They often fly under the general radar, but when it comes to branding Bradenton business on a global scale or helping a local entrepreneur navigate a changing business world, Station 2 Innovation Center is at the epicenter of it all.
“The world is changing from the traditional graduate from college getting a career into an independent economy,” Station 2 and Spark Growth co-founder Stan Schultes said. “A lot of jobs are turning into non-employees to contractors, consultants or independent workers, which make up more than 40 percent of jobs today. And most of the jobs in the U.S., about 95 percent, are in companies with less than 30 people so the trend is very much small business focused.”
What Station 2 offers is a montage of services in the world of business incubation and co-working, but is essentially networking on steroids with Shultes and partner Sara Hand being plugged into business world at the highest levels locally, nationally and a growing global network of business superstars.
On Feb. 20, Spark Growth will host the sixth annual Leaders Conference at the Manatee Performing Arts Center. It brings representatives from the largest and fastest growing industries in America to Bradenton. When the pair first opened Station 2, it wasn’t just a goal to build their business and business opportunities for others, it was to highlight everything Bradenton has to offer. Top speakers who once came on the dime of their universities or businesses now pay their own way back simply to learn about the Friendly City.
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We provide that place where people connect. It’s the primordial soup where there are a lot of resources that gives the economic ecosystem an opportunity for cool stuff to happen.
Sara Hand, Station 2 Innovation Center
“Most people see us running a co-working space, but don’t see us doing business growth,” Hand said. “For us, it’s what we do locally and how it scales out from there. It’s taken some time, but we’ve built those trusted relationships.”
Shultes said, it’s “bottom up economic development, which is very different. The National Entrepreneur Center calls is ‘Main Street Gardening.’ It’s growing business locally and then provide the resources to learn things you don’t learn in school. You can earn an MBA in school, but let’s face it, you aren’t taught how to run a business in school. We offer that pipeline to those kind of resources.”
Hand compared it to an environmental ecosystem where every small part makes up a bigger picture. She said it’s no different for an economic ecosystem.
“You can’t own the entire ecosystem, but you can be a good steward of it and then you are part of the process of growth,” she said. “We provide that place where people connect. It’s the primordial soup where there are a lot of resources that gives the economic ecosystem an opportunity for cool stuff to happen.”
Station 2 offers those resources, but at its heart is to provide a space for entrepreneurs to work and grow their ideas. Over the past two years, the pair have remodeled the old historic firehouse at 912 Seventh Ave. W. to add several office spaces. Some spaces offer a serene atmosphere for quiet work while other spaces are designed for those wanting to work on their ideas with others. There are also larger spaces for conference rooms and they recently added a small studio space for recording opportunities or even broadcast a podcast show.
But it’s more homey than office like, and that’s the key to the modern-day worker who doesn’t want to be trapped at an office desk. They feel like they also are located in the perfect area for innovation given what’s in store for the eastern edge of downtown Bradenton. With Riverwalk soon expanding eastward, the new 520-unit apartment complex under construction, the fact that Old Manatee is the city’s first entertainment district, “We are the next extension of downtown Bradenton,” Schultes said.
Hand took it one step further, saying, “We are the cool part of downtown and in the meantime, all these changes are happening around us, so we are positioned well to do some incredible stuff.”
The final piece of the puzzle to really launch local business growth is to understand that you really don’t have to do it alone, and while it’s important to have self branding, accept that you are part of a bigger picture and take advantage of that. Hand said Bradenton has its own identity, but there is nothing wrong with enjoying being part of the Tampa Bay regional affect, especially as Tampa enjoys being one of the top Florida cities for job growth.
You can earn an MBA in school, but let’s face it, you aren’t taught how to run a business in school.
Stan Schultes, Station 2 Innovation Center
“If you look at top cities where cool stuff is happening, you don’t see that individualism,” Hand said. “Regionalism and place making can exist at the same time. We are part of the Tampa region that allows Bradenton to compete globally, however Bradenton has our own unique story to tell. It’s like when someone says they love their kids exactly the same. No they don’t. They love them for different reasons. We have all these unique things that make us a Bradenton family, but we can be part of a bigger family when we look at the region.”
Hand said think of Bradenton and Sarasota as siblings and, “We are family, but Bradenton is different than Sarasota and that’s the way we want it.”
Hand and Schultes have introduced Bradenton to some of the top names in business from Google to Amazon and are working with some familiar local names working on some potentially groundbreaking, and in some cases lifesaving business models. There will be a lot more to come as the pair brings the world to Bradenton one business at a time while bringing Bradenton businesses to the world.
In the meantime, visit station2innovation.com to learn more or see how you can get your business idea off the ground.