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March 23, 2015 | Tom Ballard

Castillo shares some ideas about co-working space in Knoxville

Spark PlazaBy Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

As noted in a post last week, Jose Castillo, President and Spicy Guy at thinkjose, LLC and Co-Founder of Spark Plaza in Johnson City, is holding two meetings today in Knoxville to discuss the need for co-working space in the community.

The exuberant speaker and entrepreneur has scheduled two events – one billed as a “Co-working Hangout” from 12 noon to 4 p.m. at Remedy Coffee on Jackson Avenue and another billed as “‘The Co-working Conundrum: Is There Life Outside the Cubicle”starting at 5 p.m. at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center on Market Square.

Both are drop-in events designed to find the right people interested in moving the idea of a co-working space forward. Ahead of the event which we cannot attend due to business travel, we asked Castillo to give us some insights into his thinking and plans.

What precipitated your interest in Knoxville and the possibility of a co-working space?

Knoxville was my first home in Tennessee and the place where I grew up, so I really view this as a homecoming. I still have my 1982 World’s Fair ID card from when I was 6 years old! When I started our region’s first co-working space six years ago in Johnson City, TN, I knew that we would expand at some point. We have talked with several regional cities about bringing Spark Plaza co-working to other markets and the timing is finally right. The primary focus for co-working has always been building a community of people who share more than just space. And we are ready to expand those relationships across the South.

You have operated the co-working space in Johnson City for several years. What has your experience been and how would that shape anything done in Knoxville?

Our success in the Tri-Cities has been directly related to community, events, and space. Having researched co-working locations around the world, we know these elements are what will make our efforts in Knoxville continue that success. Community is all about bringing the right people together. Finding diverse people and companies who share a similar passion for their work is the first element in shared workspace. Second, having regular events that offer additional learning opportunities, ways to share knowledge, and to meet new folks is critical for growth. And finally, offering all of this in a space that inspires creativity is the glue that holds it all together. Typically our members prefer exposed brick, hard wood floors, old buildings, high ceilings, interesting architecture, and unique furniture. Spark Plaza has always focused on community, events, and space, and we plan to continue that as we expand and grow.

What sort of expectations do you have for the two events on Tuesday?

This is our first of several events we will be offering in Knoxville over the next few months, and our first goal is to identify folks who might be curious about co-working and build a community. We know that co-working is a type of work environment that certain individuals will love, and we want to hang out with those folks, find out what their specific needs are, and begin to build some buzz. I’m not interested in thousands of people turning out for an event. I want to find the 10-12 folks who can be anchor members for our Spark Plaza Knoxville community. I also know that every town is different, and we want to see what specific needs Knoxville mobile professionals are asking for. We also want to partner with other organizations, events, and groups that are already bringing smart people together in the city. We love working with maker and hacker groups, software meetups, UI/design/photog groups, etc., and we want to serve them in any way we can.

What do you see the next steps being?

Over the next three months, we will have three to four events in different locations around Downtown Knoxville and start to gauge interest, listen to feedback, and build a community of possible members. We have already identified several spaces and locations in the downtown area and will start to narrow those down as we gather feedback. Once we have built an interested group and nailed down our location, we are looking at fall of 2015 to open our new Spark Plaza Knoxville location.

We want to provide creative, inspirational space that allows mobile professionals to connect with a community and get things done!

Send us an email or follow us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook @sparkplaza for more details on upcoming events.


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