Matt Davis hates it when COhatch is called a coworking space, but he’s accepted that’s how outsiders describe his company.

“Once they step foot in the COhatch and we explain all that we do, they see the value in what we do and what we’re trying to build,” he says. “That’s why our retention rate and our membership rates are so high compared to other people’s.”

The CEO sees COhatch as a place to build community.

“Where I totally disagree with the coworking community is that people think community is based off of work, like networking events, LinkedIn events, work this, startup this, right?” Davis says. “Community is really built on what you have in common with people, and work’s probably the last thing you have in common with someone. ‘It’s my kids go to the same school. I love the Upper Arlington community. I go to church here. I love to volunteer there. My hobbies are this.’ We focus on all of that so that people get to know each other, and the output is that they want to do business together because they know each other.”

Smart Business Dealmakers spoke with Davis about the coworking trend, the growth of COhatch and his newly formed investor club.

COhatch’s Matt Davis will be a featured panelist on Raising Strategic Capital to Fuel Your Organization’s Growth at the upcoming Smart Business Dealmakers Conference (formerly ASPIRE), which takes place on Sept. 25 at the Hilton Columbus Downtown. Use code DEAL100 to save $100 on tickets.

A moth to a lightbulb

A number of coworking spaces have come to Columbus the last several years. Companies like Industrious or Serendipity Labs, with more on the way, including WeWork.

“The whole world is like a moth attracted to the lightbulb of coworking,” Davis says. “WeWork set the example a couple of years ago. Industrious followed. Somebody called Convene followed. These companies are worth billions of dollars all of a sudden, but they’re all doing the same thing.”

They focus on rent arbitrage in large spaces. In Columbus, they are often located downtown. COhatch uses smaller spaces in more locations, repurposing old buildings. The idea is that members can use any location, becoming a better meeting spot than Panera, while also getting to know people in their community.

“It’s kind of modeled after me honestly,” Davis says. “I’m 42. I have three kids. I love running my company, but I also love going on vacation and playing with my kids and meeting people for a beer at our club afterwards and being part of my community.”

Even with increased coworking competition — because companies understand that the gig economy, freelancing and working remotely are now an integral part of business — Davis isn’t worried. There are enough square feet of office space to go around, and his differentiated model should let COhatch stand out.

In fact, COhatch is looking outside of Ohio, inking a deal for an Indianapolis location in July. The company, founded 2016, has six locations open or opening soon, including one in Dayton. Locations in Easton and Dublin are also well on their way.

COhatch plans to open more than 12 total locations in Central Ohio along with a goal of 20 licensed units in the Midwest within the next five years.

Davis sees the company as still in startup mode, even with its rapid growth.

“We’re probably the best example of growing your space inside of a coworking community,” he says. “We just happen to be one. We actually use all of our members. My PR person’s a member. My website designer’s a member. My franchise lawyer’s member. We use our membership to help grow our company and then to keep fixed costs low.

“We’ve raised over $3 million in the last year through accredited investors that are philanthropic that want to see cities grow.”

Connecting investors and startups

Like many entrepreneurs, Davis and innovation go hand-in-hand. He created a community for like-minded nonprofits, through partnerships with POINT, Relā and Telhio Credit Union, and offers interesting perks, such as a 1962 Airstream, a member vacation club beach house or free gym memberships.

He recently formed an investor club.

“When I was 25, I always had all these great ideas for startups and businesses, but honestly I had no idea how to do it,” he says. “I just didn’t have enough experience.”

After Davis gained experience and had additional ideas, there were different things he didn’t know like economic development or fundraising.  “I knew this whole world existed, whether it be family funds or investors or VCs, but I didn’t really know how to access it very well,” he says.

Davis feels like the startup and local accredited investor worlds don’t collide enough. He also hasn’t been impressed by many of the pitch events because the reality of getting funded is almost nothing.

He wants to unlock that, using COhatch’s physical spaces as a center of gravity for local investors and startups to meet and get funded.

“If you really look at how many accredited investors there are in Columbus, and everyone’s willing to put 0.2 percent of their portfolio into something a little more high-risk or startup, then you have plenty of funding opportunities for almost everything,” he says.

The goal is not to be a business broker; it’s to bring people together in a grassroots way. Accredited investors can join the club, with their membership fee going to local charities, and then attend events at COhatch with some of the best startups in town. Davis hopes to make it repeatable, visible and ongoing.

“Everyone thinks you have to go straight to VCs and if you don’t get VC money, you’re a failure, which is not true.”