South Florida Startup Combines Coworking, Coffee Shop And Incubator
Brian Jacob admits that at first it might seem like he has “a horrible business plan” for his coworking space in Fort Lauderdale. But when all its parts work together, “it can create amazing opportunities for our customers," he said.
Jacob co-founded a healthcare software startup, WaitsUp, which sped up the process of patient check-ins and record sharing. As he and his partner grew their business, pitching investors along the way, they also worked out of New York building custom software and doing business consulting through their company, DB Ventures. When they sold WaitsUp to a competitor, they sought their next venture.
Landing in Florida, where his wife grew up, Jacob saw opportunity.
“The last few years, I had been helping companies in a multifaceted way," he said. "Vendors had become a key aspect of our business. I wished they could be in our same facility, because they would be a value-add to our customers. So we started sweat-equity investing.”
Often, he said, the clients who came to him for consulting would be bright individuals with ambitious plans, but lacked a piece of the puzzle that would make their companies successful. Some of them needed funding. Some needed apps or software. Some just didn’t have a good handle on marketing. Once he connected resources, a few of those businesses found success, so Jacob thought, “Let’s create a facility where all that magic can happen.”
The result is Collective Ventures, a coworking space on the ground floor of the Waverly condo building smack in downtown Fort Lauderdale, at the corner of U.S. 1 and Broward Boulevard.
It offers desk/table space and free high-speed internet to anyone who walks in the door. There is also a café with an extremely high-end Victoria Arduino coffee maker — “the Ferrari of coffee machines; there are only three in Florida,” Jacob said, a recently added beer-and-wine license and conference rooms that can be rented for as little as $20 an hour. It stays open until 8 p.m.
In addition, there are offices for a select core of businesses that are ”members.” Jacob said he is highly selective about who can join; that is why he thinks it may seem like a bad business plan.
“I say no to 95% of the people who want to be members here,” Jacob said.
He chooses specific types of businesses — and only one of each — that can share leads and refer business to one another. Each pays $600 to $3K per month rent, depending on the space they take. Currently, the 16 businesses include an accountant, an attorney, an event planner, a photographer/videographer, a web/app developer, an SEO/social media specialist, a startup adviser, an executive coach, a creative services firm, a staffing/payroll company and more.
As individuals or small groups of partners come in to work at the coffee shop, they might soon find they could use the lawyer to incorporate their business, then the accountant to advise on taxes, then others to do their marketing. The café and beer garden, which host events like music jams and open mics, grease the wheels for networking.
The space also functions as a startup incubator. In some cases, DB Ventures becomes a partner. Jacob likened the idea to the TV show "Shark Tank."
“Our goal is to invest $5M in 100 startups in Broward County,” he said.
Jacob said he has capital from the sale of WaitsUp as well as family funds and private investors. He acknowledges that his business model requires significant investment up front and is "a long play," but thinks the idea can take off. He said he is in talks with other cities near Fort Lauderdale that are interested in helping open additional locations. He would like to open six or seven locations in South Florida and expand up the East Coast.
So far, Jacob said, he has helped One-Way Hauling, a company he calls “the Uber of hauling,” which can connect people with trucks to different jobs, from garbage-carrying to moving a couch from IKEA. Jacob took an 80% stake in that business.
He helped develop another company, Gents & Lords, that started when a client came to him seeking help promoting an all-natural hair pomade. They refined the product formula to make it organic, changed the packaging, upped the per-unit price from $18 to $40 and leveraged connections to start selling it in high-end stores like Neiman Marcus. Jacob's investment fund has taken a 35% share in that company.
Collective Ventures was fully booked within nine months of opening, Jacob said. Kristin Soto runs her own public relations business and is a tenant/member at Collective Ventures.
“I’ve been sitting at my desk, and people have come to me because my card is up at the front. That’s new business I didn’t even hope to seek," Soto said. "[Prior to joining], I was working at a coffee shop and had to travel everywhere to see clients. I had to go to them. Here, I have a receptionist and a conference room ready. It’s nice to feel I have my own place.”