sparkspace: the idea that sparked it all

Rather than a really boring company history, we thought the best way to tell our story would be to interview our founder, Mark Henson. Thanks to our Facebook fans, LinkedIn connections, and Twitter followers for providing some of the questions!

What is sparkspace?
The easiest description of sparkspace is that it is a one-of-a-kind meeting space. We designed it to be a place where business teams could escape their office to think, create, and collaborate with each other. It is a cool, fun, bold, playful, and super comfortable space.
We also produce programs to help teams and individuals become more amazing at what they do.

What do you mean by that?
We believe every person and every company has the potential for total awesomeness…if they choose to pursue it. Our goal with our programs (and everything else we do) is to help spark that realization.

When did sparkspace start?
Our official birthday was January 1st of 2000. But the idea for sparkspace came about five years before we actually opened the doors. I kept thinking about it until I finally ran out of excuses.

Why did you start sparkspace?
I’d love to say I was the originator of cool, creative meeting space, but the truth is I was inspired by places like Eureka Ranch in Cincinnati, The Thinkubator in Chicago, and Workshop in Louisville. Before starting sparkspace, I worked for a branding and design firm with some pretty spectacular studio space. After hearing dozens of clients say “I wish I could work in a place like this,” it finally sank in that there might be a need for creative space for hire.

Have you always been in your current location?
Actually, no. We started with a neat little 900 square foot space in the artsy Short North area of Columbus. We dubbed it our “working prototype.” We signed a 1-year lease to test out the idea. Before the end of the first year, we knew we needed bigger space. We discovered this awesome building that we’re in now and moved as soon as we could. We’ve expanded several times since we started. We’re currently up to about 7000 square feet, almost 10 times the size of when we first started!

The building you’re in has some history to it, too, right?
This building was a paint factory for about 100 years, so it has a very colorful history, literally. One of our rooms even has a giant tank in it that was used in the factory. The building has such a neat loft-like vibe to it. And the location is perfect. I can’t imagine a better place for what we do.

Why do you only focus on business meetings?
Early on, we hosted our share of Christmas parties, rehearsal dinners, and social events. We even hosted two wedding receptions. We quickly came to the realization that if we wanted to build a reputation as a business retreat space, it would be hard to do that if we were hosting baby showers every weekend.

What’s the most interesting use of the space you’ve seen?
We had an adoption agency use the space to facilitate the transition of a baby from the birth mother to the adoptive parents. That was pretty cool.

What is your favorite use of the space?
I love it when teams get so immersed in collaborating and being creative that they create a huge mess in the process. When I walk into a room at the end of the day and it’s got flip chart paper all over the walls, foam balls laying all over the floor, sticky notes and markers all over the place, and hats from our funny hat collection strewn about, I know it was a good day for them.

What kinds of uses do you NOT like?
During tougher times, we’ve had companies hold meetings here to decide who they were going to let go due to downsizing. I hated that. You could just feel the negativity hanging in the air after those meetings.

Customer service seems to be a big deal to you. Why is that?
Look around. When was the last time you got great service from any company? We decided from the very beginning that customer service was the key to success in this business. People crave it, and since it’s rare, they also notice it. That makes it a pretty darn easy way to stand out from the crowd.

Where does the energy come from that makes sparkspace spark so well?
There is something really fun and energizing about doing something unique and constantly trying to improve what we do every day. We’re also pretty picky in who we hire. Our team members have to be fun, happy people who are great at what they do or they simply don’t fit here. When you have a staff full of fun, happy people, it generates an amazing amount of energy. We also make sure we don’t work too hard. That may sound counter-culture, but we put a pretty strong emphasis on health & wellbeing. You can’t generate awesome energy if all you do is work. You need enjoy your life, too.

How will you know when you have made an impact on somebody’s life?
My dad was a schoolteacher for 30 years. I was always amazed and proud when a former student would recognize him on the street and tell him what a great teacher he was and even mention something specific my dad had said or taught, sometimes decades earlier. I think I hold myself to that same standard. While I know we influence people every day at sparkspace, I will know we made a true impact when somebody tells me years from now what a difference we made.

Is that why your goal (and your tagline) is “the most inspirational business retreat center on the planet?”
Absolutely. We don’t want sparkspace to be just a place. We want it to be a game-changer. We want to positively impact people’s lives and businesses.

Ok, final question: sparkspace is a great name. How did you come up with it.
It came to me in the shower. No kidding. Isn’t that where all the best ideas come from?