When Michael Holliday, principal architect for DMHA Architecture, decided to serve Santa Barbara’s blossoming tech industry by building a coworking space for startups in a warehouse on the edge of the Funk Zone, he knew he would have to put in all of his chips.
“As an architect, it’s super creative and fun and you’re almost always working with other people’s funds, which are important. When your working with your own financials and financial limitations it’s really a lot more risky,” said Mr. Holliday.
He and his wife Beverly had a space and a plan, but first they needed to ask their three sons, Erik, Neil, and Russell, who have since graduated from Cal Poly, if they were willing to invest the family’s college fund.
It was the kids’ money, and they could either put it all towards college or take the entrepreneurial leap and help build the business, Mr. Holliday told the News-Press. But in 2011 Mr. Holiday and his wife Beverly saw the need for office space and amenities for small businesses and startups in the area, and their sons were onboard.
“We put the choice to our kids because we said, ‘this is your college fund. What do you guys want to do with it?’ and they said, ‘Go for it dad!’,” said Mr. Holliday.
Now, six years after SYNERGY Business and Technology Center opened its doors, the 6,500-square-foot workspace has been filled with over 50 thriving small businesses, non-profits, and startups.
Since opening, SYNERGY has helped launch several successful companies into the tech industry, including OTOjOY, FuelBox and the DailyOm.
Sitting just by East Beach in the Craftsman District at 1 N. Calle Cesar Chavez, SYNERGY boasts 30-foot-high ceilings with windows that flood the interior of work spaces with
The inviting and comfortable space is filled with modern touches and greenery that earned SYNERGY the USGBC Green Award for energy efficiency and adaptive reuse. Along with office space, SYNERGY provides a kitchen, a spacious lounge area, a booth for private phone calls, and three state-of-the-art conference rooms with whiteboards, 4K displays, projectors and HDMI/VGA hookups.
The space was designed to be modular for ultimate flexibility. Businesses can rent a “hot desk,” semi-private office or private office space.
SYNERGY keeps their rates affordable to allow young entrepreneurs to have a quality professional space, free from expensive leases.
SYNERGY stands out from other workspaces that have taken off in many ways, but most significant is their focus on community.
From day one, SYNERGY has been a family affair. The Hollidays and their sons, along with DMHA, worked all day and late into the night building the office, sandblasting walls and stripping the floors.
Now that spirit is kept alive by Mrs. Holliday, SYNERGY’s manager.
“I’m like the mom. My kids all left and my nest emptied out, so we just built a new nest!” said Mrs. Holliday.
“It’s because of her this place works,” said Mr. Holliday.
Mrs. Holliday takes care of all 26 businesses currently housed in SYNERGY, fostering a sense of family and community with service, friendship, and tasty treats.
Although the Hollidays originally envisioned the space as an incubator, Mrs. Holliday’s management and Mr. Holliday’s design has kept some business around since the early days of SYNERGY. The proximity to the food and drink in the Funk Zone, not to mention the SYNERGY beach cruisers and paddle boards available to tenants, only makes it harder to leave.
“They just love it here and they don’t ever want to leave, and that’s fine with us, too,” said Mrs. Holliday.
Craig Christenson, President & CEO of Turbine Technology Partners, has been at SYNERGY since launching in late 2012/early 2013. Turbine is a group of 15 wind-power specialists who support businesses around the world in everything from manufacturing equipment to power-plant installation to working with utility operators.
“We have what I refer to as a gig economy business. Other than my partner and I, all our other engineers are on a subcontract basis, so they work out of their home typically,” said Mr. Christenson.
As Turbine gets projects from their different customers, they pick out of their group who is needed for the project, form a team, execute on the project, deliver the results and disband the team on the project.
“What is nice about the SYNERGY environment for us, there’s a lot of things we appreciate about it, but it’s the flexibility to actually bring in these additional resources that are part of our extended team without committing to have office space for them on a lease arrangement. That flexibility is really important for the way we’re structured as a business,” said Mr. Christenson.
“All the startup facilities and the flexibility around growing is absolutely critical,” said Michael Crandell former Founder and CEO of RightScale.
Mr. Crandell moved into SYNERGY last year to work with open source password management company Bitwarden. The supportive and conducive work environment is perfect for attracting tech workers who could go elsewhere, said Mr. Crandell.
“I really love the informal kind of playful nature. Take a step back, what do we need? I live in a world of tech workers. They’re highly in demand throughout the world, so I’m trying to hire people who can go elsewhere if they want,” said Mr. Crandell.
While the Hollidays have had opportunities to expand, they passed them by as they want to keep the spirit of community that makes SYNERGY special.
“We decided we might just get too big. It would just be too much. It would become unwieldy,” said Mrs. Holliday. “Somebody made the comparison, ‘You’re like this little mom and pop Italian restaurant with a line out the door.”
Looking back on the past eight years since they launched, Mr. Holliday thanked his business partners at DMHA Architecture as well as all of the tenants at SYNERGY over the years for making the business a success.
“I want to give primary credit to God for giving us the vision, the courage and the connections to make this a successful project. Next my wife of 36 years Beverly and our 3 sons who worked tirelessly for months deserve major kudos. They were the ones along with our daughter-in-law Jillian who actually made this project happen on a very tight budget and schedule,” said Mr. Holliday.
“As we step into a new year and a new decade, we are very thankful, grateful and hopeful that the future will hold great success for all who call SYNERGY their home away from home.”