(Original story by The Manhattan Mercury.)
Josh Hicks doesn’t follow a script.
Most high school students either know exactly where they’re headed to college, or at least spend months obsessing over post-graduation plans.
It wasn’t until about three weeks before graduation, when a college counselor asked where Hicks was headed, that he realized he should probably figure the whole “college thing” out.
A week later he visited Fort Hays State University and decided on the spot that it was the place for him.
Two years into the school’s photography program, he decided learning film in the age of digital wasn’t a great investment, so he transferred to Kansas State University to study entrepreneurship.
But now even that is practically ancient history for the 23-year-old photographer, traveler and soon-to-be entrepreneur.
Hicks lives in Manhattan but grew up in Salina and Bennington, where his high school graduating class had 30 students.
He started out with simple landscape photography, but soon enough a classmate asked Hicks for a senior portrait.
“I told them that I work with skies,” Hicks laughed. “I don’t have to say, ‘Hey cloud, go that way, and make this color.’”
It turned out Hicks did a pretty good job, though, because seven other people eventually asked him to shoot their senior photos.
“It was a blessing coming from a small, connected place,” he said. “Once I got into college I could come back and do senior photos for the next class, and (photograph) families. It was just word of mouth — they wanted to support you since you were from such a small community.”
That support quickly blossomed and Hicks got to shoot weddings across six states and even the Dominican Republic while he was still at Fort Hays State.
“So I had that freedom,” he said. “And once I got to entrepreneurship school here, a few of my professors had never owned a business before. But they were teaching from a book that talks about running a business… I can think of upwards of 10 people in my family who own their own businesses, and so it was really hard for me to try and learn business when I was already doing it. So I kind of had an epiphany on that and quit taking classes.”
Before long, Hicks was splitting time between photography and Arrow Coffee Company.
At first he was just a customer, visiting periodically to try new coffee blends and edit photos on his computer.
“Eventually we were just like, ‘Josh, you would be a very good fit for us,’” said David Adkins, who co-owns the shop. “So we brought him on, and he’s been a friend ever since.
“He’s got this artistic, creative drive and a people-first mentality,” Adkins said. “Whatever he’s doing, he’s not necessarily doing to make Josh happy, he’s doing it to create an experience and an opportunity for the other people around him.”
That mentality first led Hicks to Help-Portrait, an organization that offers free portraits to people who can’t afford to pay for a session with a professional photographer.
He organized his own Help-Portrait day in Manhattan, first in 2014 and again last December. Volunteers provided free hair and makeup service, food, coffee and all of the work needed to produce a framed photograph.
Hicks and a couple dozen other volunteers took portraits of about 75 people the first year, and more than 150 the second time around.
“So many of them have never taken a family photo before,” he said. “A year later they come back to us and they’re still talking about last year’s event and how they got to interact with people and experience people loving them, and they remember that.”
And while Hicks loved working at Arrow and loved photography, he saw an opportunity for something more when he realized how many other artists and entrepreneurs were working alone or doing work at a coffee shop just to get out of the house.
So Hicks, along with his fiancé and several other friends, decided to create a co-working space where people can pay a monthly fee for a shared office populated with like-minded individuals.
”I can edit (photos) at home,” Hicks said. “And I stare at the same wall, it’s just me, all day. And it’s lonely,’ he said. “So that’s how this idea came together.
“Manhattan is more traditional and business owners are 50, or retiring age,” he said. “Kind of the scope that we’re into is, four out of the five partners are 24 and under. So we’ve kind of connected with the millennials and all of the other people doing cool stuff… it’s not leading a charge, it’s not a movement, but once we realized how many people could use this, we started reaching out them and they said they need this, they want this.”
The “this” Hicks refers to is The Fellow, a 3,800-square-foot space at 1125 Westport Drive, is set to open April 22.
Hicks said it will be the first of its kind in Manhattan, and will feature 24-hour access, private and shared workspaces, and a kitchen with coffee from his friends at Arrow.
And while he no longer works at the coffee shop, Adkins said Hicks is living out a sort of “mutual dream by opening the co-working space.”
Hicks, meanwhile, is quick to credit Arrow for much of his own success.
“It’s kind of its own little culture of people who are doing cool things,” he said. “I worked there for a year and you see some of the same people every day. And you start to be able to dig into them a little bit and… I never knew people in Manhattan did that kind of stuff.”