Editor’s note: Startland News selected the top Kansas City firms to spotlight for its annual Startups to Watch list. The following is one of 2018’s companies. To view the full, ranked list of Startups to Watch, click here.
A month after Plexpod announced it would grow its footprint to more than 220,000 square feet total with the acquisition of Think Big Coworking, talk of expanding the brand even further continues.
“The demand, the expectation, the requests just keep coming,” said Gerald Smith, co-founder of Plexpod. “We have identified a couple more projects in Kansas City — one that is under way — so on some level we’re pacing ourselves with what we’re sensing as demand and the balance of risk.”
The 3-year-old community coworking startup now operates spaces in the Crossroads, Westport and Lenexa, Kansas. The concept resonates with Kansas Citians because of the people working behind the scenes, Smith said.
“It’s a concierge model, and we’re trying to take care of people and be intentional about helping them grow,” he said. “It’s basic interactions between people, but once we do our part and people start connecting — whether that’s in the facilities or with clientele introductions or events — there’s just a secret sauce around it.”
“Another way to think about that: Imagine if we didn’t have any of these facilities like Plexpod. Where would you make those connections?” Smith added. “When you think about the stimulus for growth in economic development through growth stage new business, you’ve got to have places where you can gather critical mass. These smaller facilities are great, but I think when you get into a city like Kansas City, which I thinks is pretty grand and the tip of the spear for entrepreneurism, we need something to showcase. And that’s what our vision was: building something to really match Kansas City.”
Plexpod benefits from Smith’s years of business experience — which is a point of pride for the founder. But equally important are the skillsets of everyone else involved with the startup, Smith said, noting such top-level talents as Bob Berkebile, founding principal of BNIM Architecture, and David Brain, a longtime real estate investment executive.
“We’ve been very fortunate to attract the right type of investors, partnerships that catch our vision,” he said. “If you come to one of our board meetings, frankly, it’s a pretty impressive group. That’s what’s driving our strategy: a collection of some pretty awesome minds, having people with a lot of experience.”
Vetting interested parties as Plexpod expands is equally vital, Smith said.
“When we pick up the phone and it’s someone from another city asking us to consider Plexpod for there, it’s who comes to the table that really matters the most,” he said. “There’s a lot that goes into this. We’re not just sitting around the table asking how we can sell desks. It’s about activating community and space.”
Part of Plexpod’s strategy involves capturing the defining features of the neighborhoods where the company renovates and retrofits facilities for coworking, Smith said.
“The flavors of Crossroads are already there in most of the buildings. Westport is really unique because of the historic school and attributes of that. But even our Lenexa facility was the first building along I-35 back in the 1960s. It was a built as a facility for an early telecommunications company,” he said. “Those things matter to us. Not all areas of the city have the same richness of history, but it is fun making those connections.”