Creative Economy: Ability to Engage Leads to Inspiration

12 Nov, 2012

In This Article

Creatives expect a favorable balance between work and life.

By Rachel Duran

Entrepreneurs typically find themselves thinking about the next step and how they can add value to their products and/or services. At the same time they need not only access to support networks and resources, but also creative work spaces to foster further innovations.

An expanding trend in office development finds a variety of companies embracing a newer category of real estate: creative space. Ernst & Young says creative space is a combination of R&D and traditional office space, with pieces borrowed from laboratories, and even retail.

Creative space developments are taking hold in locations such as San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City and Bowling Green, Ky.

“What is going on in certain markets where real estate is tight has been a trend toward converting old or abandoned spaces,  such as lofts, churches and so forth, into creative office spaces,” says Catherine Von Seggern, senior manager, Ernst & Young. In San Francisco, creative space development has been driven by tech firms. “Tech companies are going after creative spaces and sometimes they are less expensive to renovate as compared to traditional office spaces,” Von Seggern notes.

Von Seggern adds creative spaces assist tech companies with workforce concerns. “A key business driver is their people, who are creating software and coming up with creative ideas,” she says. “Having a creative space that is pleasurable to work in is important to attracting and retaining talent.”

What’s more, this real estate is typically not located in office building cores, which creates growth in other parts of cities. “There may be a spreading out of the urban and business cores,” Von Seggern notes. She says companies exploring creative spaces should ensure infrastructure such as subway and/or train access is available; and that the employees are located in a safe environment. Also consider the surroundings to ensure employees are able to run errands on breaks, such as to grocery stores or dry cleaners.

Tech industries aren’t the only ones interested in creative work spaces; so are industries with a creative bent such as TV and production studios and architectural firms. Moreover, Ernst & Young located operations to a converted tobacco loft in Richmond, Va., moving from the city’s central business district.

Companies remain on the lookout for a combination of solutions to meet their workplace needs; however, fewer and fewer companies desire traditional offices. “There are definitely more creative spaces and more social spaces,” Von Seggern says. “People are seeking social interaction.”

“When we first heard the local utility built the network … we knew no one else has a gigabit, this is ridiculously different,” says Jack Studer, partner, Lamp Post Group. “It is a head start. In the tech world you don’t get head starts because things happen so quickly.”

Connection Junction

The need for social interaction and the ability to attract and retain talent, not to mention the need to expand, is behind’s planned move from a 7,000-square-foot space to a 15,000-square-foot space in Bowling Green. The new space will include not only the latest in technologies and architectural design, it will also feature open spaces and huddle spaces to conduct small group meetings, a mini café serving breakfast and lunch, and the addition of more games and recreational activities so talent can blow off steam, and brainstorm ideas.

“Part of our problem in Bowling Green has been retaining good programmers, who move to Nashville and other large cities,” says Clinton Mills, CEO, “This is one of our ways to keep people here.” is a software development and creative agency; one of its products is Omniprise,, a business solution software. The company was founded by twin brothers Clinton and Chris Mills 13 years ago while they were still in high school; the firm initially sold Web advertising. The employment base has grown from two employees to 60 employees.

“We like young, innovative people who we can train in the way we are used to working,” Mills says. The need for skilled programmers and developers has led to a collaboration between and Western Kentucky University’s computer science department in order to secure the best talent. “The community has been good to us and the staff we have found here has been unbelievable, as well as the talent [base] to harvest,” Mills notes.

Moving to Chattanooga, Tenn., the Lamp Post Group combines the resources of a startup incubator with the financial investment capabilities of a venture capital firm. This past summer the organization hosted Gig Tank, which was an internship program and business competition. Participating college students and entrepreneurs formed businesses and developed ideas that would tap into the advantages of the city’s high-speed Internet, which runs at 1-gigbit-per second. The ultra-fast Internet was built by EPB, Chattanooga’s community-owned electric utility.

“When we first heard the local utility built the network … we knew no one else has a gigabit, this is ridiculously different,” says Jack Studer, partner, Lamp Post Group. “It is a head start. In the tech world you don’t get head starts because things happen so quickly.”

The results of the Gig Tank competition include a $100,000 prize awarded to Banyan, an entrepreneurial team which has the idea for cloud-based control systems to conduct research. Team Babel Sushi won the $50,000 student prize for its free translation application.

