One really can be the loneliest number if you’re starting a business, especially an innovative one that can succeed only by making inroads into unexplored technological applications.
That is an assumption Jackson attorney and entrepreneur Christopher Lomax is making with his Mantle Co-Working, a refuge in Fondren for start-up and established small business owners who can benefit from having creative and enterprising people around them.
“They can have affordable office space and the community around them to help their companies grow, especially in the early stages,” said Lomax, a 33-year-old Ole Miss law school grad and holder of an MBA from Millsaps College.
Members of the work-place collective soon to occupy 5,000 square feet in Duling Hall above the Babalu restaurant will be eligible to compete for one of up to three spots in an incubator Lomax is setting up at Mantle Co-Working. The idea is to help give birth to promising companies in the mobile application development field, he said as he stood in a long vacant classroom in what was once the Lorena Duling School.
“It’ll be up to three mobile tech companies per quarter,” he said, and added each incubated start-up will get a free year of classroom access as well as help on the business and legal side.
The Duling School closed down as an alternative school in the early 1990s. The building, though, gained new life as the Fondren community just north of Jackson emerged as a home to art galleries, restaurants, coffee shops and pubs. Situated on the north side of Duling Avenue, the circa 1927 building is already home to two of Fondren’s most popular eateries – Babalu and Saltine’s as well as Duling Hall, a concert venue and sometime auditorium for community theater.
Lomax said it surprised him to find the second-floor space. He assumed every inch of the Tudor Revival style former school building had been leased in the five years Fondren developer Mike Peters has offered space there.
When the opportunity came, Lomax snatched up the upstairs space and is converting it to a co-working space with a pair of classrooms furnished with desks, chalkboards, lockers and the latest telecom equipment, including CSpire’s new 1 Gbps fiber Internet service. “The whole campus will be wi-fied,” he said.
It’s a “walk-in plug-in” thing, he added.
The space also includes a pair f conference rooms and a lounge Lomax is equipping with coffee and tea fixtures and a beer tap or two.
He has also managed to configure a trio of private offices into the space. He had all three leased by the end of October, Lomax said.
Expect an early January opening, Lomax said.
Not an awful of work must be done, especially since the original wood flooring is intact. Mostly it is painting and getting the video screens and other electronic equipment installed, Lomax said.
Lomax said he began considering the co-working idea after some start-up struggles with his current company, Aimlistly, a social network and online shopping hub designed to connect local businesses to their consumers. He also has been watching the success nationally of such co-working enterprises as WeWork, a workplace membership community with a dozen locations across the United States and several more in Israel, the United Kingdom and The Netherlands.
As he began his own start-up, Lomax tried to rely on the cyber world for help overcoming obstacles. When that didn’t work, others advised him to join an incubator. The problem was there was not one.
“This is really about creating a middle ‘dot’ of a network for Mississippi for innovation and entrepreneurship,” Lomax said.