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Wednesday, 07 May 2014 22:13

Entrepreneur launches Inge’s Place co-working space in Battle Creek

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Inge’s Place offers some of the first co-working space in Battle Creek geared toward small businesses, startups and nonprofits. The facility offers affordable rent and a place for businesses to meet with clients, said Atlee McFellin, who launched the co-working concept in the building that’s been owned by his family for years. Inge’s Place offers some of the first co-working space in Battle Creek geared toward small businesses, startups and nonprofits. The facility offers affordable rent and a place for businesses to meet with clients, said Atlee McFellin, who launched the co-working concept in the building that’s been owned by his family for years. COURTESY PHOTO

Entrepreneur Adam Heikkila was looking for a space to meet with clients, but he couldn’t afford to pay too much as he was just beginning to launch his electronics repair business.

Earlier this year, he began renting an office at Inge’s Place, a three-story building in downtown Battle Creek that offers one of the city’s first co-working spaces. Heikkila’s business, Phone Guy, provides repair services for cell phones and electronics such as personal computers and laptops.

“Most of my customers feel more comfortable coming to a meeting space,” he said. “I’ve been meeting people all over town, including (at) gas stations. They feel more secure if they can meet at a place so they know I’m not just trying to scam them.”

For $145 a month, Heikkila gets a desk on the second floor, the use of the building’s address as his business location, Internet and Wi-Fi access, the use of a copier and printer one floor down and a large meeting space where he can meet clients.

Turning the majority of the 15,500-square-foot building into a space for fledgling businesses was the idea of Atlee McFellin, who was born and raised in Battle Creek and is the grandson of the building’s former owners. McFellin is a co-founder & principal of The SymCenter LLC, an organization specializing in the creation of innovative economic development strategies and programs headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio.

The space filled what McFellin saw as a need in the market.

Battle Creek Unlimited has some incubator space out at Fort Custer, but they’re focused on middle-market companies that could spin out from there,” McFellin said.

By comparison, Inge’s Place is focused on startups that are on a budget and need to get a space to use as a launching pad, he said.

“It seemed to me that a co-work space could fit well in Battle Creek and work well for startups and nonprofits to have their own space to work without paying a lot — and using the space to grow,” McFellin said.

The building was initially the headquarters for the Battle Creek Gas Company that supplied all of the city’s gas-powered street lights. McFellin’s grandparents purchased the 111-year-old building and a travel agency, both owned by the Ermisch family, in 1963. Ermisch Travel continues to be operated by McFellin’s mother and his aunt and uncle.

After his grandmother, Inge, passed away two years ago, McFellin said he wanted to find a way to honor her — as well as extend the life of the building.

“What I had seen was the travel agency shifting with the market. It had 20 or 30 employees back in the day, and now there are about five because most of the market has moved to online sites like Kayak or Expedia,” McFellin said. “This is a great historical building that has a lot of available space — like a lot of properties in the downtown area. Because Battle Creek didn’t have a co-work space, I thought that was a good way to breathe new life into the building.”

Inge’s Place officially opened last year and now has five tenants: The Phone Guy, Sprout Urban Gardens, Allstate Insurance Co., the Calhoun County Arts Council and a graphic design business.

The majority of these tenants are paying $145 per month in rent for their own key and 24-hour access to the building. McFellin said he also is planning to offer a $75 monthly café rate that would give tenants an office space on the first floor with access during normal business hours.

Organizations renting multiple desks receive a bulk discount and those tenants with bigger budgets pay more than the $145 fee for monthly rent.

There are three offices spread over 3,800 square feet on the second floor. Two of them could accommodate four or five desks and one located in the middle has space for a single desk. The bulk of the space hasn’t been renovated since the 1960s or 1970s as evidenced by its décor.

The third floor remains vacant and McFellin said he doesn’t think anything has been done to it since 1915. As the cash flow increases along with the number of tenants, McFellin hopes to renovate the space, which could cost about $250,000 to make it rental ready.

Stephanie Breitbach, McFellin’s mother, said she likes the building’s new direction.

“It’s so wonderful because of the energy, increased traffic flow and creativity. It keeps growing and getting better,” Breitbach said. “It’s all people-oriented and it’s wonderful to see that energy and new faces.”

Heikkila said being in the building gives him structure and gets him out of his house and into a different environment. He said he also likes the impromptu brainstorming sessions with his fellow tenants.

McFellin said Inge’s Place is his way of bringing a new method of doing business to Battle Creek.

“Having a co-working space can actually fit well in the ability to attract and retain businesses in Battle Creek,” he said.

Read 6311 times Last modified on Thursday, 08 May 2014 14:26

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