After working for 15 years for a large, local construction firm, Brent Gibson decided to strike out on his own. He founded his own construction company, Construction Simplified. His work kept him busy, too busy, in fact, to allow him time to network and make vital connections to grow his business. He came up with an idea—a collaborative work space that brought others involved in the construction, design, and real estate industry together with entrepreneurs servicing those industries.
In June 2017, the Blueprint Collaborative opened at 859 West Fulton. Gibson renovated a car mechanic’s garage, that had sat idle for a good long while, into a highly innovative work-space. He chose the location not only because he lives on the WestSide, but also because of the nature of the businesses he sought to bring together—a vibe he describes as being “a little more blue-collar, a different work ethic.”
“Our coworking and incubator space is full of industry-specific entrepreneurs and small businesses in the construction, design, and real estate industry,” says Kim Reed, Community Connector for the Blueprint Collaborative. “We are a small business full of small businesses. Our passion is to help people build their businesses and grow the entrepreneurial spirit of Grand Rapids.”
For $150 a month, drop-in members can access the space 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. They can access all amenities, find a space to work at the co-working table, and use the conference room for meetings. To lay claim to a dedicated workstation—a permanent desk, lockable storage cabinet, and personal locker—the price rises to $495 and grants 24/7 access. Members who also want a large team room of their very own pay $1,250 each month.
“As a small business, the number one goal is to work full-time. It’s hard to connect and to build relationships,” Gibson says. “I used backwards engineering. Now, when I’m sitting at my desk six or seven hours a day and doing the work, three or four connections are walking in the door. That’s what the space really does.”
The Blueprint Collaborative extends free drop-in membership to college students in fields aligned with its industry mix. For example, two Grand Valley State University students working on inventing a mask for people working in deep freezers have used the space and its connections to evolve the product for construction workers spending long hours outdoors in cold temperatures. Another student entrepreneur is working on a heated tool box.
“Those are the golden nuggets I like to find,” Gibson says.
Gibson also wants West Michigan to push the envelope on what entrepreneurial means. He notes that the word commonly brings to mind a 20-something nerd at a computer inventing a new app. He believes that bringing an entrepreneurial spirit to any industry can take it to the next level. The Blueprint Collaborative is a space where professionals and students in the construction, design, and real estate industries can nurture that spirit.
“Most of the buzzwords these days are not focused on a tangible industry where you go out every week and build something. That shouldn’t limit the thought of entrepreneurship,” Gibson says. “I wanted to be surrounded by people in similar industries who have the same passion that I do—and want to build a business.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy The Blueprint Collaborative