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Melanie Banayat of Wingspace: First Coworking Space in County

On June 20, 2018, Melanie Banayat was interviewed by Sajid Islam about founding Wingspace.

Wingspace is a 3,000 square foot space located in a tiny, desert town of Prescott, Arizona.  Despite its relatively small size, Wingspace has a great energy about it. It was the first coworking space in the entire county.  In fact, before she started this project, Melanie, herself, never heard of coworking.

Background

Melanie worked from home for almost her whole adult life.  She had been doing it for so long that it got to the point where she was tired of working alone.  She wanted to be around other independent workers like her.

Some people can make working from home or a cafe work.  Melanie was not one of them. She was working full-time as a holistic health coach.  It only took one session with a client in a cafe for her to realize that it was not going to work.  As a health coach, her clients opened up about their vulnerabilities. A cafe, which is full of other people, was not the place for that.  So she her home art studio into a consultation office. She was able to make that work for the next five years. However, her kids, who were teenagers at the time, were not the cleanest.  While she could make the home office work, it just was not set up properly for optimal business.

Help From a Local College

The first place she went to when starting her project was a local college called Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.  Melanie knew they had a business consulting program for their seniors. This program basically gives a small business a team of students for their senior project.  The professor loved Melanie’s idea and gave her a team of seven students, four more than any other group.

Melanie met with the students and put together a plan for what they were going to accomplish during the semester.  These had to be measurable goals. The students helped with surveying the area and using social media to spread word and find people who would get involved.  This got people talking about the project. Local businesses got word of the project started tagging people on it. After awhile, people started reaching out asking if Melanie needed help.  

Melanie even went to the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to ask if they had any resources to help or if they knew anyone who would be interested.  The SBDC contacted her a month later. They found a college student who used to work in a coworking space and was looking to open his own. Melanie built connections from people hearing about her project and wanting to be a part of it.

Bringing in Members

The first thing Melanie did to get a community of members going was hosting a sign-up night at a local bar.  A bunch of people showed up, 15 people even signed up to be members before she had a location. These 15 people paid for their first month membership and committed to a six month membership at a discounted rate.  A month later she found a space and those same 15 people showed up with their family members to help get the space ready.

Additionally, Melanie mentioned how easy marketing was for her on things like Craigslist.  Since she is located in a smaller area, there is not as much competition for visibility. She used pictures with people in them for her ads to make them more inviting.  This worked really well for filling private offices and shared offices with dedicated desks — they are all completely filled.

Events and Community

Melanie signed up for training classes with Angel Kwiatkowski and Tony Bacigalupo.  They both kept reiterating how important is was to build community first.

Wingspace has weekly “lunch and learns.”  However, Melanie wanted it to be more than just an overview of a business.  She wanted someone to teach a skill that they had and give a class on it. This gave people insight on how that skill can impact them too.  They also had classes surrounding personal development like confidence building classes. These are well attended every week.

Wingspace also has happy hour on Fridays.  It is a bring your own beverage event that allows people to just get to know each other.  On these days, they end work a little early and hangout. As Wingspace continues to grow, they will slowly be adding in more activities.  They even plan on doing a monthly mixer with guest speakers in the evenings.

 

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