That's Amore

By: 
Sep. 4, 2015

There's an irony about My Office and More, a new business in the center of downtown Lakeland designed to give emerging businesses big-office amenities without big-office costs.

That's because the costs have been anything but small for Kate Lake, the 57-year-old entrepreneur who spent more than a year conceiving of a co-working space and finding the right place for it. When she finally found the right place — a 105-year-old building across from the landmark Munn Park — it had a hefty price tag: $1 million.

Lake declines to say how much more she spent renovating, painting and upgrading air conditioning for the building after she bought it, but she did say: “It's a God project. On paper, we shouldn't be able to pull it off.”

That pull required perseverance. After being turned down by five banks, Lake got a loan to buy the two-story building from CenterState Bank. She opened My Office and More in August.

Why saddle her new business with the cost of buying expensive property?

Controlling the experience is essential, Lake explains. It's a lesson she learned when she worked for the head of Disney Cruise Lines. That entity was created after Disney discovered it didn't have enough control when it licensed characters to another cruise company. Says Lake: “Leasing a space is not an option.”

Bretta Christakos, the CenterState vice president who worked with Lake on the loan, says her team was intrigued by the project since the bank is committed to downtown Lakeland and to developing entrepreneurs. The package the bank put together includes 35% funding via an SBA loan, 50% bank financing and a 15% down payment by Lake.

The My Office and More building has a vintage look Lake feels creates a warm work environment: antique brick, hardwood floors and exposed beams.

It's a look that worked well for other co-working spaces she visited when she researched the venture. She particularly liked the Co+Hoots community in Phoenix, which she described as casual, communal, energetic and upbeat. “So much has to do with the atmosphere,” she told some downtown businesspeople touring My Office & More recently.

The spirit of collaboration is enhanced, says Lake, by having private offices on the periphery look out into an open area where clients rent desk space. Each desk has ample electric and Internet outlets, and clients have access to two conference rooms, a training room, copier/printer, mail service and other office amenities.

When researching her venture, Lake says she learned 52% of Polk County's 11,000 businesses are home-based. That gave her a large potential client base.

Co-working spaces let freelancers and others escape the isolation of working at home, and put an end to “coffeehouse chaos” and the need to drive to an office chain for sophisticated copier needs, Lake says. “It levels the playing field for small businesses,” she adds.

Monthly memberships at My Office and More range from $115 for a co-working desk to $530 for a private office.

Prices are higher than those charged at Catapult, Lakeland's other co-working space. Catapult, a project of the Lakeland Economic Development Council subsidized by corporate donors, serves as an incubator where budding entrepreneurs can try out their business models.

But Lake says her mission differs from Catapult's. “Their atmosphere is about creativity,” says Lake. “Our atmosphere is about commerce.”

The process to transform a decaying, 6,000-square-foot second floor into a modern workspace took only two months. Lake credits cooperation between architect Marlon Lynn, contractor Ed Forgue and city officials for the quick turnaround. It helps, she says, that Lynn and Forgue showed plans to city development officials early and involved them in major decisions.

The building, at 112 E. Main St., already has two dining spots — a cafe with specialty sandwiches and a Cuban sandwich restaurant. That eliminated the expense of adding a dining facility, as found in some co-working spots.

Lake attracted 13 clients and other potential clients lined up tours in the first few weeks. “The story has just started,” Lake says. “It's about what people are going to accomplish and it's going to change Lakeland.”