OfficePort founder Jolles finds home, hotbed of creativity in Kansas City
Shaul Jolles sits in the OfficePort location in Kansas City's Crossroads District. Jolles founded OfficePort as an affordable alternative for entrepreneurs who weren't a good fit for traditional office spaces.
Shaul Jolles loves Kansas City. And it shows.
Jolles, a University of Missouri-Kansas City graduate who was born and raised in Israel, landed in the Kansas City area over a decade ago after serving in the Israeli army. Initially intending to only stay for a semester during his undergraduate studies, he's still in Kansas City 12 years later.
"I fell in love with Kansas City.” Jolles said. “I didn't think in the beginning that this was my place, but I really fell in love with the creativity here."
Upon graduating from UMKC in 2001 with an undergraduate degree in finance and a graduate degree in international business, Jolles, no longer able to take advantage of his student visa and unable to find other employment, turned to entrepreneurship. He picked up experience with the local real estate scene by taking aerial photography for commercial real estate companies. After a brief stint in New York with an e-commerce company, he missed real estate and his adopted hometown and quickly returned to Kansas City.
He knew where he wanted to be: the Crossroads Art District near downtown Kansas City, Mo. The Crossroads is well-known within the Kansas City area as a unique corner of downtown full of boutiques, local restaurants and most of all, a plethora of art galleries. But less than a decade ago, it wasn't nearly as polished as it is today.
"I didn't think in the beginning that this was my place, but I really fell in love with the creativity here." - Shaul Jolles on Kansas City
So what attracted Jolles to the Crossroads? "The creative people," he said.
"It had this complete set of characters that were a lot like me, a bunch of rebels," Jolles said, smiling. "I also loved the architecture. I loved what all of these buildings looked like. I saw the potential."
Jolles began purchasing, renovating, and brokering many of the run-down warehouses in the area. He became so passionate about the Crossroads community that he even served as president of the Crossroads Community Association.
Opening the doors to OfficePort
OfficePort opened the doors of its first coworking space, at 208 West 19th St. in Kansas City, Mo., in 2008.
That passion for community is what, in 2008, led Jolles to pitch his real estate business partner, Mike Edmondson, on a different type of project — coworking. OfficePort, a coworking space in the Crossroads District, was born.
In an area where most of the commercial spaces averaged 5,000 square feet, Jolles routinely received calls from small businesses requesting small spaces and had nothing to offer them. He saw one-person companies, banking on strong future growth, taking up pricey and risky contracts for office space. "The overhead," Jolles explained, "would kill them in a year."
"I decided to make a space that was affordable, that could house all of these incredible, creative entrepreneurs that literally could not find the space to start their businesses."
Planning to dedicate a portion of a building where the current leaseholder had recently moved out, OfficePort quickly took over the entire space. The response was much more than Jolles and Edmondson had anticipated.
Jase Wilson, CEO of Luminopolis and one of OfficePort’s earliest tenants, was excited about the early success of the concept. “When we came by and there was a full-blown community after three months of operation, we said, 'This is for us,' " Wilson recalled, "and we decided to come over.”
A second OfficePort location was soon opened in the downtown loop of Chicago, followed closely by a second Kansas City location in the historic River Market area.
An Urban Hero
It was Jolles’ passion for the Kansas City creative and entrepreneurial communities, his initiatives related to the Google ultra high-speed fiber network and the founding and success of OfficePort that caught the eye of the Downtown Council of Kansas City. In December 2011 the Downtown Council named Jolles one of 10 recipients of its 2011 Urban Heroes Award. The award is meant to recognize small businesses and individuals who have a passion for downtown Kansas City, making it a better place to live, work and play.
"Shaul Jolles is a true Urban Hero in the eyes of the downtown Kansas City community," said Mike Hurd, spokesman for the Downtown Council. "Shaul is a serial entrepreneur and community organizer who is dedicated to helping small businesses flourish. And, he played a critical role in initiating the effort that led to Kansas City's winning response in the Google ultra high-speed fiber network chase. Like Google, Shaul is a game-changer for downtown."
Said Jolles of the honor: "Hopefully it pushes other entrepreneurs to go and do their thing. It gives them an example that it can work.”
Harnessing the power of Fiber
What's next for Jolles and the OfficePort community? "I think we started supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs before it was popular to do so," Jolles replied. "I want to keep doing that."
A big part of that will be leveraging the benefits of the Google Fiber project in the area. "It's going to be a huge opportunity for tech companies in Kansas City," Jolles said.
"I also want to keep on promoting [local businesses]. We now offer StagePort to support the film industry and the incredible media talent we have here in Kansas City. We're working on a technology concept called TechPort in Kansas City, Kansas, that we hope will open in March."
TechPort will include a full data center and offer support in utilizing Google Fiber-related incentive programs for startups in the area. Jolles hopes that TechPort, and the funding he has already secured for new businesses taking advantage of the ultra high-speed network, will further strengthen the community he has come to love.
After all, if there's one thing Jolles has learned in the last decade-plus, it's that there is no shortage of opportunity in his adopted hometown. “Kansas City," he said, "is a great place to start your own thing."
Image credit: Photos of Jolles and OfficePort by Annie Sorensen. Google Fiber image from Google.