Canvs: Orlando’s Creative Co-Working Space
One could write a doctoral thesis on why Florence produced the Italian Renaissance, why the colonies birthed the vision that became the United States or why the San Francisco Bay area fostered Silicon Valley. One thing is clear: innovative collaborative environments spawn or should we say, ‘manifest,’ genius that would otherwise lie dormant.
This conviction led Philip Holt and his associates in the tech community to start Canvs, a not-for-profit organization focused on helping tech startup companies and entrepreneurs. The 15,000-sq.ft. shared office space in the Church Street Exchange downtown looks like a modern, well-crafted business studio, with rows of tables made from recycled wood doors, glass-enclosed conference rooms, a full kitchen and private office options. But it is the synergistic byproduct of bringing tech entrepreneurs together that is its primary rationale.
“We provide a co-working environment for early stage technology companies that might otherwise have difficulty finding space,” explained Canvs Managing Director Necole Pynn. “Canvs has a flexible membership ranging from a Community Desk at $250 a month with access from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., to a Dedicated Desk at $450 with 24/7 access or even a Dedicated Office along with other amenities. In addition, they can participate in community events or mentorships. Currently we can accommodate over 160 people.”
For Pynn, Canvs’ mission is not just a plaque on a wall; it is a passion. She started working with Canvs as a volunteer, which according to Holt is how you know someone is really committed. Their mission is lofty, but one they are convinced they will achieve: “To assist in the transformation of Orlando into a nationally recognized center for technology startups. Canvs hopes to increase the odds of success for startups and to inspire more people to take the startup journey.”
Turning Their Pain Into Others’ Gain
Holt’s connection with Canvs was born out of his own experience of starting a company three years ago. That company transitioned into what is now known as SPYLT. Reflecting on his entrepreneurial experience he said, “Getting started is really hard; the ascent up the learning curve to figure out what you need to do to create a business and to raise institutional money to support it, is not an easy climb. Were it not for a couple of very fortuitous relationships, like the fact that my neighbor owned a boat with a guy who is a venture capitalist, I’m not sure I would have been successful.”
As he shares his story, it is clear he is not only looking at the future of his business, but the future of the region as well. “I care about this area because I have three daughters, who I want to graduate from college and choose to work in Orlando. That means the city needs to have lots of opportunities. If that is the case, then it shouldn’t be so difficult to create a business here. That path shouldn’t depend on the kind of fortuitous relationships that mine did.”
Holt’s experience birthed a realization: they needed figure out how to make that path easier. That goal led him to Aaron Gray at Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate company, who came to an event where Holt was a panelist. He was speaking about what Florida needed to do to accelerate its tech economy. Gray concluded that the community wanted to cluster, but there was no gathering place.
Gray’s company got the leasing rights for the Church Street Exchange property and they invited several tech CEOs to an event, over a year ago, to pitch the idea. Holt was immediately sold on the concept, but six months later it was still a dream. As Holt’s needs for space were evolving, along with Gray, the other three partners in his company and numerous likeminded people in the community, the wheels that eventually led to Canvs started turning.
The Crucial Urban Angle
“Startups are inherently vehicles for delivering innovation and hopefully that innovation leads to market disruption,” Holt said. “By definition, innovation is the act of doing something that has never been done before. That is a very difficult process to go through and you look for sources of inspiration to keep you going in the pursuit.”
According to Holt, startups are increasingly concentrating in city cores because, as he says, “that density of people leads to collisions; collisions lead to the exchange of ideas and you never know which idea will be truly a breakthrough concept.”
The other factor Holt says is part of the startup equation is that failure is inherent in the journey. “Some are able to pivot through their failures for a reiteration that leads to success. For some, you don’t and your business goes out of business. There is value in both those experiences and if you are surrounded with others in that space, they are going to clamor to get you on their team.”
Being around others not only lowers a startup’s risk of failure, as they are able to strategize with those who are further along on the same path, but emotionally and professionally, it provides a safety net for the inevitable falls.
Describing what this could mean, Holt said, “We want this place to birth businesses that will transform Orlando into a nationally recognized center for technology startups. When you think about San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Portland or Austin, Orlando should be in that same conversation. We have just as many assets as those communities do.”
“But,” he points out, “the top of the funnel, the beginning of the entrepreneurial journey, is so difficult. We want to focus on helping people make it through those formative stages. How do we ensure their success and inspire more people to start the journey?
“San Francisco’s big secret isn’t their institutions of higher learning or access to venture capital. It is that everyone in that town has a startup idea; everyone is either working on a startup or believes they could build a startup, from the engineer to the person waiting on tables. That is their secret.”