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Facebook friendship sparks
                                                                new business
                                                                When Milligan alumnus John Searby (’98) began a new job last
                                                                year, he looked forward to the flexibility he would have working
                                                                from home.
                                                                      Searby, then assistant athletic director at Bradley University in Peoria,
                                                                Illinois, was offered a job as a regional sales manager with XOS Digital, a
                                                                sports digital media company. Although XOS is headquartered in Orlando,
                                                                Florida, Searby and his family were able to remain in Peoria, where he would
                                                                work from home and travel several days a month.
                                                                      The situation seemed ideal at first, but it didn’t take long for Searby to
                                                                learn there is also a downside to working from home.
                                                                      “After about five to six months, I started to realize that the isolation
                                                                was tough,” Searby said. “I loved having flexibility, but I am a social person
                                                                and I missed the social interaction of an office.”
                                                                      Searby took his laptop to Panera Bread or a local coffee shop a couple
                                                                of days a week, but most of these were difficult places to work. As the
                                                                lunch crowds came and went, it became impossible to conduct conference
                                                                calls and concentrate on reports.
                                                                      “I kept thinking, there’s got to be a better way to do this,” Searby said.
                                                                      So on a whim one day last fall, Searby posted this Facebook status:
                                                                “Looking for a new way to work from home.”
                                                                      That is when he discovered an unexpected source of encouragement
                                                                and ideas.

                                                                A SPARK OF INSPIRATION
                                                                     More than 600 miles away in Johnson City, Tennessee, Jose and
                                                                Shannon (Tolson ’96) Castillo were growing their successful new coworking
                                                                business, Spark Plaza (http://sparkplaza.com).
                                                                     Coworking is an emerging trend for work-at-home professionals,
                                                                independent contractors or people who travel frequently. Coworking allows
                                                                people, who work independently, to share the same work space and enjoy
                                                                the social interaction that comes with working alongside like-minded
                                                                professionals.
                                                                     Launched in April of 2009, Spark Plaza was born out of many of the
                                                                same frustrations Searby experienced with his work situation.
                                                                     Jose is a technology consultant who often travels and works from hotel
                                                                lobbies, airports and coffee shops. Shannon, who majored in
                                                                communications and business at Milligan, is a pharmaceutical sales
                                                                representative ― always on the go.
                                                                     “Jose and I thought there was a need for people to have a shared office
                                                                space, so we invested our own money to open a business and created Spark
                                                                Plaza,” Castillo said.
         Archived photos from their days as Milligan students




                                                                     Located in downtown Johnson City, Spark Plaza is an all-inclusive
                                                                shared office space that provides laid-back meeting and work space, social
                                                                interaction and a professional atmosphere for freelancers, entrepreneurs and
                                                                other work-at-home professionals.
                                                                     The concept of coworking, usually found in larger cities, has taken off
                                                                in Johnson City.
                                                                     “We used social media to create a buzz before we ever opened,” Castillo
                                                                said. “We created a fan page on Facebook, a Twitter account and advertised
                                                                our events on social networking sites. Within six months, we were in the
                                                                black and we just celebrated Spark Plaza’s first anniversary.”
                                                                     Coincidentally, it was also social media that caused Castillo and
                                                                Searby’s paths to intersect again ― almost 15 years after they were
                                                                classmates at Milligan.

12 | SUMMER 2010
ALUMNI feature




 Shannon & Jose Castillo

     “While we were at Milligan, Shannon and I
barely knew each other,” Searby said. “In fact, I
don’t think we had one conversation. But we knew
each other’s names and had become friends on
Facebook. And she saw my Facebook message and
replied, ‘Check out coworking.’”
     Her reply was the beginning of a series of
Facebook messages, email messages and telephone
conversations between Castillo and Searby.

GOING WITH THE WORKflow
      Searby was sold on the idea of coworking, but
he had a problem ― there wasn’t anything like Spark
Plaza in Peoria.
      “Shannon helped me see it from a servant-
                                                                                                                                 John Searby
leadership perspective,” Searby said. “I had a need
and could start a business that, at the end of the day, is                      Philadelphia and Salt Lake City,” Searby said. “But I modeled WORKflow
not just meeting my need, but the needs of other people.”                       on Spark Plaza because there were so many similarities between the Tri-
      After months of research, Searby opened his own coworking space,          Cities and Peoria.
WORKflow Peoria.                                                                     “WORKflow is still a work in progress, but I have been pleasantly
      WORKflow Peoria (http://workflowpeoria.com) offers members a              surprised at how it’s gone so far.”
convenient place to work, conduct meetings and enjoy social interaction.             Although WORKflow is his first business venture, Searby has gained a
It’s located in a historic 1837 building, the second-oldest residence in the    lot of leadership experience throughout his career, starting with his years at
city of Peoria. Searby chose a convenient downtown location, with plenty        Milligan. While at Milligan, he played on the basketball team and was
of parking for members.                                                         captain of the Buffaloes’ NAIA National Tournament team.
      “Shannon instilled the confidence in me I needed to take on this               He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and English and went
business,” Searby said. “One of the most important pieces of advice she         on to earn his master’s degree in English from Tennessee Tech University.
gave me was location is key. Part way through this process, I thought I had     He has coached basketball or served in administrative roles at several
found a location, but it fell through. I was very disappointed, but Shannon     universities, including Auburn University and Lincoln Christian University.
encouraged me to stay patient and not stop until I found the right                   While Searby has created a large network of friends, it was an unlikely
location.”                                                                      Facebook friendship with a Milligan classmate that sparked his inspiration
      Searby also borrowed Spark Plaza’s business model, including the use      to create WORKflow.
of social media to create publicity and interest in coworking before                 “All those years, our paths never crossed at Milligan,” Castillo said.
WORKflow officially opened in May of 2010.                                      “But here we are, 14 years later, making the connection.”
      “I visited coworking spaces across the country, in places like Chicago,

