By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Kelly Fitzgerald is not a Chattanooga native, but a business plan that she wrote more than three years ago is making a big difference in the city’s dynamic innovation ecosystem.
The graduate of Auburn University with degrees in architecture and interior architecture says she moved to Chattanooga after graduation in 2004, in part because her parents had relocated there, but never thinking she would remain that long.
Her initial thoughts have changed.
“Chattanooga makes you stick,” Fitzgerald told us when we talked during a recent tour of the city’s new Edney Innovation Center. She is the Founder of Society of Work, a slightly more than two-year old membership-based enterprise providing co-working space for entrepreneurs and others in the city.
The organization just relocated to the Edney Center, albeit in temporary quarters until renovations on the sixth floor are completed. It will double Society of Works’ space from 3,500 to 7,000 square feet and allow for an expansion in the package of options offered.
“I don’t know that I would have done it without an impetus,” Fitzgerald told us about starting Society of Work. She had developed the business plan in August of 2012, but was not actively pursuing it until she was laid-off the next January.
That event caused Fitzgerald to get serious about the possibility of launching the business. Starting with a core group of 10 creatives (writers and designers), Fitzgerald eventually interviewed about 100 people to validate her plans.
Armed with that input and with strong support from her husband, she opened the initial Society of Work space in the First Tennessee Bank Building in September 2013.
“We run on a contract-free model, so you’re not locked into anything longer than you need to be,” Fitzgerald explains.
The menu of options is designed to meet an individual’s needs. As noted on the company’s webpage, there are six packages currently available with more coming once the new space is available. The lowest price is a one-day pass that costs $25 and allows access during normal business hours. Monthly fees for two days each work week and a seat at a table are $125 with the prices increasing as access increases, additional services like conference room access are provided, and a dedicated office is secured.
“We give people what they need,” Fitzgerald says. “If they don’t know, we talk them through it.”
The move to the Edney Innovation Center will allow Society of Work to better meet the needs of certain clients.
“We have more demand for small office space,” Fitzgerald says. The old location had five offices; the new one will have 14. As far as the co-working space, it will be the same size.
The demand for more walled offices was not what she imagined in the initial business plan.
“We have to adapt,” Fitzgerald says.
Society of Work is not intended to serve just one niche such as technology entrepreneurs, creatives, remote workers and freelancers. Rather, she sees it as the place where individuals with different backgrounds and interests interact.
“The most impactful collaboration comes when all people are not in the same industry,” Fitzgerald believes.
NEXT: A photo tour of the Edney Innovation Center.