120 S. Water Street Bellefonte, PA 16823
By Serge Bielanko
Once upon a time, I rented an office in Bellefonte. And oh man, it was like a dream come true at first. As a freelance writer, I never imagined that the day would actually come when I could hit the Y first thing in the morning for a workout and then wander down the street to 'my office' to write. The rent was not insane, the basement space was quiet and dark, and because I was so excited to be adulting like this, my heart was soaring with pride. It was (sigh)...fantastic.
Then came June. The heat. The summer. The end. One morning I came down into the office, unloaded my laptop from my backpack, and sat down on the couch to work the morning away. Everything was coated in fresh awful mildew. It had all been too good to be true. My 'office' proved more of a storage space basement than a place where a human being could operate without possibly contracting some kind of serious viral infection. That was the end of my 'office' days. I couldn't afford anything else. I was devastated. Back to writing at my kitchen table I went.
Which is why the birth of Bellefonte's first business incubator, is something pretty special, I think. A project like this in a town like this is so worthwhile and I understand exactly why. Getting a small business off the ground is really really hard in the 21st Century. Hunger, energy, undying spirit, all those critical qualities of American ingenuity still matter, of course. But quite frankly: they're often not enough. You still need to be able to pay the bills to keep the lights on. You still have to think big but start small. And you still need a place to work your butt off that isn't...ahem...coated in mildew for half the year.
Enter SpringBoard. Conceived and created by the Bellefonte Keystone Community Development Association (Belle Key), who worked closely with with the Centre County Board of Commissioners, SpringBoard is the result of endless insight and support from a veritable who's-who cast of wise and experienced locals on the Bellefonte scene. But I know what you're saying to yourself right about now. It's the same question I'd been asking myself for the better part of a year each time I passed the revitalized building down on Water Street and saw the SpingBoard sign.
"What the heck is that place?"
So I finally decided to reach out to someone who could tell me. Her name is Ellen Matis, and she's the newly appointed Director of the SpringBoard facility and all-around Bellefonte business incubator guru. Ellen patiently answered my questions and shed a lot of light on what SpringBoard is really all about.
Bellefonte.com: Since SpringBoard is the first business incubator in town, quite a few local people might still be confused about what's REALLY going on in that building that's been all spruced up down by Spring Creek. Help us out. Is SpringBoard a private company or no? In a few sentences, can you try to tell us just what SpringBoard is all about?
Ellen Matis: SpringBoard is the first business incubator and co-working space in Bellefonte, but it’s one of 12 in the county. Basically, the space was meant to give new or small business owners, freelancers and remote-workers a place to have a low-cost professional office setting. This is especially important for new business owners who might not have a lot of extra cash flow to spend on rent for a more traditional office space.
With the membership, you have 24/7 access to the facility: An open-concept office space equipped with a conference room (with all the good stuff, like a TV to connect to and a whiteboard), a private phone booth to take calls in and a kitchenette. Plus, they’ll get use of the high-speed internet access and printer. Plus, SpringBoard is partnered with a TON of organizations, so we can offer our members a variety of different business-related services through them.
BC: Okay, so how does it work then if someone wants to become a member?
EM: We offer two different membership options: One that’s $250 that includes access to all of the amenities, connections with our partners and a “permanent” desk space with a locking filing cabinet. Or, if you don’t think you need store your things overnight or call a desk totally your own, you can use the $150 co-working membership. All of the amenities are the same, you just can’t leave your stuff here.
BC: How did you even find about about this place?
EM: My business, Hello Social Co. was actually the first to have a desk space when SpringBoard opened in fall 2017. While I was working on building my own business, I was finding that I was becoming an ambassador of sorts for SpringBoard, promoting it in the community and trying to recruit new members. In February of this year, the SpringBoard advisory board made me the Director of the facility. What I’m doing is a lot of the same, but I’m also focusing my efforts on funding for SpringBoard, making sure that the space has a really cool culture and planning workshops and more.
BC: Why is a business incubator such a fresh idea for a town like Bellefonte?
EM: The whole idea is that after 12 or 18 months in SpringBoard, a business will be at a place where they can really give back to the business community by creating jobs (even if just a few) and having their own space within Bellefonte. The incubator is a part of a bigger-picture-project led by the Bellefonte Keystone Community Development Association (BelleKey), which aims to make Bellefonte a more vibrant and attractive place to live and work.
BC: What makes SpringBoard way better than, say... working out of your kitchen... or out of the coffee shop or the public library? What benefits does a person get that they won't find anywhere else?
EM: I did the whole work from home/occasionally out of a coffee shop thing when I first started my business. I’ll be the first to tell you that the work-from-home life isn’t for everyone. I felt really isolated and usually unmotivated. There are a lot of perks to being in the space, but I think that two are most important: having the separation of work space vs. home/living space; and having some other people around you. SpringBoard has four total members, and while they’re not always in the space at the same time, when they are we really have a good time. We’ve even started a Monday lunch-break accountability session, where we’ll eat together, talk about how things are going and give each other some pointers on what we can improve upon.
And this view… it seriously doesn’t get any better than working while overlooking Talleyrand Park. Many find that taking a break for a walk through the park is great for combating a creative block, too.
BC: How has response been so far?
EM: We have room for four more permanent spaces and we’ve gotten a lot of inquiries recently. We’re offering $5 trial memberships right now, too. It’s an awesome opportunity to try the space out and see if it really helps you level-up your productivity.
BC: Okay, on behalf of every music-loving freelancer in Centre County I have to ask: is there horrific Muzak playing in the SpringBoard work spaces?
EM: Over my dead body (don’t quote me on that!). While you might occasionally hear some of my favorite Spotify playlists (when the time is right), the “Sounds of SpringBoard” are pretty distinct: Ducks quacking, the water falling on the dam and trains running through the park.
What future do you envision for your community, for this town, for Bellefonte, Pennsylvania?
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