Members of the public had a unique opportunity to see firsthand the next step in the evolution of working July 14-16 during the grand opening festivities at the link.
The $7 million, 22,500-square-foot co-working space, multi-use innovation incubator and membership-based venue in Nocatee Town Center has been in the works since 2018. It is the creation of visionary entrepreneur Raghu Misra, founder of Wired2Perform, a talent-growth platform that’s building workforce agility for the future, and the nonprofit Sapna Foundation, which helps displaced workers sync their talents with employment opportunities.
Ground was broken in June 2020 on a featureless plot of land at 425 Town Plaza Ave. Thirteen months later, Misra and his family cut the ribbon on a facility where people of all ages can go to “learn, play, think, do” under one roof.
“We want to be the link that makes things happen,” said Misra during the ribbon cutting ceremony.
The link concept allows tech entrepreneurs to launch their businesses and flourish while balancing career, family and recreation.
Though permanent offices have been quickly snapped up, the link offers a variety of office-space solutions, including desks, meeting rooms, virtual office space and a mail service. There are audio and podcast recording studios, free highspeed WiFi and the Costa Coffee Smart Café, which can vend more than 200 flavors of coffee drinks.
But the link is more than a place to work.
For members, there is an emphasis on lifestyle, as well, with recreational and educational activities for children and families.
Four robotic camps will be offered this summer, and the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach is offering seven arts camps. STEAM week is planned for August, and Sapna is planning additional courses. Classes in martial arts, including kickboxing and jiu jitsu, physics, fencing and dance are also in the works.
In addition, the link has special rooms dedicated to yoga and other activities.
One of the most popular amenities for those attending the grand opening was the Flagler Health+ Immersive Studio. The meeting room’s walls form a 360-degree environment that puts people inside videos from all around the world and images from webcams. The studio is useful for virtual travel, demonstrations, training, education, design visualization, team collaboration or simply relaxation.
“This building is unique in a lot of regards,” said Matt Taylor, executive vice president of The Angelo Group, which built the link. “I wouldn’t say there’s another building like it. There are a lot of special systems in the building, including low-voltage lighting and the fire suppression systems. The data, computer, IT systems are all unique to this building.”
Project Supervisor Greg Howell pointed out the vast spiral ductwork, which is exposed, giving people a look at the inner workings of the HVAC system in keeping with the link’s approach to technology: It’s something to be appreciated.
To keep members safe and healthy, the link partnered with Kognition, a developer of artificial intelligence software that uses data from cameras, video analytics, sensors and connected Internet of Things devices to detect health and security violations.
In response to COVID-19 and similar health concerns, it offers touchless access controls and contact tracing software.
The link has also partnered with Flagler Health+ for wellness programming and other services.
The facility also attends to energy conservation with technology holding the building’s energy use to as near net-zero as possible.
Sensors control the indoor temperature and air quality. The low-voltage lighting, created by WTEC, varies the brightness according to the ambient light coming through the windows. What other comparable buildings pay for electricity in one hour, the link pays for an entire day. That’s because there is no line voltage; it’s powered by the computer network.
In addition, 90% of the furniture at the link is made from recycled products. Eco Relics of Jacksonville built tables and other furniture from salvaged wood.
“We’re thankful that Raghu trusted us to build the building for him,” said Taylor. “And we’re excited about the project.”
The grand opening festivities began Wednesday, July 14, with a pair of ribbon-cutting ceremonies, one for the link and another for the Flagler Health+ Immersive Studio. The St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce Ponte Vedra Beach Division hosted the ceremony.
Misra described how difficult it was to get the necessary funding for this new concept.
“Name a big bank,” he said. “I talked to everyone in town. Everybody said, ‘Phenomenal; who else has done it? Can you give us comparables?’ My philosophy has always been: If somebody has already done it, I don’t want to do it. I am doing this because nobody has done it.”
But he found someone who understood his vision, Peter Hayes, vice president of business services with 121 Financial Credit Union. Though small, the lender agreed to back the project.
“Sitting down and hearing the story of what he wanted to do in bringing people together in the community to work, to learn, all of those things, sold us on this project,” said 121 Financial President and CEO David Marovich.
“It’s very rare that you get a chance to celebrate imagination realized,” said Flagler Health+ President and CEO Jason Barrett. “This is truly something substantial.”
Speakers included PARC Group Director of Planning and Development Michael Osteen, Chamber CEO and President Isabelle Renault, state Rep. Cyndi Stevenson and Deputy County Administrator Joy Andrews. County Commissioners Jeb Smith, Paul Waldron and Christian Whitehurst, School Board members Beverly Slough and Anthony Coleman and Board Chair Dr. Erika Hamer were among the many who attended.
The ceremony also included a video showing how some of the sculptures featured at the link were created by Ocean Sole and a cake celebrating the 200th anniversary of St. Johns County.
On Thursday, July 15, the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach held a full day of arts and performance, featuring a variety of musicians, poets, artists and more. The Cultural Center has partnered with the link to offer a wide range of arts and cultural events for children, adults and families at the facility.
It will produce exhibitions of local, regional, national and international artists, classes, lectures, workshops, camps, after-school programs and more.
On Friday, July 16, the link held a series of presentations on entrepreneurship and innovation. Misra gave a “TED Talk”-style presentation, followed by entrepreneurial neuroscientist Maarten Rotman on innovation in health care, LASIK surgeon and inventor Dr. Arun Gulani, innovation and strategy executive Carlton Lamar Robinson, Marcia Corner on removing hurdles to achieve goals, 4FRONT Vice President of Innovation Brian Gainor on innovations in sports and more.
Individual and family memberships in the link are available to anyone in the community. To learn more, go to thelink.zone/membership.