Quang Tran and wife, Payal Tran.

Connecting with people to create the future

Gainesville, Fla., is home to numerous innovative and imaginative entrepreneurs, and no one is more aware of this than Quang Tran (CpE ‘04, MSM ‘06). In 2013, Tran co-founded Starter Space with his wife, Payal. Starter Space serves as Gainesville’s first coworking space, where aspiring entrepreneurs can connect and create. 

“People often think coworking is about the space but it’s really about the people,” said Tran. “Our favorite part of what we do at Starter Space is witnessing the connections made among folks who share space.”

In the 10 years since Starter Space was founded, it has seen such members as four-time Gator100 recipients Greek House and College Thread. Members have also included Harness Giving, Inspire Placemaking Collective, Frich, Guestbox, Immersed Games, Roomsync, Greenpeace, and We Are Neutral.

Tran currently lives in Alachua with his wife, Payal, and their two sons — Zayn, four and a half years old, and Prem, four and a half months old. Tran originally comes from Tampa, and before that, Vietnam. Tran’s parents wanted to give him and his sister the opportunities they didn’t have while growing up in a war-torn country. Through his parents, he learned the importance of discipline and a strong work ethic. 

“I remember my dad often worked more than twelve hours a day and took extra jobs on the weekends to provide for our family,” said Tran. “I learned from my parents’ example the importance of responsibility, commitment and service.”

With these qualities in mind, Tran set out for college, earning his bachelor’s in computer engineering from the University of Florida, and then completing the Master of Science in Management (MSM) program at the Warrington College of Business. Not long after, he began putting his knowledge to work. 

“The MSM program was attractive in that it was a perfect fit for what I was seeking,” Tran explained. “In one year, I was able to learn a plethora of information about business that resulted in my becoming a serial entrepreneur – one who empowers other founders and freelancers by creating communities where we connect, create and collaborate. The most impactful aspect of my MSM degree was the cohort experience. It taught me the value of starting spaces, where entrepreneurial and creative folks come together, and the magic that happens from their collaboration and community-building.”

Connection-based work remained at the forefront for Tran. After finishing his degrees, he worked at multiple startups, helping businesses to find their footing and establish entrepreneurial communities. He noticed, however, that Gainesville did not have a community for like-minded business individuals to gather together. 

“I visited a coworking community in Tampa called Oxford Exchange,” said Tran. “We didn’t have anything like that in Gainesville. I had what felt like an audacious idea of building a coworking community and accelerator program leveraging the strengths of our college town.”

Starter Space then opened its doors in 2013, and in 2014 launched its first accelerator program, Gator Lab — a business incubator where aspiring entrepreneurs could come together to turn ideas into businesses. Starter Space has since gone on to be an undeniable asset to the Gainesville community. 

“Coworking spaces like Starter Space and Launch Pad at Infinity Hall, which we founded as Collective & Co., are catalysts for creating positive impacts in the local community,” said Tran. “The curated welcome package business, GuestBox, was created by a Starter Space member. The founder collaborated with another Starter Space member’s venture, BetterMe Productions. They produced a video and received marketing help from yet another Starter Space member, Marc Lefton of Sentient Media. GuestBox won the Startup Challenge, which gave the founder $10,000 in seed capital.”

Even after being in the professional field for quite some time, Tran continues to learn and grow. Naturally, one of his biggest takeaways has been centered on the people he serves. 

“I’ve come to understand that success isn’t about how much venture capital you’ve raised or even how much revenue you’ve earned,” explained Tran. “It’s also not about who you know. It’s about who you are as a person. The greatest thing I can do is to support founders and freelancers to connect with themselves and each other. Not only do they create positive impacts through their work, they become examples for the next generation, like my own two kids.”

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Starter Space. The company continues to offer valuable resources to the Gainesville community, from office space to business connections. 

“It’s very exciting to celebrate our 10th anniversary this fall,” said Tran. “There has been a tremendous amount of growth in the UF Gainesville entrepreneurial ecosystem since we began. Being of service to founders and folks in our community really gives us a sense of purpose. While our current coworking spaces have reached capacity, we continue to expand our reach by offering coaching and consulting to help others start and grow their ventures. We’re also being engaged as consultants by folks seeking to create coworking spaces and accelerator programs in other college towns. It’s both humbling and fun to use our experience and expertise in this way.

“We feel really fortunate to have spent the past 10 years cultivating a community of founders, freelancers and friendly remote workers who are focused on leveraging the power of business as a force for good. We have been honored to have a partnership agreement with Warrington’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center since our first year, and we’re looking forward to deepening our partnership by collaborating with Dr. Kristin Joys on a new course this Fall — Launch Florida: Strategic Impact Consulting for Entrepreneurs & Changemakers.

“We will also be launching Founder’s Forum, a new monthly speaker series for student-founders in the Gator Hatchery and other UF students interested in entrepreneurship. We’re leveraging our network of Starter Space members over the past 10 years to serve as speakers and mentors for UF students. For us, it’s really all about connection — connecting students with founders as role models and advisors, and connecting founders with each other for collaboration and community building. If I’ve learned anything from my MSM experience working closely in a cohort, it’s that we’re better together.”