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OPO is a co-working center for digital Startups located in the “Old Post Office” building on Main Street St. Charles. The 10,000 square foot facility provides regional startups with affordable workspace and access to mentors, potential investors, programming, educational resources and a community of local entrepreneurs
Missouri is unique in supporting ESOs (entrepreneurial support organizations) at the state level. As director of OPO Startups, I just turned in our metrics for the year to the Missouri Technology Corporation (MTC)—and we have a lot to be happy about.
Here’s what we have achieved, collectively, in the last 12 months:
- OPO members have a $12M annual payroll.
- OPO members have received more than $10M in private investment.
- OPO members have created more than 60 fulltime jobs.
I couldn’t be prouder of what our entrepreneurs, funders, and supporters have accomplished at OPO. More than three years ago, Randy Schilling, a successful local entrepreneur, purchased the old post office on Main Street in St. Charles with a dream of turning his hometown into a hub for hi-tech, high-potential startups. Our accomplishments over the past year show that together, our community has worked hard and made his vision a reality.
In fact, we’ve been so successful that other communities like Helena, Montana, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, have invited us to share the strategy behind OPO Startups.
The full strategy would take far more than just one article to explain, but here are the three most important things we did to achieve our results.
When it Comes to Membership, We Focused on Curation, Synergy, and Complementary Companies and Industries
Strong coworking environments have a defined vision for the type of members and industries they want to attract. That curation strategy could focus on female entrepreneurs or early-stage ventures, or require specific levels of investment. A specific target market for a coworking space doesn’t matter, so long as you have one.
It’s important to note that a focused membership strategy isn’t about trying to exclude specific startups or groups of people. Coworking is replacing the 19th- and 20th-century idea of exclusive, male-dominated spaces like golf courses and country clubs with inclusive environments that allow varying types of entrepreneurs to prosper.
Curating a membership base helps foster and encourage collaboration over competition. Curated membership also fosters synchronicity. The conversations members have over coffee can range from what parish/daycare/grocery delivery service you are using to the value of local virtual assistants or how to manage a remote development team.
Curating membership allows entrepreneurs with similar focuses to have “serendipitous” conversations that build collaboration and, most important, create opportunities to turn fellow members into clients, customers, or users.
Hire Staff that Thrive on Making Connections for Members
Focused coworking spaces create small-scale industry clusters that diversify a community’s economic-development strategy. That sounds important, and big, and hard to accomplish—and it is hard, especially without the right staff in place.
What sort of staff person makes a coworking space successful?
Someone who is empathetic about how psychologically difficult being an entrepreneur can be, enjoys helping others connect, and actively seeks out opportunities for members to collaborate and do business with one another. If you’re looking for a model, think of the “Connector” from the Malcolm Gladwell book The Tipping Point. Great coworking staff can’t help but make connections between the people who need to know each other, within both the coworking space and the wider community.
A concrete example at OPO Startups is Fusion5, a healthcare startup that chose OPO after a regional and national search for a coworking environment. Fusion5 has the potential to be a multi-billion-dollar company and has grown from six employees in November to more than 50 today. A curated membership strategy and a staff person who thrives on connecting startups and entrepreneurs with each other meant that Fusion5 had multiple designers, marketers, and developers to choose from.
Not only Fusion5’s 50-plus jobs, but also a lot of exciting work for many of our existing members.
Have a Warm, Welcoming Physical Space that Fosters Collaboration
Coworking spaces create a sense of community by bringing together like-minded individuals and providing opportunities to collaborate. These spaces meet the needs of the knowledge-based economy by being desirable, attractive, and comfortable places to work and socialize.
This isn’t (completely) about money. I am incredibly proud of OPO Startups and grateful for the capital Randy Schilling has invested in a beautiful facility, but another example of creating a warm, welcoming coworking environment in a very different facility can be at Medici Media Space. The team behind Medici has done a remarkable job of creating a community that fosters creativity and economic output by providing unique services, including a green room.
The environment and energy within a coworking facility matter more than renovation costs.
Every day entrepreneurs, business owners, and freelancers are working in their basements, at the local coffee shop, or in a library. Creating a space for these innovators to work in and engage with each other diversifies the local economy and builds the fabric of community.
Or, more bluntly, what city (urban, suburban, or rural) wouldn’t want $12M in new jobs and $10M in new investment on their historic Main Street?
If you are interested in learning more, come visit OPO Startups on Main Street, St Charles, and see what a thriving, curated, coworking space looks like. We would be glad to have you, and glad to share what we’ve learned creating one of the most dynamic suburban startup communities in the region—and in the entire country.