By John Ceballos
The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla.
Kate Lake moved to Lakeland 15 years ago, but until recently she wasn’t able to find full-time work within the city limits.
“Lakeland was always in my heart, but ever since moving here I’ve always commuted,” said Lake, a native of Wilmington, Del., who earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Pittsburgh’s Robert Morris University in 1979.
“I guess I had to create my own job if I wanted to work here,” she said.
She picked a doozy of a location for her first business venture in Lakeland, but is more than happy to share.
Lake, 57, is the owner and president of My Office & More, which offers office and desk space to small businesses and professionals.
“One of the challenges facing small businesses is finding a place to establish a business presence without having to enter into long-term contracts,” Lake said. “Add to that the cost of buying furniture, office equipment, and setting up utilities and Internet access. It’s no wonder that many businesses end up being run out of homes.”
My Office & More is in a 105-year-old building at Main Street and Tennessee Avenue, across from Munn Park. The business occupies about 6,000 square feet on the second floor, which is a mixture of exposed bricks and beams, and modern Herman Miller office furniture.
“It’s a great contrast of the old architecture and newer details,” said Steve Munson, a Lakeland-based independent IT consultant. He ordinarily alternates between working from home or at a Starbucks, but has been using one of My Office & More’s shared coworking desks. “When you’re working from home or a coffee shop, you’re basically trading less distractions for less comfort. This is a nice, comfortable space to work.”
My Office & More — 122 E. Main St. — officially opened Monday, but more than a dozen members got to try out the space during a soft opening in July. There are 17 private offices that range in size from 90 to 125 square feet. The offices surround an open coworking space comprised of 27 desks. There is also a conference room that overlooks Munn Park, a media room with display connections for multiple laptops, and a meeting/training room on the first floor that can seat up to 48 people.
There are various membership levels and rates vary depending on whether professionals want to use private or shared offices, reserved or coworking desks, or simply drop by to use the shared workspace. Monthly fees range from $560 for a private office to $115 for a coworking desk, and there are discounts for cash payments and longer membership agreements. The price for a drop-by is $30.
Jan Coachman, a Lakeland-based marketing distributor for online greeting card and gift service SendOutCards, has a reserved desk near the elevators on the second floor.
“Having a workspace where I could have a downtown presence appealed to me,” Coachman said. “This is also a good place to meet and collaborate with other people.”
Lake said the “& More” part of her business’s name refers to the ability for members of Lakeland’s eclectic business community to network and generate leads.
Husband-and-wife pair Adam and Brittany Whelchel are financial advisers for Primerica. Although the business has a downtown Lakeland office for its agents, the Whelchels plan on signing up for a My Office & More membership.
“It’s been great meeting and re-connecting with people,” Adam said of the free soft-opening period. “This gives us the opportunity to bring clients to a place that’s not a coffee shop,” Brittany said.
Lake credits Catapult Lakeland — another downtown Lakeland business that offers coworking space for entrepreneurs — with laying the groundwork for her own business.
“Catapult helped introduce Lakeland to the coworking model,” she said. “The way I think of it is that they provide the soil where entrepreneurs can plant a seed, but once that seed grows into a plant it needs to be transplanted to a bigger pot. We’re a logical next step for businesses that need office space.”
Since moving to Lakeland in 2000, Lake has worked for the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority as a contract services administrator and as a financial management director. She also served as CFO of National Employer Services in Avon Park, and held the same position for Silver Nip Citrus in Frostproof.
The closest she came to working in Lakeland during that time was a 2006-08 stint as an adjunct professor at Florida Southern College, where she had also earned her MBA in accounting.
Lake purchased the building in April, so her business tenants on the first floor include the Silver Ring Cafe, Divicious Deli and Coffee Shop, and Evolve Hair Studio. The whirlwind renovation process took a little more than 60 days.
“I am so grateful for the incredible talent and skill that was applied to this project,” said Lake, crediting local businessmen such as contractor Ed Forgue, real estate specialist Kyle Vreeland, and architect Marlon Lynn. “In a way, that’s exactly what I’m in this for — to help businesses connect with each other.”