CO+HOOTS creator adds entrepreneurial spark to Washington Row

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Jenny Poon, founder and owner of the local co-working space CO+HOOTS, brings entrepreneurship to Washington Street. Though born in Minnesota, Poon is a fighter for downtown Phoenix. (Jessica Zook/DD)

Downtown Phoenix Voices is an ongoing series of profiles on the many diverse and inspirational voices in the downtown Phoenix community. To read the last installment in the series,
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As soon as she enters, Jenny Poon brings a new energy to the already bustling, warm CO+HOOTS building. The shared workspace is an old auto shop renovated to remain industrious but also modern, with local art, inspirational quotes and images of owls littered liberally about.

Poon, 29, is the creator of CO+HOOTS, a co-working space that supports local entrepreneurs as well as eeko studios, a design agency. She is also one of the lead figures in crafting the entrepreneurial corridor that is becoming Washington Row.

“People kept coming to me saying, ‘Phoenix is a ghost town. Nothing’s happening here. Everyone is leaving. There’s not talent here,’” Poon said. “Hearing that lit a fire in me.”

Apathy for Phoenix was a problem she found in the city’s residents.

“I won’t hate you if you say there’s nothing here in Phoenix … because I will change your mind,” she said, without a hint of doubt in her voice. “Even if it takes an overriding brain hypnosis thing, I will make it happen.”

That fire is evident in Poon’s capacity for both lighthearted energy and determined passion.

“She has this magnetism to her,” said Matt Clower, one of the first members of CO+HOOTS.

The two met through a two-hour phone conversation to plan the shared workspace.

“That even came across the phone,” Clower said. “She’s very winsome and enthusiastic. At times it’s contagious.”

Poon also remembers the phone conversation well, recalling saying to Matt at one point, “Where have you been all my life?”

Poon was born and raised in Eden Prairie, Minn. She made her way to Phoenix in 2006, soon joining her husband Odeen Domingo at The Arizona Republic as an art director.

By 2009 however, Poon left the publication to freelance and launch eeko.

The lack of communication and person-to-person interaction drove her away from corporate America. Poon attributed this to the size of large corporations, which is why her companies are designed to stay small.

Community, interpersonal relationships and size were all on her mind as she created her first business, eeko studios. The agency is a tight team of only seven, Poon included.

“My passion is in making sure those interpersonal interactions stay strong as you grow,” she said. “That’s the nature of a boutique agency, and I love it.”

Working from home for eeko inspired Poon to pursue the CO+HOOTS concept. She remembers that one day, after working from home for over a year, she learned a natural disaster had occurred. But she was more horrified to find out that it had happened a week ago without her knowledge, simply because she was always home.

“As efficient as I am being in my own little box, it’s really counterproductive to be creative and be inspired,” she said.

Poon had earlier stumbled upon the idea of shared workspaces, one that was already popular worldwide, and thought it would be a perfect fit not only for her to jump back into the Phoenix community, but for the community itself.

“It’s a visibility thing. Once you uncover that, you can’t not see it,” she said, speaking of the talent and growth in Phoenix. “That was what CO+HOOTS was trying to do. To bring that aspect — that entrepreneurship and talent — to the forefront.”

Poon gave equal credit to Clower for the co-working space’s existence.

“It takes one crazy person to start a movement, but how it catches on fire is the next person,” she said. “You can’t start a movement by yourself. He kept pushing me.”

Three years, locations and launch parties (growing from 350 to 750 attendees over time) later, CO+HOOTS is doing just that: attracting entrepreneurs and helping them develop their ideas, be it through simple collaboration or their free workshops.

“Business is grown on connecting with the right people at the right time,” she said.

Poon has grown as well, according to Clower.

“CO+HOOTS is a really great playground for Jenny. It’s a springboard,” Clower said.

Clower has since left to work at a new Phoenix business, Parchment, but still looks to Poon as not only a good friend but also as a professional to turn to for advice — and he’s not the only one.

“She does kind of have a following, you know? She’s inspiring to people. She’s good at asking people to get involved,” Clower said. “That’s what’s neat about her. I’m excited to see what she does next.”

Poon admits she’s been dodging the question about a second CO+HOOTS, but she is not without plans. Her vision has expanded across Washington Street, which she sees as a future entrepreneurial corridor for downtown.

“How can we build a connected, or at least designated, corridor for people to point at?” she said. “Just like Roosevelt Row is an arts district, Washington Row will be an entrepreneur corridor.”

A strong believer that small business is the key to local economic recovery, she hopes to foster entrepreneurs in CO+HOOTS and then see them settle nearby, bringing their restaurants, firms and shops to Washington Row.

Poon also has goals that are a little less professional. She listed her “inventor’s spirit” as both her greatest strength and greatest weakness.

“I get into this problem-solving room, and I start running, running, running,” she said, laughing. “And then I can’t sleep, and then I can’t eat, and then I’m the scrawny person I am right now!”

When she’s not designing communities and streets, Poon is still creating things on a smaller scale.

“I’m a closet crafter,” Poon said. “I’m getting better at talking about it.”

Poon creates outside of her craft table, as well, though. Her current obsession is a business by the name of HeatSync Labs, allowing people to use tools and materials to make large creations, such as furniture.

From crafts to workspaces to entrepreneurs, Poon is inspiring the city and people that she said had first inspired her.

“Meeting the people that are creating things here, that story is just really exciting to me,” she said. “If you look at what we have and what’s happening, how could you not feel proud?”

Contact the reporter at ascoville@asu.edu

Correction: Jan. 25, 2013

This article incorrectly described Matt Clower as a cofounder of CO+HOOTS. It has been corrected to describe him as an original member.

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