City government.

Similar co-working spaces dot other parts of the state.

In July, Amanda Quick opened The Hatchery in Columbia. The Hatchery offers memberships for $20, $80, $150 and $300 per month. Memberships give members access for one, five, 12 or every day of each month.

Patrons also get access to its copier, Wi-Fi, networking events, meeting spaces, mail service and conference room. Quick told attendees at a 1 Million Cups Jefferson City event in November attendance has been good so far, and she's attracted many clients who just want to use the conference room.

Other spaces like Think Big Partners and OfficePort KC in Kansas City, Nebula Coworking and and Industrious St. Louis in St. Louis, and Cast Cowrkspace in Springfield give the state a solid backbone of community centers for entrepreneurs around the state.

Gov. Eric Greitens formed the Governor's Innovation Task Force in June with the goal of creating new ways for startups to thrive statewide. A September report issued by the task force said rural communities can spur creation of startups by opening small business incubators to help business owners in rural areas.

"Rural communities often lack the expertise to support the development of technology businesses," the report said. "Creating a program where expertise in intellectual property, technology evaluation and product development is available to rural entrepreneurs is critical."

Since the creation of the task force, the small, but budding tech community in Jefferson City has blossomed. Networking and entrepreneurial support group 1 Million Cups held its first monthly event in October. The Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce held its annual Pitch It & Win It pitch competition the same month.

Welschmeyer, who works in IT, began tinkering with robots at age 8. As a child, he said, he often took household items apart to see what he could make with the gutted gadgets.

Now, he can envision Mid-Mo Maker Labs being a place that teaches children and teens about tech.

Ultimately, co-working spaces are businesses and need to generate revenue to stay in operation. If completed, the center likely would run under a nonprofit model, Welschmeyer said. Membership fees and other grants would help subsidize the cost of running the center.

Though the entrepreneurial community in Jefferson City is small, Welschmeyer said, he and his partners see demand for it.

Like many entrepreneurs, Welschmeyer dreams of creating a better future by creating new products that change the way people live.

He wants to break into serial entrepreneurship and sees this as his way to drive innovation while helping the communities he loves.

"I just want to help build the future," Welschmeyer said.