The Knot finds growth in first year

The Knot Climbing Gym maxes out at 65 climbers, and owner Mike Palmer says they hit that number a few days a week.

The climbing gym opened quietly in February and has grown organically since then.

“It’s gone so good we haven’t really had to do any marketing or really tell anybody that we’re open,” Palmer said.

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He’d like to grow and build an Olympic regulation gym―meaning 15 meter walls among other requirements. The gym will need a different location to make it happen.

Inside, members can boulder or rock climb in multiple areas and upside down, use workout equipment and the facility also has a yoga room.

Bouldering requires climbers to follow different routes, rated along a V scale from 0 into the teens, and Palmer says changing these routes within the gym is the main product for The Knot.

Mike Palmer The Knot Climbing Gym

Climbers can practice conquering a route before setting their sights on another. After a few weeks, new routes are ready to be conquered.

But The Knot’s growth didn’t happen overnight, or even in the 10 months since its opening. Palmer said he ran into every hurdle possible along the way, like finding a building, needing to do foundation repairs, doing projects in the wrong order and underestimating the cost.

He started on the entrepreneurial trail years earlier when a friend told him that Gainesville’s old climbing gym was shutting down.

“A friend said ‘hey, you know the climbing gym closed down. There’s some people meeting to talk about this,’” Palmer recalled.

Palmer had attended the gym from 2003 to 2009 before leaving Gainesville, and at the meeting, he seemed to be in the best position to move forward with creating a new gym. He decided to go for it and began incubating at GTEC.

GTEC, the Gainesville Technology Entrepreneur Center, serves as a home for companies of various sizes and functions, from aerospace to commercial cleaning and even tax services.

Palmer said he initially thought his startup wasn’t the right fit for GTEC because it wasn’t a tech company but hoped he could get space.

Bill Dorman, director of GTEC, said the center started with a focus on technology companies, giving them a space away from UF to start on their own.

Over the years, the center has changed and opened the doors for manufacturing and service companies, but misconceptions still arise about the facility.

In a report to the Gainesville City Commission, a consulting group suggested changing the name to better reflect the center’s current goals.

The facility helps new companies with space and also advice. Entrepreneurs can find help for legal issues they’re working through or discussion on business strategy, marketing or human resources.

Routes at The Knot are constantly changing

“It kinda opens all the doors and kinda gives you this almost like a toolkit for business startup,” Palmer said.

He joined GTEC around 2016 and graduated from the center in the middle of 2019, but he still attends the peer group meetings–one of the biggest helps as he worked to open The Knot.

Coming to the meeting every week kept him from slacking off and letting the business idea fade.

“Maybe I would have started the business without [GTEC]―maybe,” Palmer said. “It was definitely a huge help.”

Dorman said GTEC doesn’t have a set plan for when a company leaves the incubator. It’s a natural process, like a child that becomes a teen and before long is on their own.

For Palmer, he finally had a building and moved back to Gainesville, giving him a location to settle down.

“I needed some place that could kinda be a home base while we were going through the whole startup process of the business,” he said.

Now he had that place.

GTEC has anywhere from 15 to 20 companies at a time with graduation happening every two months on average. A big goal for GTEC, located off of Hawthorne Road, is to boost business in East Gainesville. Moving away from a tech focus helps with that goal, Dorman said.

The consulting report presented to the city commission suggested other steps like renaming the facility and having a place for GTEC businesses to graduate to.

“Somebody grows their business and our expectation is they’re going to leave our incubator and grow here in Gainesville, especially East Gainesville, well where is that,” Dorman said, noting the lack of commercial space in the area.

Staff of the Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area are working on future steps for GTEC, taking the consulting group’s report and planning a way forward.

Those plans will return to the commission in the spring of next year for approval. Then GTEC can start to change accordingly.

For The Knot, future planning looks like a space with room for Olympic-level climbing and continued growth.

Dorman said that success is gratifying for him as well.

“[Palmer] struggled for two years and he finally got it going,” Dorman said. “And they’re doing better than their projections.”

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