In Atlanta, Invest Atlanta launched its new program, Start Up Atlanta, in August via a streaming broadcast on the Web. A video competition was also announced at the launch, where entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to describe their products, how they impact the community and/or the world, and why the companies operate from Atlanta.  Contestants uploaded their videos to and the top 10 videos with the most likes advanced to the semifinals, says Eloisa Klementich, director of business development, Invest Atlanta and program manager of Start Up Atlanta.

The winner of the video competition was announced in October at Venture Atlanta, the largest venture capital event in the southern United States. The $10,000 prize went to TOHL, which was started by four Georgia Tech graduates. They have created processes to quickly install water transport infrastructure for humanitarian applications.

The idea behind the formation of Start Up Atlanta was all about people, and the region’s leadership doing a better job of connecting people with ideas with the metro’s plethora of tools and resources available to entrepreneurs. Start Up Atlanta and its partners have catalogued 350 groups in the metro that touch the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“Atlanta has a long history of entrepreneurship and innovation,” Klementich says. “It is in Atlanta’s DNA.” She notes that Atlanta’s entrepreneurial environment, with the combination of its vast support network and local higher education institutions, is the true heartbeat of Atlanta. “With innovation and entrepreneurs … they are always thinking of the next step, ‘how can I add value?’” Klementich notes. “We have the creativity and innovations to make your endeavor successful.”

“You know, a lot of people talk about letting employees have free time to explore some of their ideas,” says Clinton Mills, CEO, “You want to allow people to play around with new technologies and not always be worried about the bottom line.”

People Rule!

In Chattanooga, the Lamp Post Group invests in people more than ideas and specific industry focuses. “Our mindset is if the idea fails, we believe that good people won’t fail,” Studer says. “We can take this awesome person and plug them into one of our other companies.” Companies include those involved in logistics, trucking, sporting goods manufacturing, software developers and an online news company. The incubator has experienced organic growth, where one startup will spin out another company.

Studer says the region’s Internet infrastructure allows innovators and investors to push forward with a variety of projects to attract people, capital and ideas to the city. Gig Tank II will take place next summer. “This initiative proved to Chattanooga that we can do this techie startup stuff,” Studer notes. “I want companies to know that as a city we have a balance of quality of living and technological advancement not found anywhere else. The cost of living is inexpensive. From our office in the heart of downtown, I am literally 10 minutes from the mountains, and 10 minutes from the water.”

Studer admits there is an appeal to being in the heart of bustling cities; however, people want options from locations such as San Francisco, Boston or New York City. “It is cool for Chattanooga to be an option,” he says.

Adds Mills: “We like Bowling Green, the seasons, and raising our kids here. There are so many great things about this community that we love.” is doing its part to support the revitalization of downtown Bowling Green, to create both a business and entertainment destination.’s new space is part of a 108,000-square-foot building wrap around a parking garage, which was completed last year. The new Class A office, four-story facility is located next to a new ballpark, and a performing arts center. The first floor of the development will feature restaurants.

Business owners realize talent demands a healthy balance of work and recreation. has taken an approach that gives employees free time at the job. “You know, a lot of people talk about letting employees have free time to explore some of their ideas,” Mills says. “You want to allow people to play around with new technologies and not always be worried about the bottom line.”

Draw a Stickman is a result of the free time given to employees to foster ideas. At, users draw a stickman of any size or shape, and watch the creation interact with different scenes and tasks. Users can draw various options to interact with different characters and situations, according to the Web site. The stickman site has had 65 million views. has spun off the “Draw a Stickman Epic” computer game, which launched October 26. The game features pencils, draw elements, tools, and weapons that allow users to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles. The game combines adventure, puzzle, action and creative thinking.

“What is neat about this is that we get to work for ourselves,” Mills says. “It has been fun to do something creative on our side. We are excited about what the future will bring.”

For complete details about the organizations in this article, visit:

Draw A Stick Man,

Ernst & Young,

Gig Tank,,

Invest Atlanta,

Lamp Post Group,

Start Up Atlanta,

Rachel Duran

Rachel Duran is the editor in chief for Business Xpansion Journal. Contact her at

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