Michael Holliday

Paul Wellman

Michael Holliday


Business Incubator Bolsters Entrepreneurs

For entrepreneurs in Santa Barbara, the mother ship has landed. Truth be told, it was already here in the form of an abandoned lemon-packing facility. But after sandblasting off the ceilings and stripping the floor down to asphalt, architect Michael Holliday found the canvas he needed to paint Santa Barbara’s new business incubator, the SYNERGY Business & Technology Center (1 N. Calle César Chávez, Ste. 102; call 452-9542 or visit

A few weeks ago, The Santa Barbara Independent’s web gurus — including this reporter — held a meeting in SYNERGY’s conference room to do some online marketing, strategizing in a building without water-stained ceiling tiles and intestine-colored carpets. Walk into SYNERGY, and you are greeted by a front desk built from a felled alder on the San Marcos Pass and a folded plane wall reminiscent of a wave cleaved by a color-changing, LED-lit racing stripe. Sunlight streams through tall windows into the clean, open space.

The “wave wall” blocks off a series of work areas rentable by start-up companies like one called Fuel Box, the founders of which are designing a device that can recharge any mobile gadget. Also rentable are individual desks for lone-wolf entrepreneurs. The idea animating SYNERGY is that it will bring together like-minded businesspeople who can build alliances and strengthen each other’s ideas. The hope is that inventors will meet financiers who will meet marketers and so forth. To that purpose, SYNERGY includes open areas where its occupants can bump into each other, but also nooks and crannies where impromptu conferences can take place.

SYNERGY also removes much of the overhead price for germinating businesses. For a single monthly fee, you can get a workspace, an Internet connection and phone line, meeting areas, and a mod kitchen with stainless steel appliances. Included in that fee is also a growing collection of toys like beach cruisers and stand-up paddleboards that renters can take out for brainstorming sessions on the shores of the Pacific, only two blocks away.

Also nearby is the artsy/industrial Funk Zone, whose energy Holliday hopes will rub off on the SYNERGY center. The creative vibe there — where an indoor garden is planned — reflects Holliday’s profession as an architect, which requires a graceful balance of business savvy and imagination. (Artist Wendy MaHarry, who is renting a well-lit loft space, has definitely picked up on that vibe.) “If this thing doesn’t fly as an incubator,” Holliday joked, “it’ll be a killer nightclub.”

Holliday also designed Santa Barbara’s first business incubator on Gutierrez Street. When he recently renovated it to be RightScale’s new headquarters, he felt a “calling” to help the displaced entrepreneurs. In that sense, SYNERGY is a mea culpa with flourish. Taking up much of the 208,000 square feet in Santa Barbara’s largest building, SYNERGY has already become the center of gravity for Santa Barbara’s business community, playing host to chamber-of-commerce events and the first start-up weekend competition in which entrepreneurs go from pitch to development in a single weekend. The next start-up weekend will be on November 2.

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