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Business Observer Friday, May 31, 2019 2 months ago

Title fight: Ex-boxer aspires to create world's healthiest office

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Clearwater property investor Daniels Ikajevs takes on co-working, with an emphasis on health and wellness. Harvard researchers love it — but will tenants?
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

The Ring, a new 18,000-square foot co-working and business incubator space in downtown Clearwater, has some big aspirations: to start with, it aims to be the healthiest office in the world. 

From oxygenating moss covering the walls and kombucha on tap to lighting that mimics the natural progression of the sun and customizable aromas in meeting rooms, The Ring is out to set an entirely new standard, says founder Daniels Ikajevs, a commercial property investor who owns several buildings in Clearwater. His portfolio includes the Bank of America building at 600 Cleveland St., where the space is located on the second and third floors.

“What you see here is a smart space, and it can grow into a smart building. As you have more smart buildings, that’s how you grow a smart city.” Daniels Ikajevs, The Ring 

More wellness? Don’t overlook the $14,000 “nap pod,” for busy workers who need a quick recharge. Yeah, it has one of those, too.

But with all of its fancy features adding up to a budget of some $2 million, will enough entrepreneurs and startups get in The Ring to generate a return on investment? Ikajevs, citing the trend toward built environments that emphasize physical wellbeing, has no doubt the answer is yes. 

“You have to be healthy to achieve your objectives,” says Ikajevs, 37. Growing up in Latvia, the towering Ikajevs — he says he’s six-six but looks even taller — trained as a boxer; hence, the name of the space, as well as the moniker for one of its premier workrooms, the Contenders Club, and a 50-person meeting room, complete with boxing ring, for pitch competitions. “A healthy mood can turn a normal day into a blockbuster of productivity, and vice versa.”

At the start of Round 1, The Ring has come out swinging. After a soft opening in early February, Ikajevs and COO Janelle Branch signed up 25 members. As of the April 26 grand opening, that number had grown to 36.

Some are businesses with more than one employee, while others are individual entrepreneurs. All told, 72 individuals work in the space — out of a maximum capacity of 200. That means there’s plenty of runway ahead for growth, and with The Ring emphasizing enclosed office space over open seating, greater potential to sign up long-term members.

“We operate on a 70/30 model, with 70% being private offices,” Branch says. “Most people in this area want team rooms.”

Considering the premium features, The Ring’s membership rates are competitive in comparison to other co-work spaces in the region. Individuals who don’t need office space can join for $45 per month. That gives them a physical mailing address, as well as one free hour of conference room access for a meeting. Dedicated desk space that comes with a bevy of other amenities is available for $250 per month in the Contenders Club, while private offices start at $370 per month.

Mark Wemple. Daniels Ikajevs and Janelle Branch opened The Ring in April and already have plans to apply the model to other office properties in the Tampa Bay region.

Ikajevs is able to keep membership rates low thanks to a $600,000 grant from the Clearwater Community Development Agency, as well as downtown Clearwater’s relative affordability compared to Tampa and St. Petersburg. Plus, he’s not in a huge rush to generate ROI. He says The Ring, even at less than half capacity, is already profitable.

A big plus in marketing, meanwhile, comes from Harvard University. The school's high-profile Global Building Study, which probes links between wellness and workplace productivity, selected 60 workplaces worldwide to monitor — with The Ring being the only one in Florida. Using small sensor units placed at participants’ workstations, Harvard monitors air quality, sound levels, temperature, moisture, lighting and other environmental factors and then evaluates the variables alongside data gathered from fitness trackers worn by workers.

“It’s great for us,” says Ikajevs, “because we will have more validity about why companies should invest more in a healthy built environment. It’s truly going to be a proof of concept for everything we are doing.”

Happy, healthy, high-performing workers stay longer, he adds, which saves companies money on hiring and training. “It’s an investment in your human capital.”

Ikajevs says Clearwater won’t be the only location for people and companies who are interested in The Ring model. He’s eyeing potential locations in St. Pete and aims to apply the same health and wellness principles to other properties he owns.

“The big trend in commercial real estate is building smart cities,” he says. “What you see here is a smart space, and it can grow into a smart building. As you have more smart buildings, that’s how you grow a smart city.”

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