Less than two years old, the Catapult program to develop Lakeland’s next generation of entrepreneurs has shown so much promise that community leaders have pledged $13 million to more than triple its size by moving it into the now-vacant Cash Feed building on Lake Mirror.
- The Lakeland Economic Development Council, which oversees Catapult Lakeland, has a contract to buy the 32,000-square-foot Lakeland Cash Feed building for $850,000.
- The group has also contracted to buy the neighboring vacuum cleaner dealership property (8,000 square feet) for $800,000 and plans to either demolish it for parking or construct a new building on the site. Central Vacuum is planning to relocate, The Ledger reports.
- The GiveWell Community Foundation is investing the $13 million needed to buy, remodel and equip the buildings and run the non-profit program for three years. It will lease the property to LEDC for $10 a year.
- The city of Lakeland is the third partner in the plan to boost Catapult’s capacity.
- Plans call for construction to be complete in time for Catapult to move out of its current 10,000-square-foot home in the basement of the Bank of America building downtown in early 2017.
Catapult’s Current Space
The Inspiration for Enlarging Catapult
With more than 100 members, Catapult has far exceeded the goals set when it launched in January 2014, LEDC director Steve Scruggs told a meeting of LEDC supporters Monday afternoon. The small commercial kitchen is so successful that there is a waiting list and three applicants had to be turned away recently, he said.
Catapult, Scruggs said, has been a successful element in LEDC’s goals to attract the “creative class” to Lakeland, retain talented young residents and grow opportunities for entrepreneurs.
“This is a game-changer,” said Lori Martini, GiveWell’s chief philanthropic officer, adding it’s the best example of cooperation between business, government and philanthropy she’s seen in her 20 years in Lakeland.
Plans for an enlarged Catapult call for:
- A large open space for co-workers, the members who just need a place to sit and work at their laptops.
- Accelerator office space: More and larger offices for companies that are growing and need space for several workers until they’re ready to move to their own quarters. The current facility has only four small offices.
- Project space: A place for businesses such as wedding planners who need room to design and create.
- Commercial kitchen that can accommodate up to 20 caterers, bakers, food truck vendors and others.
- Cafe, so that food is readily available while people are working.
- Maker space for people who craft items. Scruggs mentioned Lakeland residents who make furniture, musical instruments, artistic knives and sculpture.
- Retail space where select merchants can model their ideas and see if they work. These spaces would rotate on a regular basis, Scruggs said.
- Studio space: Several photographers and videographers already work at Catapult.
- Several meeting rooms.
The interior of Lakeland Cash Feed now:
Further plans, Scruggs said, include educational programs, such as one directed toward high school students and CareerSource Polk’s Gentleman’s Institute Partnership.
LEDC also plans to work with financial institutions, he said, to establish two programs:
- A private fund that provides “lifestyle entrepreneurs” with grants or no-interest loans to test their ideas.
- An investment fund “seeking long-term capital appreciation through investments in emerging growth companies. Investments will generally be made to bridge portfolio companies to a further financing round.”
Scruggs said that the companies chosen to work on construction and furnishing of Catapult will be local companies that are members of LEDC.
Representatives of the three firms, conferred, Scruggs said, and then told LEDC: “Isn’t Catapult about collaboration? We want to collaborate on this project.”