So, yes, there’s that title. Garbee laughs. “What? Chief imagination officer doesn’t tell you everything you need to know?”
Perhaps it’s helpful to understand that Garbee is an idea machine. She reads that garlic has healing properties and thinks, “I’m going to make garlic Band-Aids.” Which may have been the thing that prompted her sister to say Garbee’s ideas are “half-genius and half-crazy.”
Garbee owned her first business, a bathroom and kitchen remodeling company, when she was 20. And no, she doesn’t come from money. She worked her way through Virginia Commonwealth University. She took partners to buy the remodeling company, which grew from a $300,000-a-year to a $1.2 million-a-year business. Almost two years ago, she turned her focus to a different kind of construction: community in Richmond. In particular, idea people seeking to build start-ups — in tech, mostly.
Garbee founded 804RVA, Richmond’s first co-working office. It’s a hub where people can come to work in as much or as little privacy as they wish. It has 70 paying members. “They come for the work space,” she says, “but they stay for the community.” 804RVA has served as host of 200 tech meet-ups in two years. It’s where you’d join a workshop in Adobe or Ruby on Rails. The meet-up group has grown to 900 people — as Garbee calls it, her “nerd army.”
Richmond has problem, she says. Local investors readily will fund start-ups outside Richmond, and Richmonders with ideas are taking them to places such as New York. “If the venture capitalists and the start-ups keep going elsewhere, what happens to Richmond?” Garbee asks. “We’re the community that wants to stay in Richmond. We are Richmond’s next generation and we don’t want to leave.”