The Tampa Bay WaVE is a great environment filled with entrepreneurs, developers, designers, writers, and plenty of other workers who not only work together but play together. It is a truly special place that became my rock while I was going through a difficult and challenging time in my personal and professional life. What follows is a broad look at the WaVE and those of you who make this place what it is today.
The Leadership Team
Linda Olson, the President and Founder, and Deborah Neff, the Director of Operations are the WaVE’s fantastic leading ladies. Every day they focus on improving and growing the community to build a wonderful place to work. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Deb and asking her some questions. Her answers are included throughout the article.
This is Deb!
A majority of people in the WaVE community are interconnected and enjoy hanging out at WaVE organized events, movie nights, going out for drinks, playing games (So many Cards Against Humanity games), etc.
The WaVE is located in downtown Tampa, Florida, on the third floor of a four-story building. There is also a recently renovated café and bar located on the top floor called The Attic. With live music on Fridays and great prices on coffee, beer, and food, it is a great hangout spot for the WaVE community any day you want to go!
The WaVE is a large open space surrounding a middle area with the stairs, elevators, and bathrooms. There is a conference room shaped like a space ship, quiet space, a video production room, game room, lounging areas, and a break room that has everything you would need.
As a coworker with dedicated and sometimes shared desk space, we are located in the internal part of the space. It is much more open which I enjoy as it allows me to meet more people. The outside of the space is lined with offices; which generally have large windows and let in quite a bit of natural sunlight.
So much coffee!!! Well stocked.
Snacks. They’re definitely a good pick-me-up if you want something small.
WIFI – Of course. The only thing we coworkers need is WIFI, coffee and maybe an occasional beer.
A conference room that can be reserved.
The Attic bar upstairs.
So what is the secret sauce that made this place I love and care for so special?
Deb says there is no secret sauce. It has taken years of hard work improving the community and the way that the community members interact.
Deb describes working at the WaVE as her passion project instead of just a job.
She is definitely a rare find.
With a background in a variety of fields including elementary education (no, we are not just a bunch of kids), project management at Verizon, and volunteering in the startup community, she developed the skills and a passion for creating this space and the community. Her experience teaching and her love for helping people translates well to the coworking world.
She has discovered that, “focusing on the day,” is vital to any successful coworking space and to building a great community.
As a nonprofit, the WaVE is funded by other organizations and governments, which means they need to hit various metrics. When faced with important metrics to reach, it is easy to only focus on the numbers and not on how to reach them through daily progress.
Deb said that focusing on the day-to-day needs of the community has helped to grow the community and increase engagement and ultimately results in reaching and often surpassing their organizational metrics and goals.
Besides focusing on making small improvements every day, Deb also says that she is constantly monitoring the space and making sure
we have a positive attitude, we collaborate, have creativity, that everyone feels safe, and that the culture is where it needs to be. If we have all this, then the productivity just happens.
While Deb and her team are always working on these things, she states that it’s also important to have a core group of people who care about the space.
They can’t do it alone. I am talking to you coworkers out there.
“It takes a few people who really care. Then you have important advocates in the community. They are leaking out the cultural values into the area. It takes continued work to keep it going. The manager needs to manage and facilitate events and activities that bring workers together to hang out, talk, and have fun. It is not important that people know we are doing it purposely. It’s just enough that it gets done.”
I agree. I believe that she, Linda, and the team have created a place that does not force cultural cohesion. It just happens when the people get together.
What really brings people together?
Well some of us like to chat a little too much so some bonding happens this way.
The WaVE has become known for hosting and supporting great events that are for the coworkers but also other members of the community. They are also known to value continued volunteerism and organize community driven events.
Here are some highlights:
This is the Tampa Bay WaVE Marketing Manager, Gracie Stemmer’s, brainchild! A day of mentor speed dating with experts from around the area. It really is great! You can learn a lot in a short period of time. According to Deb, people come from as far as Miami, which is a four-hour drive.
Do you want immediate feedback on your website’s homepage? Good. Justin Davis will provide relentless destruction of what you thought was perfection. I have included an audio clip of a story from Mitch Neff about one of his favorite moments at the WaVE during one of these Home Page Throwdowns.
Happens the 3rd Friday of the month. The WaVE invites the entire group of coworkers to get together, eat, and rant or rave about what is happening at the WaVE. This is our monthly family supper.
Happens the last Thursday of the month, we all get together at a local BBQ restaurant (Jimbo’s Pit BBQ of Tampa) and have breakfast. Can you say BBQ omelets? Yum!
Startup Weekend Tampa Bay
Learn, Network, Startup at Startup Weekend. The hardest part of starting up is starting out. At Startup Weekend, you are immersed in the ideal environment for startup magic to happen!
Tampa Bay StartupWeek
Tampa Bay StartupWeek “brings entrepreneurs, local leaders, and friends together over five days to build momentum and opportunity around our community’s unique entrepreneurial identity”.
Startup Weekend Tampa Bay and Tampa Bay StartupWeek are two of Deb’s favorite events. She is proud to be on the WaVE team that continues to cultivate their mission even during their off-hours. The team regularly volunteers because they understand it make sense for the WaVE to be known throughout Florida, across the country, and even worldwide as this can lead to bigger opportunities.
Deb, Linda, and the team have done a great job of developing and expanding the WaVE’s reach through all of these things.
They also have a number of other goals for the future; which include continued sustainability (they are a non-profit, after all), maintaining and improving the space and culture while also leaving room for expansion. Deb says she does not want to put limits on what they can do.
And why should she?
The Wrap Up and My Next Steps
There are non-profit and for profit, government run and private, coworking spaces that are located around the world with different goals, communities, demographics, and businesses working within them.
These differences often times tend to separate us, however, I believe that the best spaces are looking to do one thing as a whole: create a work space that encourages collaboration, community and friendship building, and supports the growth of people and businesses.
How do you do that?
This question is a big reason for my trip.
What the WaVE has built combined with my personal experience has driven me to make a change, to explore, and to share the best of what I find in these coworking communities around the world so that we can all grow together.
Cheers to everyone in Tampa that has helped me get to this point in my life. Not many people get to reinvent themselves. I hope that others won’t have to go through what I went through to understand the power of coworking communities. I am on a journey and I hope I will become a better person for it.
Stay tuned as I travel to Rhode Island and experience The Hive in North Kingstown.