                                                                                                                                                SUMMER 2010 | 13

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Milliganmagazine su10 12-13

  • 1. Facebook friendship sparks new business When Milligan alumnus John Searby (’98) began a new job last year, he looked forward to the flexibility he would have working from home. Searby, then assistant athletic director at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, was offered a job as a regional sales manager with XOS Digital, a sports digital media company. Although XOS is headquartered in Orlando, Florida, Searby and his family were able to remain in Peoria, where he would work from home and travel several days a month. The situation seemed ideal at first, but it didn’t take long for Searby to learn there is also a downside to working from home. “After about five to six months, I started to realize that the isolation was tough,” Searby said. “I loved having flexibility, but I am a social person and I missed the social interaction of an office.” Searby took his laptop to Panera Bread or a local coffee shop a couple of days a week, but most of these were difficult places to work. As the lunch crowds came and went, it became impossible to conduct conference calls and concentrate on reports. “I kept thinking, there’s got to be a better way to do this,” Searby said. So on a whim one day last fall, Searby posted this Facebook status: “Looking for a new way to work from home.” That is when he discovered an unexpected source of encouragement and ideas. A SPARK OF INSPIRATION More than 600 miles away in Johnson City, Tennessee, Jose and Shannon (Tolson ’96) Castillo were growing their successful new coworking business, Spark Plaza (http://sparkplaza.com). Coworking is an emerging trend for work-at-home professionals, independent contractors or people who travel frequently. Coworking allows people, who work independently, to share the same work space and enjoy the social interaction that comes with working alongside like-minded professionals. Launched in April of 2009, Spark Plaza was born out of many of the same frustrations Searby experienced with his work situation. Jose is a technology consultant who often travels and works from hotel lobbies, airports and coffee shops. Shannon, who majored in communications and business at Milligan, is a pharmaceutical sales representative ― always on the go. “Jose and I thought there was a need for people to have a shared office space, so we invested our own money to open a business and created Spark Plaza,” Castillo said. Archived photos from their days as Milligan students Located in downtown Johnson City, Spark Plaza is an all-inclusive shared office space that provides laid-back meeting and work space, social interaction and a professional atmosphere for freelancers, entrepreneurs and other work-at-home professionals. The concept of coworking, usually found in larger cities, has taken off in Johnson City. “We used social media to create a buzz before we ever opened,” Castillo said. “We created a fan page on Facebook, a Twitter account and advertised our events on social networking sites. Within six months, we were in the black and we just celebrated Spark Plaza’s first anniversary.” Coincidentally, it was also social media that caused Castillo and Searby’s paths to intersect again ― almost 15 years after they were classmates at Milligan. 12 | SUMMER 2010
  • 2. ALUMNI feature Shannon & Jose Castillo “While we were at Milligan, Shannon and I barely knew each other,” Searby said. “In fact, I don’t think we had one conversation. But we knew each other’s names and had become friends on Facebook. And she saw my Facebook message and replied, ‘Check out coworking.’” Her reply was the beginning of a series of Facebook messages, email messages and telephone conversations between Castillo and Searby. GOING WITH THE WORKflow Searby was sold on the idea of coworking, but he had a problem ― there wasn’t anything like Spark Plaza in Peoria. “Shannon helped me see it from a servant- John Searby leadership perspective,” Searby said. “I had a need and could start a business that, at the end of the day, is Philadelphia and Salt Lake City,” Searby said. “But I modeled WORKflow not just meeting my need, but the needs of other people.” on Spark Plaza because there were so many similarities between the Tri- After months of research, Searby opened his own coworking space, Cities and Peoria. WORKflow Peoria. “WORKflow is still a work in progress, but I have been pleasantly WORKflow Peoria (http://workflowpeoria.com) offers members a surprised at how it’s gone so far.” convenient place to work, conduct meetings and enjoy social interaction. Although WORKflow is his first business venture, Searby has gained a It’s located in a historic 1837 building, the second-oldest residence in the lot of leadership experience throughout his career, starting with his years at city of Peoria. Searby chose a convenient downtown location, with plenty Milligan. While at Milligan, he played on the basketball team and was of parking for members. captain of the Buffaloes’ NAIA National Tournament team. “Shannon instilled the confidence in me I needed to take on this He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and English and went business,” Searby said. “One of the most important pieces of advice she on to earn his master’s degree in English from Tennessee Tech University. gave me was location is key. Part way through this process, I thought I had He has coached basketball or served in administrative roles at several found a location, but it fell through. I was very disappointed, but Shannon universities, including Auburn University and Lincoln Christian University. encouraged me to stay patient and not stop until I found the right While Searby has created a large network of friends, it was an unlikely location.” Facebook friendship with a Milligan classmate that sparked his inspiration Searby also borrowed Spark Plaza’s business model, including the use to create WORKflow. of social media to create publicity and interest in coworking before “All those years, our paths never crossed at Milligan,” Castillo said. WORKflow officially opened in May of 2010. “But here we are, 14 years later, making the connection.” “I visited coworking spaces across the country, in places like Chicago, SUMMER 2010 | 13