The first time I met Kaciem Swain better known as Swain was about about 2 years ago at a mutual friend's networking luncheon in Manhattan. Fast forward to 2015 and I have become a great admirer of this young man and his ability to take turn countless creative visions into reality.
His newest project is Spark + Thrive, a boutique co-working space his startup agency FlagshipUltra is bringing to the Arbor Hill neighborhood in upstate NY. As a freelancer I first hand know how vital neighborhood co-working spaces are to creatives, so I reached out to Swain to learn more about Spark+Thrive, and what he's got planned next for the Albany community.
RS: Why do you want to open a co-working space?
KS: I chose coworking as a business concept and real estate startup because I understand the barriers to starting, running and growing a small business. After permits, fees and licenses, if you’re to obtain a space to scale within, you still have monthly rent (security deposit, first month, last month), utilities (heat, hot water, gas, electricity), insurance (general liability) and other obligations. That’s before you even make a hire or purchase any equipment or furniture.
I wanted to lower those barriers to opportunities for creatives, freelancers, startups and the professional entrepreneur. I also wanted to create and cultivate a community and workforce in the Arbor Hill neighborhood.
RS: Was there a particular reason you wanted to open it in Arbor Hill?
KS: I grew up in Arbor Hill spending every weekend with my father. Working in the gardens, selling collard greens on Henry Johnson Boulevard. He used to cook for everyone’s cookouts and family reunions, including our families who moved there from Mississippi and Alabama. Seeing him in the community whenever people needed him didn’t seem like much to me until I became an adult. I wanted to bring new, sustainable businesses into Arbor Hill while promoting home ownership within the neighborhood to the community and oncoming business owners. Overall, our mission is to promote Arbor Hill as a progressive community deserving of attention and support.
RS: I love the name SPARK+THRIVE for the coworking space. How did that name come about?
KS: I love storytelling. Learning how entrepreneurs achieved their idea of success. The word “SPARK” comes from the ideation and beginning the process of a business, I envisioned an undying flame as a result of a SPARK and how “THRIVE” would fit, being it was the original brand name and how the two words could tell a story.
So “SPARK+THRIVE” as the name is telling the story of our members and community. The ideas, inspiration and concepts that lead to starting a business, that’s the SPARK. The customers, partnerships, business development, risk-taking, failures and hiring or scaling is how they THRIVE.
RS: What can fellow entrepreneurs, freelancers, and creatives get out of using a co-working space like SPARK+THRIVE versus simply working from home or a coffee shop? Is there really a difference?
KS: Working from home can be isolating and boring – and coffee shops can be expensive and distracting. In the four to eight hours, you spend squatting for wifi, you’ve brought several coffees and food or snack. The same cost of a drop in at a coworking space. But when you cowork, the inspiration surrounds you & goes through the roof. You’re surrounded by dozens of passionate founders, creatives, and professionals moving towards the same dream.
In 24 months, the number of coworking spaces worldwide have increased by 400 percent. Growth proves the validity of the model because it offers both community and collaboration, which forward-thinking entrepreneurs are looking for. I want to help you find the right people. The value of coworking is in the relationships, far more than the resources we can provide. In just a short amount of time, you've developed a network that you can instantly ask advice from – on anything.
RS: How will SPARK+THRIVE set itself apart from other coworking places?
KS: Unlike other co-working spaces in the Capital Region, SPARK+THRIVE is located in a high growth neighborhood with low barriers to entry for businesses that want to launch and expand. When you grow we're going to help you stay in Arbor Hill. We have partnerships with the local government and community at large in the works that will give us a unique advantage in helping entrepreneurs SPARK+THRIVE their ideas.
RS: What’s next for FlagshipUltra?
KS: Being that we're launching our first brick and mortar real estate startup, we're going to pitch for investors in SPARK+THRIVE, look for furniture and equipment donations and focus on developing partnerships.
This year, our social & performance event "T.E.A: Talk. Eat. Art." grew out of Foster House Studios at The Washington Avenue Armory and into The Madison Theater. We've now outgrown that venue as well and are looking for a new home and sponsors for the event, which attracts over 150 people. I'd like to start serving tapas and mixed drinks so we're looking to partner with a venue that has a kitchen and would like to start working with local chefs for rotating menus.
Overall, I think for our next NEW project, we'll do a series of pop-up shops throughout the Capital Region, starting in Arbor Hill & use those for research to determine what we want to focus on in either digital or physical.