At first blush, two ventures headed for downtown Waco may appear to be direct competitors. But backers of WacoWork, a private venture, and Hustle, a project by the nonprofit Startup Waco, believe their efforts to attract business people, entrepreneurs and start-up ventures will complement each other. They call it a win-win.
Real estate developer Marshall Stewman is spending $2 million to transform a century-old building at Sixth Street and Columbus Avenue near the McLennan County Courthouse into 20,000 square feet of usable space. Stewman’s WacoWork is taking 5,000 square feet, as is the recently opened Nexus Esports. Guess Family Barbecue is slated to open its first brick-and-mortar location in another section, and more space is up for lease.
“We’re targeting April 9 as opening day for WacoWork, though that date is still up in the air,” Stewman said.
WacoWork will offer members use of private offices, dedicated desks and shared desks for a monthly fee ranging from $200 to $750, said Caroline Thornton, community manager for WacoWork.
Members get 24-hour access to the building, coffee service and beer on tap, as well as copying machines, printers and high-speed internet access, Thornton said. Access to other amenities will vary based on the type of membership.
Thornton said 10 people have signed up for space, “and we can handle 30 to 50 more people immediately.” The client mix to date includes two sales people, a freelance photographer and entrepreneurs who need drop-in space while traveling through Waco on business, Thornton said.
Stewman said he saw firsthand the demand for co-working accommodations during his own trips that included stops in Denver, Seattle and Austin.
“Especially for young professionals, they provide an environment more conducive to conducting business than a coffee shop, for example,” Stewman said. “Maybe a Baylor University student wants to study here, or a solo entrepreneur needs more privacy. It could be an insurance company with five or six agents on a team needing a place to hold a meeting.
“This allows you to focus on your business, make a single payment each month and not worry about a handful of bills. I myself have three children, and when they knock on my door at home, I love it. But like others trying to make a phone call or discuss a deal, I need privacy.”
Perks offered at WacoWork will include a coffee bar on the second floor, beer service courtesy of Waco-based Bare Arms Brewing, a photography studio that includes rotating backdrops and varied lighting, an “open” area on the second floor to accommodate networking, and four private phone rooms, “which are considerably larger than the phone booth you may envision.”
He said he has invested “right around $500,000” to create a cutting-edge co-working zone, one offering parking space in two nearby lots.
“I want this to become a place where you truly want to go on Monday morning, that does not make you dread coming to work,” Stewman said.
Stewman and his partnership, Deluge Holdings LLC, received $534,000 in Tax Increment Financing funds for streetspace and facade improvements related to his “historically appropriate” renovation of the former Studebaker dealership that once housed the McLennan County Appraisal District.
Alex Wolf, 25, a wedding photographer also involved in portraiture and a West native, said she became accustomed to using co-working space when she moved to Dallas. She has returned to the Waco area and is excited about WacoWork.
“I’m taking the ‘shared desk,’ and I see that as an opportunity to meet people I would not normally have contact with,” Wolf said. “Creating a studio in my home is not an ideal setup.”
Sam Hersh, 48, who operates Beacon Payment Solutions in the Waco area, said he works with payment processors nationwide. He is constantly on the move and does not need a permanent location, he said.
“The Baylor Club is a terrific place to bring a client for lunch, and I’ve even met with people at Starbucks, but those are not really work environments,” Hersh said. “WacoWork will give me the opportunity to interact with other people in the business world, and it provides a great mix of services. I was a little concerned about parking, but it looks as if they have accounted for that.”
Luke Russell, 25, a Houston native and Baylor University graduate employed in the commercial fuel industry, said he signed up for space at WacoWork, “so I could call work ‘work’ and home ‘home.’
“I have a 13-state territory, and I’m traveling 40 to 50 percent of my time. I’ve really enjoyed living in Waco, seeing the growth, and I wanted to be a part of it. I want it to continue flourishing.”
Hustle, meanwhile, represents an effort by Startup Waco to put fledgling companies on the right track. It will offer 77 desks, three conference rooms and two meeting rooms spread over 5,000 square feet at 605 Austin Ave., the Woolworth Suites building, said Kris Collins, senior vice president for economic development at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, which has pledged $100,000.
Besides work space, Hustle will provide mentoring from veteran business operators and academics, help with applying for funding via the Small Business Development Center, and even financing from venture capitalists.
Hustle has the backing of Baylor University, the business community, nonprofit groups and local governments, with the city of Waco and McLennan County pledging $750,000 in incentives from the Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corp. Baylor is funding the position of Greg Leman, a Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative official who initially will oversee Hustle.
“There are communities across the state and nation that have co-working facilities. Some are nonprofit like ours, Hustle, and some are for-profit,” Collins said. “Each fills a different gap. Ours will have different types of services, with minimal overlap. Hustle will include access to an investor network, mentorship and programming the other will not necessarily provide.”
She said renovation will start soon, and Hustle could be open by late summer or early fall. Like WacoWork, it will offer a tiered approach to membership, though the fee structure “has not yet been nailed down.”
Gregg Glime, the commercial real estate specialist assisting Stewman, said WacoWork and Hustle “should easily co-exist in a city our size.”
“Our place will focus on providing services to those already in business, offer them networking opportunities and a great array of resources,” Glime said. “Hustle will provide resources to start-ups.”
Stewman said the ventures should complement each other.
“Those who start at Hustle may later become our customers if things go well for them,” he said.