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Asheville man creates space for entrepreneurs



9/21/2011 - Asheville man creates space for entrepreneurs
by AP

Any and every idea welcome in the new market economy!!


ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) -- Craig McAnsh had served his time in the corporate culture of cubicle land and hated the gray, grim walls. But the home office wasn't working for him, either.

After moving here from Atlanta in 2008, he tried running his company, Native Marketing, out of his home, sometimes meeting clients at local coffee shops or noisy cafes with little space to spread out his ideas.

Working in a creative business, McAnsh craved contact with creative people. Why not share office space with other entrepreneurs? So he hatched the idea for Mojo Coworking, which he sees as the office of the future.

"In more and more cities, we have young people coming out of school, and in this economy they have to create their own job, but they need a space to do it," McAnsh said. "This is where you can go to get your business mojo working. You're in the center of all this creative, social and entrepreneurial energy."

Mojo is tucked into a corner of Wall Street above Mayfel's Restaurant, with 1,700 square feet overlooking Pritchard Park. Instead of tenants, McAnsh signs up members who arrive daily at their leased desks or simply plop down in the sofa pit with their laptops.

Marketers and salespeople work side by side with authors and website designers. No overhead, no worries about paying for utilities or printing costs or Internet or even the coffee. In exchange, they pay a monthly fee at a fraction of the cost of renting a downtown office.

Alexandria Schulz had been telecommuting out of her home for her company based in Fairfax, Va. "I was getting a little stir-crazy. I needed to be in an office environment."

Since leasing a desk at Mojo, Schulz said her productivity has increased, which her colleagues in Fairfax have noticed. There's less time spent on Facebook, simply trying to connect with people online. "The water cooler conversation is really important," she said. "You feel like you're at work. You're not in the wrong place trying to do work."

But Facebook actually led Justin Belleme to Mojo. The UNC Asheville graduate had seen the idea come up on McAnsh's home page and he wanted in.

On a chilly February day in Pritchard Park, a couple of months before Mojo even opened, Belleme buttonholed McAnsh and reserved three desks for his new company JB Media Group, a social media and Internet marketing consultant.

"I had always envisioned an awesome downtown location with big windows for my company. This is it to the T," Belleme said. "I thought I'd have to pay maybe $5,000 a month."

Now, Belleme says he's not intimidated bringing an out-of-town client in for a meeting in the conference room, which has a high-speed Internet hookup and HDTV screen. He could see expanding his company with another few hires, leasing more desks and space at Mojo.

McAnsh had come across the concept of co-working in metro areas like New York City, London and Los Angeles, where young professionals who find downtown office rents prohibitive on their own can share space equipped with Internet service and high-end printers.

During a recent business trip, he visited a co-working space in Santa Monica, Calif., but "it felt too techie for me." Then McAnsch stumbled across a co-working facility in Wilmington.

He thought: "Why couldn't this work in a place like Asheville? Maybe it was scalable to places like Chattanooga or Johnson City" in Tennessee, he said.

A downtown location was critical for such a venture, building on Asheville's vibe as a creative urban center with plenty of restaurants and bustle on the sidewalks.

McAnsh looked around at 40 different buildings, looking for the right space and atmosphere without excessive renovation costs. Finally on Craigslist, he came across a Wall Street office formerly used by an architect. "It was perfect. Every 10 feet was an Internet connection."

After some paint on the walls and a few desks, McAnsh moved in this spring. Either Mojo would take off, or he would have plenty of room for his one-man Native Marketing business. "It was like I would try to throw a cool party, and no one would come, or it will fill up."

He didn't have to worry. The desks leased for six months at a time were the first to go. The price is attractive, with the leased desks going for $225 a month. There are 10-day passes or even hourly rates for those entrepreneurs who need a quiet place to park their laptop at the Mojo bar or in the sofa pit.

It's not just about social interaction between lone entrepreneurs. Sometimes, McAnsh has found feedback for his own work, asking the Web des igner the desk over for advice. "People bounce ideas off each other," he said.

Co-working isn't for everyone or every profession, McAnsh willingly concedes. Lawyers or therapists needing a door to close on confidential conversations with clients would still be better served by the traditional office lease.

Members have access to the office 24/7 through a coded lock, able to come and go on the demands of their own schedules.

Others rent only the conference room for presentations or meetings with clients, reserving time through McAnsh and Google calendars. As a community service, Mojo plans on offering the conference room for free in the coming year to nonprofit groups in need of occasional meeting space.

Mojo Coworking also serves as headquarters for Hatch, Asheville's annual creative networking event, which draws artists and entrepreneurs from across the country each fall. Serving as Hatch executive director, McAnsh sees the city becoming a hotbed for innovation that could launch new ventures and create new jobs for the community.

One of his clients for Native Marketing is Turner Media in Atlanta. McAnsh serves as a trend and insight explorer, helping the broadcaster stay tuned to new concepts for marketing.

Co-working is an up-and-coming trend nationwide and a move away from the cubicle workplaces found in huge corporations, McAnsh said.

Instead of big factories coming in with 100 or more jobs for manual laborers, the local economy will depend more on entrepreneurs relying on their brain power to provide services for other businesses.

"We can stay an economy based primarily on tourism and retirement, or we can highlight the community of creative people we have in Asheville," he said. "What companies really need is a creative workforce, and we have to keep proving we have that here."

McAnsh's vision lines up with the Asheville 5x5 jobs intiative from the Chamber of Commerce, which seeks to create 5,000 new jobs in the next five years in five different sectors, including knowledge-based entrpereneurs.

"Mojo Coworking is a great example of how Asheville's entrepreneurial community is growing," said Pam Lewis, the chamber's director of entrepreneurhip.



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