The rows of computer desks — with aspiring innovators sitting at them — in a renovated building in downtown Chandler symbolize the secret to future business success, Derek Neighbors said.
“Building the company and having people come to the company, those days are over,” he said. “The good companies, the Googles and Facebooks of the world, go to where the good people are.”
This is the vision of Gangplank, a nonprofit group Neighbors co-founded that offers free space for technology professionals to come together, share ideas and develop products and business models. The community recently moved into a 6,600-square-foot facility at 260 S. Arizona Ave.
Twelve “anchor” companies — the largest is Integrum Technologies, a software-development consultant operation owned by Neighbors — call the facility home. An average of 70 individuals per week drop in with their laptop computers.
No rent is required, just an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to share.
“It’s a natural fit for me to come down and work a couple days a week and collaborate with the people out of here,” said Greg Taylor of Tempe, whose GRT Studios is a one-man digital marketing shop.
“The biggest benefit is a sense of community. There are a lot of like-minded people launching their own companies and products. I can see innovation happen first-hand. If I have a challenge with a client on a technical standpoint, there’s someone who can help me.”
Such an atmosphere was sorely lacking in the Valley, Neighbors said, when he regularly met for lunch with others owners of technology startup companies. Some of his colleagues expressed a desire to leave the Phoenix area due to a lack of adequate staffing, networking and capital.
Neighbors and co-founder Jade Meskill formed Gangplank in 2008, and the Arizona Avenue location is its third. Chandler awarded the group a $400,000 grant for building renovation, and in turn, Gangplank provides the city with consulting and community services and contributes to local schools and charities.
“They bring a whole new segment of business to the downtown,” said Teri Killgore, downtown redevelopment manager for Chandler. “Up to now, employers have been financial-based or government-based. Bringing in a tech element is a nice expansion of the downtown economy. They bring in a whole new genre of people and created interesting new connections with the outreach events they have done. …
“They bring new energy to the downtown. I think it’s been a very good match.”
Among the outreach events are noon brown-bag seminars given by local entrepreneurs. Last week, a representative of Cruz Tequila paid a visit — and yes, a tasting was conducted.
From the two coin-operated video games near the break room to the electric guitar sitting by a wall, it is clear that Gangplank is primarily populated by Generation X and younger.
It is business with attitude, but also with an altruistic purpose: collaboration above competition.
“It takes a very specific group of people, and I’m not sure if this would catch on everywhere,” said Stephanie Leibold of Tempe, who brings her Bold Ave. graphic design business to Gangplank twice a week. “You’ve got people here with a passion for this who are making it happen. Without someone that committed, it wouldn’t happen. Most co-working spaces you hear about are a for-profit thing. Not everybody has that kind of vision.
“This is not for everybody. It’s not supposed to be. It’s a long-range, let’s-make-a-change type of thing.”
Said Taylor: “The people that are helping me with the day-to-day operations of my company, technically, you could call them competitors. But I choose to think of them as friends.”
Gangplank plans to expand the Arizona Avenue space, adding a second floor and such amenities as conference rooms and a recording studio.
“Our vision of being a free space and having true collaboration where people are potentially making world-changing projects are parallel goals,” said Katie Charland, Gangplank director of operations. “We’re working toward projects that will change the community as well as grow businesses.”