BRADENTON -- Bradenton Innovation Center founders Sara Hand and Stan Schultes can see their visions of a bustling workspace as they walk through a former Bradenton fire station.
A wide-open collaborative workspace in one area, private lockers for laptops and equipment, showers for people who just don't have time to leave the office and a kitchen area to refuel the creative genius.
The two tech entrepreneurs from the firm Spark Growth now have the keys from the City of Bradenton to the former fire house and former housing authority office at 912 Seventh Ave. E. Now they're trying to organize funds to overhaul the building.
The accelerator center would work with growing, early-stage companies, borne out of a need for bootstrap businessmen and women to get out of their house, away from the coffee shop and into a professional environment. These companies inside the center would have mentoring and training resources to grow businesses and keep entrepreneurial students local.
"What we don't have is these networks that takes this brainpower and turn it into wealth," Hand said. The incubator and its programs could be that link between young entrepreneurs and successful business veterans in Bradenton, she said.
Schultes and Hand are expected to give a presentation on the center to the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 101 Old Main St.
The DDA could find ways to help support -- financially or administratively.
The couple also is seeking to form a partnership with the University of South Florida Foundation that could allow donations sent to the foundation to be eligible.
Discussions about a partnership are in the preliminary stages and an agreement has not been approved, as the university is still figuring out its potential involvement, said Charlie Terenzio, spokesman
for USF Sarasota-Manatee.
However, the center was granted a two-to-one funding match agreement with USF Connect earlier this year to help raise the initial funds. The incubator will be affiliated with USF Connect, but not a university-controlled incubator, Schultes said, and will have conversations with other area colleges to figure out how to share resources.
"We would love for students to come and hang out here," Schultes said.
The incubator needs everything from chairs to capital, Schultes said, and a non-profit agreement could help trigger donations if they are tax deductible. So far, the center itself is not a non-profit operation, but are trying to organize as one.
While they're filing paperwork to make donations possible, the center is in need of mentors that could help entrepreneurs, he added.
"We're looking for people to support what we're doing by becoming involved," Schultes said.
The certified National Business Incubator Association managers plan to sell memberships for the center to allow people to come in to just have some place to do a little work, offer classes to the general public and have businesses apply to have a semi-permanent home there, Hand said.
"It's important for people to understand that it's businesses that are accepted into incubator and accelerator programs and not people," Hand said. The center would not take an equity stake in businesses that are hosted at the center, she said.
The co-working space is the part targeted for individuals, Schultes added.
The center has a long way to go to be ready in early 2015 as planned. A new phone line is needed along with wireless Internet as the center is working on renovation plans with the city.
"We really can't do very much in terms of space until the space opens up and we get furniture in here," Schultes said. "It'll be a little while until we get furniture and some of the basics in here and financing for the renovations lined up."
The group plans to file grant requests this fall to help pay for the renovations, Schultes added.
"We're also looking for community support for people who want to help," he said.
The front entrance will have to be rebuilt, walls need to be knocked down and an elevator needs to be installed for wheelchair accessibility to the second floor. They're finding some surprises in the building that once served as Manatee Village's city hall, including a space used as a jail, a bank vault and a heavily modified front entrance.
"The goal is to involve as many businesses in the build-out as possible," Hand said. "It's about taking ownership."
Ward 5 City Councilman Harold Byrd is interested in what the center could do to help the historic Manatee Village that once featured a grocery store and had its own downtown-like pulse.
"There is a possibility for more of an eastern urban area for downtown Bradenton," Byrd said while stopping at the center for a tour. "When I look at incubator projects, I see a lot of small businesses coming together and being nurtured. If they love the area, they may be branching out to other vacant land."
The center's founders are bullish on Manatee Village, hoping that they will be a part of an uprising of the original East Manatee.
"In three to four years, this will be the hot spot to work," Hand said.
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.