With help from LISC Small Business, CO+HOOTS expands and thrives

Jenny Poon is thankful every day for LISC making it possible for her to expand her thriving co-working space, CO+HOOTS.

CO+HOOTS currently houses more than 250 entrepreneurs, and demand is so high that Poon is in the process of expanding the venture to two more facilities in the Phoenix metro area in the next few years. She is also planning to take the business to additional cities across the country.

“We are looking for cities that are interested in supporting stronger entrepreneurial and business communities,” said Poon, who is running a pop-up co-working day at CO+HOOTS as part of Small Business Saturday on November 25th. Poon, a University of Minnesota graduate, was named Phoenix Business Journal’s 2016 Phoenix Businessperson of the Year – the first minority and first woman to receive the honor.

She was able purchase a 14,000-square-foot building in downtown Phoenix because of two loans from LISC that totaled $1.345 million, according to Patrick McNamara, LISC Phoenix Senior Program Officer. She previously had been leasing a 4,300-square-foot space and had been working with the Small Business Association and LISC, but at the 11th hour, the loan with the SBA fell through. LISC, she said, decided to “fund the whole thing.”

“We had been working with a lot of different banks, and it’s generally a frustrating process, but we were just fortunate that LISC was there.”

LISC Phoenix also became involved because traditional small business lenders couldn’t get the deal done due to how long CO+HOOTS had been in business and that the co-working business model wasn’t fully understood, at least at the time.

“LISC did the deal since it created jobs and new businesses in an area easily accessible to light rail transit and it was at a time when the usual large employers had reestablished their profit margins without hiring back people who were laid off in the credit crisis,” McNamara said. “To the SBA she was just a spec developer leasing space and that is not an allowable business type for SBA loans,” added McNamara, who noted the loan was approved on Feb. 18, 2016. McNamara added he still meets with Poon occasionally and “LISC is excited to see how she grows her business in the future.”

Poon conceived of CO+HOOTS while running a graphic design business from home, “siloed, and incredibly lonely. I wondered if we could build a community where people felt more connected, in an environment that would be financially low-risk for a new entrepreneur.” The worktables that roll on skateboard wheels and the mid-week “mindtweaks,” where co-workers strategize and share skills, bring together people who might otherwise have no professional connection. “There’s nothing else in Phoenix that supports scaling small businesses,” Poon said.

Peer-to-peer mentoring and networking has helped dozens of small businesses — web developers, designers, lawyers, start-ups — flourish, and many have “graduated” and moved on to their own spaces. CO+HOOTS’ 250 members are made up of entrepreneurs, small businesses and startups. Member companies have created more than 200 jobs since moving into the co-working space. CO+HOOTS hosts more than 300 events a year that support professional development and community building to further encourage growth.

CO+HOOTS was only co-working space in downtown Phoenix when Poon debuted it, but there are now 10 in the area. This is a key feature of LISC’s investment model—to lay the groundwork for other employers and lenders to drive gains in Phoenix communities.

CO+HOOTS supports Phoenix’s broader community of entrepreneurs, helping hundreds of local entrepreneurs, creatives, and small businesses launch or grow their companies in an affordable, collaborative environment.

Poon, who is balancing her business life with raising her 3½-year-old daughter, Ayda, also is the founder of eeko studio, a boutique design and advertising agency focused on fresh designs for impactful companies, large and small. Other businesses she has helped launch are: CO+HOOTS Foundation and Fresh Words Market. Her background in design and marketing led her to build a place where she could connect with like-minded folks that believe business growth comes from collaboration between different industries. She has worked more than 14 years in team environments and has used her experience to organize a large community of entrepreneurs who believe collaboration between industries is where innovation flourishes.

Poon said it’s only the beginning for CO+HOOTS. “We have these opportunities to expand and we’re incredibly grateful, and I also want to make sure we make the right decisions.”

For Nov. 25’s Small Business Saturday, CO+HOOTS is running a pop-up co-working day and featuring a special: Buy one membership, get a second free. For more information, visit https://cohoots.com/

For more information on LISC Small Business, visit http://liscsmallbusiness.org/