A community asset

Campfire Coworks looking to be innovative

Campfire Coworks is planning to use the former Ampersand Coworking space along West Washington Street in Marquette as a place to promote entrepreneurship and innovation. It is hoped the site will be used for training, programming and other activities. Using the site are, from left, Chris Koehs, Ryan Blowers and Matt Landers. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Campfire Coworks is expected to — pardon the pun — “rekindle” the space at the former Ampersand Coworking, located along West Washington Street in Marquette.

Leading the effort is Keith Glendon, founder and CEO of the technology company LucidCoast, and strategy and business development leader for a division of IBM called Security Expert Labs. Assisting him is his wife, Clair MacGregor, who Glendon said has business experience and is a good operational manager as well.

Ampersand, a shared work space in the Upper Peninsula Masonic Center, ended following the dissolution of the Marquette Chamber of Commerce in November due to financial issues.

“We’re trying to rekindle the flame here, but in a new way, and yes, coworking is still a core piece of it, but we’re looking at a different approach to the coworking revenue model,” Glendon said, “and also, how do you better utilize this space for community benefit and how do we better utilize this space for longer-term economic benefit for the community?”

That, he noted, might take the form of business coaching and services in partnership with Innovate Marquette SmartZone, Northern Initiatives or the Lake Superior Community Partnership, which could involve private classes to help entrepreneurs or would-be entrepreneurs.

Other possibilities, he said, include revenues from innovative events, sponsorships and grants.

Glendon said Campfire Coworks, which will have a “gradual launch,” has a three-phase plan: triage, growth and community value.

“Right now, the space is operating at a loss because nobody has really been marketing it and it’s been in this holding pattern,” he said. “So, the first thing I have to do is just starting getting it to the point where we can cover costs.”

The Upper Peninsula Masonic Association owns the building at 128 W. Washington St. in which Campfire Coworks — which is leasing from the group — would be located.

Glendon said the Upper Peninsula Masonic Association board has authorized the sale of the building and the creation of a new nonprofit.

“What they’re trying to do is build a business plan that allows them to refinance this building under some new and different terms and then be able to do some more creative things with the building as a nonprofit,” he said.

Ryan Engle, business manager for the Upper Peninsula Masonic Center, said he and LucidCoast have been trying to come up with a solution to use the space how it was meant to be used.

“With this Campfire Coworks, it’s going to be toward that goal,” Engle said.

However, it’s not just about survival.

That’s when the second phase comes into play, with Glendon noting that growth has to go beyond just covering costs and instead become a profitable business.

“On top of that, it’s how do we expand and really create community value with this asset?” Glendon asked.

He said there already are anchor tenants, which include LucidCoast, that serve as a revenue foundation. However, more tenants need to be brought in for additional revenue.

“It’s about marketing and promotion and business development,” Glendon said. “I think what’s happened in the past is that the chamber was never just beyond triage. The chamber was left holding a bag. They tried to make a go at it, and then they had to dissolve, and the Masons were left holding the bag.

“The difference for me in part is that I’m not starting from negative.”

Instead, he’s picking up from where it was left off, he said, so he can market Campfire Coworks in a creative way.

The challenge, Glendon said, is making “creative capital stacking” so there are revenue streams from rent, grant-funded opportunities, sponsorships, potential equity investments in small businesses that want to start, and more programming.

He said Campfire Coworks is applying for an i6 grant.

“It’s federal money that helps small towns like ours really springboard entrepreneurship and innovation in the new economy,” Glendon said.

If awarded, the grant, he pointed out, would fund things such as entrepreneurship boot camps, training and coding classes, among others.

And eventually, people might be able to stay in the Marquette area if they can work remotely in a “new economy” job.

“It’s about looking as this asset not just as a coworking space but as a foundational asset to a much bigger story,” Glendon said, “and that’s going to take a long-term view.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.