North Port business incubator has found its footing with move to new location.
NORTH PORT — When COVID-19 social distancing forced businesses to shut down in March, Bill Gunnin and the North Port Area Chamber of Commerce needed to find a way for its members to continue accessing leadership seminars offered by Joanne Cumiskey and VisionQuest Leadership LLC.
He turned to Cowork Hive North Port and Scott Heinis, a retired Charlotte County, Florida paramedic and information technology guru.
“We wanted to pivot and do whatever the community wanted,” said Heinis, who joined with David McCarron, one of the founding partners of Cowork Hive, in 2016. “That’s what happened with Bill.”
The Hive was still settling into its new offices — the former Coldwell Banker real estate office at 14260 Tamiami Trail. But inside of a week, they had a video studio set up where Cumiskey and Gunnin could conduct classes.
When Cumiskey’s husband was identified as potentially at risk for COVID-19, they pivoted again and Heinis devised a way for Gunnin to be at the Hive and Cumiskey to work from home to continue the presentations.
Along the way, there have been what Heinis termed growing pains, such as the need to replace overhead fluorescent lights with LED tubes to cure a video flicker problem, but the scope of work needed by Gunnin and the chamber also grew.
Cowork Hive helped the Gunnin and the chamber host its popular Coffee with the Docs COVID-19 question and answer program, as well as town hall meetings with elected officials such as U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, state Rep. James Buchanan and state Sen. Joe Gruters and most recently candidate forums for both city and county commission candidates.
The beauty of how that workflow evolved, McCarron said, is that Heinis established a solution, evolved the process, supported a community need, all while helping the enterprise center of the Cowork Hive evolve.
Without Cowork Hive, Gunnin said there’s “absolutely no way in the world we could have done something like that.”
“Mr. Scott (Heinis) over there may be one of the smartest technology guys I’ve seen in my life,” he added. “They’ve dumped a ton of money in there and basically made that exactly the way they wanted it to be done.
“They made us look a lot more professional and provided us with more avenues to provide service to our community and our members.”
Lobanovskiy — who has since spun off a digital design effort with Kovalevs into Unfold.co, a nationally recognized business that currently uses the main cowork space at Hive North Port — created the font used for the Cowork Hive logo by using a brush and honey.
A coworking space and business incubator similar to The HuB in Sarasota, Hive had some growing pains of its own. The early offices were a little too small.
For a period of time, McCarron and Heinis worked out of the Englewood Innovation Center, near Buchan Airport.
When they returned to North Port, they brought Don Musilli and the Lite World Innovation Center with them.
He offers classes and summer camps — or did, out of Englewood prior to COVID-19 —and is an expert at 3D printing, 3D prototyping and training.
“It’s a great opportunity,” he said of the move from the county-owned building in Englewood, to North Port.
On a recent Thursday, he was using several of the 3-D printers to make ear savers for masks.
The classroom space full of printers also features four big-screen TVs wired to display as one large screen.
“One of the projects that we were tasked with just before we moved here was how can we democratize access to some of these assets,” Ennis said. “To buy something this large, to get the brightness and the field of view you need, you can’t just buy a big TV.
“You can, but it’s not as useful.”
Things started to come together after Jacob and James Paull and JLP Realty LLC purchased the former Coldwell Banker building, which has about 9,700 square feet of usable space.
“Through a series of meetings and conversations we realized we really had a lot in common with our interests and supporting the community with the space and programming and the infrastructure that we felt was lacking,” McCarron said of the relationship with JLP.
That allowed McCarron and Heinis to tweak the Cowork Hive into a franchise approach and collaborate with JLP for a coworking prototype.
JLP is actually a Cowork Hive franchisee, with McCarron and Heinis contracted to manage the operation.
That gave McCarron and Heinis the opportunity to put into place a membership plan that allows businesses to use the services they need. A virtual membership, at $100 a month includes a professional business address and community chat via Slack. A $150 flex membership adds credits for meeting room access, high-speed wifi and hot desk access. The $200 coworking memberships allow for access to the building 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as well as the ability to rent a dedicated workspace. For $600 a month, businesses receive a dedicated workspace and a private, lockable office.
Even virtual members have access to resources such as high-quality printing and the community atmosphere.
“We want to custom tailor whatever we do for whatever the needs of the community are,” Heinis said. For example, they’re contemplating turning an interior space into a podcasting, vlogging and product photography studio.
Or, it could just morph into a full-time photo studio.
“We’re waiting and making sure we can pivot in the right direction to make sure we can leverage the assets for what people need,” Heinis said. The goal there, like with all of the Cowork Hive, is to find out what people need for their businesses, “and lower the barrier for access for them.”
In many ways, the Hive organizers ascribe to the theory that a rising tide floats all boats.
“Our goal, we keep saying, we’re a community accelerator,” Heinis said. “We want to lower the barrier to entry to everybody, no matter what they want to do — the people who have the great start-up idea but they don’t have the resources necessary to move out of their garage, we allow them to do that.
“In the meantime, we have this hive, this community, that once you become a part of it, all of a sudden your whole life becomes this giant Venn diagram where all these different disciplines overlap and the possibilities multiply logarithmically,” he added.
McCarron and Heinis are also working on another project, Wellpoint Communities.
McCarron describes Wellpoint as the confluence of a senior living community and mixed-use wellness center that would also include an enterprise center like Cowork Hive, a boutique hotel and a community of single-family homes.
The prototype is currently targeted for 20-acres in Huntsville, Alabama, with the senior living facility slated to open in November or December.
The enterprise center will replicate the model currently evolving in North Port.
While the Cowork Hive provides space for existing businesses to figure out how best to expand and thrive, Gunnin said it’s equally valuable as a selling point for new businesses.
“I just got off of a phone call with a title company in Miami, asking if we knew of any spaces here, they’re trying to open up an office here in North Port, so I led them over to Cowork Hive,” Gunnin said. “Not only is it helping people here, already established, but the way North Port’s growing, we have businesses coming from outside of North Port trying to get into North Port, It provides a venue for them to start up.”