1909 was an important and inspiring year for Florida. That was the year Palm Beach County, a paradise waiting to be explored, became the state’s 47th county and set different rhythms for those who came seeking more than the tropical breezes and coconut palm trees—a new way of life and culture.
But today, there’s a movement, a collective of founders and creators also aptly called 1909.
Inspired by the time and the innovators who came before them and mobilized the Palm Beaches in 1909, these community builders have found a hub based out of Downtown West Palm Beach. From their suite of offices and open collaborative spaces, they’re taking a look at what it means to lean into cadences that make changes, both big and small, including what it means to stay connected in times like the present.
At its core, 1909 is useful as a guide and an incubator for creatives in Palm Beach County. And by creative, they mean writers, photographers, graphic designers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, web developers, and designers—people who bring an idea into existence as they work together on small and large projects.
For chair and founder, Nicholas Mohnacky, his involvement in 1909 is an extension of his efforts as a startup community builder in West Palm Beach. “Since 2013, I have been working to ensure that early-stage founders have the resources they need to launch a company and stay here and grow it,” said Mohnacky, also the founder of Work Smarter Together.
Launched in 2018, the 1909 team is supported by grants from The Knight Foundation, individual donors, and other organizations. It evolved from a collaborative workspace that local entrepreneurs helped rebrand, including Joe Russo President & CEO at Palm Beach Tech Association, 1909 Executive Director Shana Ostrovitz, Sean Scott, founder of Subculture; Bill Shepard, executive partner at Holland Knight; Kyle Groth, founder at Whiskers Laces; Brandon Carson, co-founder at Kingfisher Consulting; Danni Mitchell Zelaya, founder at The Station; Patrick Stinus, vice president of finance at Launch Potato; January Reissman, vice president at Community Foundation; Aaron Nosbisch, founder at Nosbisch Ventures; Jesse Feldman, founder at Rust & Wax; Phillip Jackson, founder at Future Commerce; and Sheryl Muriente, Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Manager of Urban Placemaking.
The team took the right steps to develop a diverse group to work together with access to a unique community, workspace, accelerator programs, and a mentoring platform. And for those young founders of companies and innovators of ideas, both living and working in the Palm Beaches, the place and time couldn’t be better.
Then COVID-19 hit our shores and changed people and their business models. “But even before this situation happened, young people all across the country were already pushing against the glamorized hustle culture, tech-heavy, race-to-the-finish line mentality netted by previous generations,” Executive Director, Shana Ostrovitz reflects.
According to Ostrovitz, they were saying, “We don’t want to live in big cities with big-city problems. We don’t want to climb the corporate ladder or live on top of each other. But, we do like to work together.”
Being that Palm Beach County is at the beginning stages of an innovative collaborative ecosystem, it makes it the perfect spot to craft the culture 1909 wants it to be and what it wants it to represent. This is a trend that younger people want all over the country, and 1909 is taking that on. “Not everybody is racing to make the next billion-dollar company. People love building up lifestyle businesses and making sure that their mental health is okay and their family situation is okay too, and live in a beautiful place where they can be active,” explained Ostrovitz. “People get inspired by our beautiful beaches, a slower pace of life, creativity, and talent. The desire to sustain it all and have a balanced life where you don’t need to be so competitive or live the rat race.”
Ostrovitz describes the team as “forward thinkers,” always innovating and asking the questions: What moves business? Where is this entire economy going and how will it work? How can we get prepared to help other people be successful?
Part of that forward-thinking includes creating new programs and tools, and even specific technology to facilitate everything they offer: the collaborative space that puts creators and founders under the same roof, the membership and programming, which is not only in place to help people learn business skills but also emotional intelligence skills like leadership, team building, and communication—all of those steps needed to bring a project to completion.
Though 1909 looks at the next generation [25-40 year-olds] as their member base, it is a community for talented people who like to push against traditional systems and corporate cultures—young adults who have honed their skill-set and see this vision of bringing something to light and creating something on their own.
Before Covid-19 hit, there were so many staples in our community who, just a few months ago, had a business model that worked. Unfortunately, many were not ready for this pandemic situation, and though they knew they needed to adapt they didn’t have the funds to do so.
As a response to this problem, 1909 set up a new micro-grant program with the support of The Knight Foundation, DDA, and several members of the community. Essentially, the fund helps to facilitate projects for businesses that need to adapt to Covid-19. It has already helped 20 companies add eCommerce to their websites and created numerous jobs for freelancers in the community. It helped others send marketing emails or build their social media to reach their customers.
Working in the same collaborative space is without a doubt what gives 1909 its value.
Members can collaborate with one another, have someone in-house who can build a website, shoot a video, or design a logo. Need a contract to seal a deal? Not a problem.
Being able to lean on someone whom you work with every day is the greatest value of the place—it’s that collaborative effort that brings everybody forward, as they build a community and a future together.
For more information, go to weare1909.org.
1909: Community Builders Shaping Palm Beach County