story by Brandon Harris, special to The City Wire
Coffee shops are great, Skype is useful, and close friends can offer invaluable advice. But for entrepreneur Josh Clemence and the Northwest Arkansas Entrepreneurship Alliance, such simple pleasures aren't enough.
There's something to be said for the sense of camaraderie found in the workplace. It's easy to walk to the next cubicle or desk and bounce a thought off a co-worker or talk to a mentor about an idea to help the company.
But what about when one person is the company. His or her office is a cramped coffee shop and the only people to brainstorm with are often clueless about the company’s needs. Such is the life of an entrepreneur, and why Clemence, president of the non-profit local alliance led the charge to create “The Iceberg.” This 5,600-square foot co-working facility is located in downtown Fayetteville and is hoped to serve as a hub for entrepreneurs in Northwest Arkansas.
The Iceberg will provide members with a variety of open work spaces, office amenities like WiFi and presentation equipment. Also, the venue is designed to be a haven where entrepreneurs may network and discuss ideas that could help their business.
Located in the Metro District Commercial Center on Spring Street, The Iceberg is slated to open in early February and will offer memberships ranging from $10 day passes to $175 monthly passes. On a typical work day the venue will accommodate up to 50 tenants. For major events the site has a capacity of more than 200.
Clemence, 25, credits the success of the Iceberg project with a genuine pay-it-forward mindset from everyone involved.
“We secured the space from Brian Reindl, who is a local entrepreneur and owner of Reindl Properties,” he said. “It was negotiated on a long-term lease basis after visions were aligned.”
He said the extensive renovations were negotiated as part of the lease terms.
Other startup costs, such as furniture, technology and resources are covered by tenant revenue paid in advance by the Arkansas Challenge Accelerator — a state and higher education initiative launched in 2011 to mentor 15 start-ups for the next two years.
Clemence knows a thing or two about the importance of networking. His initiation into entrepreneurship came after he was laid-off just two months into the architect career he began after graduating from the University of Arkansas in 2009. Armed with loads of human capital he begin immediately working on multiple technology-based businesses, and saw the need for an organized networking group. Since that time about 200 members have joined the alliance.
"When I got into this industry, there was a very dispersed and disconnected group of entrepreneurs," Clemence said. "They were there and everybody knew, but there was no sense of community and helping each other. We wanted to give entrepreneurs access to support and resources that otherwise they probably wouldn't have."
Jeff Amerine, technology licensing offer and adjunct instructor of entrepreneurship at the University of Arkansas, is a believer in The Iceberg concept. He's contributed financially to the cause and plans on somehow involving it in his curriculum.
"Having these co-working facilities, it's kind of like a semi-organized way to have an encounter group and to find the resources you need," Amerine said. "A lot of people don't know that some guy over there might have some technology capabilities that they need and didn't even know was in the area. Having this meeting place is more than just a share-tenant type of deal. It's going to be set up to encourage collaboration and for start-up companies to help each other."
Clemence said he nor the rest of the board will make money with The Iceberg. Any profits, he said, will be put back into the facility. Staffing and organization is managed on a volunteer effort and it will cost an estimated $5,500 per month to operate the venue.
The group reports donations are coming in, so have hundreds of e-mails from people interested in signing up.
"I think it's going to provide a home for not only entrepreneurs and other independent professionals to go to, but it's also a place to provide an established place and give the region an identity when it comes to this industry." Clemence said. "Entrepreneurship is becoming the thing to do because of the state of our economy.”
He said the Iceberg should be the hub that gives birth to new innovations through a cooperative effort.