19-story "startup village" is home to entrepreneurs in Downtown

Over 30 startup founders called the Exchange Building home while growing their companies. 
The Exchange Building on Court Square was built to be a champion of industry. Completed in 1910, it once housed the cotton and merchant exchanges where Memphis fortunes were won and lost.
 
The 19-story building continues to facilitate the growth of Memphis’ leaders. A unique housing arrangement has dubbed it a startup village where out-of-town founders of high-growth companies make their home while going through Memphis’ accelerator programs.
 
Through a partnership with Start Co., founders are able to stay for flexible, short-term leases in fully furnished apartments. Grouping a cohort of entrepreneurs together builds their capacity and encourages a deep-seated dedication to Downtown Memphis.

The green-roof Exchange Building towers over Downtown Memphis.
 
“Coming from Canada, we quickly jumped online, and we were looking up places to stay,” said Peter Bassa, who first stayed in the Exchange Building for five months with his company Preteckt. “You look at some of the hotels in that area, and they all offer special pricing, but being a startup you still can't afford those. There's just no way.”
 
The Exchange Building’s rate is affordable and targeted specifically to startup founders who need to be financially conservative while working toward the next investment in their growing companies.
 
“It seems to be the go-to for any Start Co. teams that come down that are out of country,” Bassa added.
 
Bassa said that having everything down to the utensils provided was a huge relief. During the three-month Seed Hatchery accelerator housed at Start Co., Bassa and Prekect's co-founders were able to walk between the Exchange Building and the Start Co. offices and had little need for a car.
 
It makes sense why Sardor Umarov, the Exchange Building’s business developer, is sensitive to the difficulties that early startups face. His family, which has owned the building since 2011, founded one of the first telecommunications companies in their home country of Uzbekistan.
 
In addition to the innovative companies incubating within its walls, the Exchange Building’s model is in itself disruptive.
 
The building’s units are split between 100 extended-lease apartments, 72 hotel rooms and 30 short-term units, a make-up that exists nowhere else in Memphis. Umarov, 30, said this model provides stability to what was once a struggling apartment building. The Umarovs acquired it out of foreclosure as part of a partnership.
 
Through a newly-inked alliance with Airbnb, those short-term rental apartments are now leased through the online home sharing platform.

Sardor UmarovUmarov said that adding the Airbnb component gives startup founders even more flexibility.
 
“As a founder, you travel a lot. You maybe stay in Memphis a week and then fly to another city for a meeting or drive home to see your family,” he said.

Through this platform, founders will be able to rent out their apartments during those periods of travel. This capability is available to all Exchange Building renters under the official “Airbnb friendly building” designation.
 
Umarov said that more than 30 startups have made their home at the Exchange Building over the past three years. He hopes to increase that figure with the new accreditation through Airbnb.
 
“We wanted to do our part in developing our community, and nobody was doing it at the time,” said Umarov, who is one of the founding members of the Memphis Short Term Renters Alliance.

“It’s harder for people to live in certain areas, so we searched for creative ways to allow people to stay here.”
 
In addition to founder-friendly partnerships with Start Co. and Airbnb, Umarov is converting part of the building’s 18th floor into a coworking space. The 1,700-square-foot offering will be open to entrepreneurs and founders who need a home office away from home. The coworking space, which is still under construction, will be able to host meetings, lectures and other events.
 
Bassa values the creative collisions that come from living with other entrepreneurs.
 
“What we quickly realized is Memphis is such a tight community, especially Downtown. You're stuck in this bubble that has everybody always seeing each other on a daily basis,” he said.
 
Preteckt, a software that monitors trucks parts to prevent accidents and breakdowns, found audience in Memphis’ logistics-centric economy. The company is growing and preparing for another round of funding in early 2017.
 
Preteckt graduated from Start Co. in 2015 but still has ties in Memphis through customers and post-acceleration. “When I come back to Memphis, I know we always have a room at the Exchange Building,” Bassa added. 

Read more articles by Madeline Faber.

Madeline Faber is an editor and award-winning reporter. Prior to joining High Ground News as managing editor, she worked as a staff reporter for The Daily News. She has also written for Memphis Business Journal, The Memphis Flyer and Inside Memphis Business. Her experience as a development reporter complements High Ground's mission to write about what's next for Memphis.
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