From entrepreneurs looking for a traditional office space without the costly overhead, to freelancers searching for a productive place to work, coworking spaces seem to be all the rage these days, and more of them are popping up locally.
Though they come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, coworking spaces generally offer the same benefits: a shared working environment with dedicated services (Wi-Fi, conference rooms, access to scanning/copying/printing, a kitchen and eating area), utilities, a mailing address and flexible pricing plans (pay by the day, week or month).
Beyond the traditional office amenities, coworking spaces feature a dynamic work environment that proponents say encourages collaborative networking with colleagues who have different skills, experiences and business goals.
“Collaborative work environments foster a discernible sense of community and an atmosphere conducive to interaction and innovation,” said Max Ault, director of business development at the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC).
Vancouver’s newest coworking space – and the largest with 11,000 square feet – is CoLab Shared Workspace. Located at 915 Broadway St. near Black Rock Coffee on Evergreen, CoLab officially opens next month. Until then, appointment-only tours are being offered.
“CoLab’s foundation is built on the value and importance of business networking and community,” said Johnson. “This means that our focus is on creating and sustaining a community of professional teams and individuals working and growing their business in tandem. Yes, we offer fast internet and free coffee, but those are just byproducts of the community being formed, and people enjoying their work.
“Because of the diverse industries involved in coworking spaces,” he added, “there are new business ideas, strategies and opportunities that form out of this organic incubator environment. This not only helps spark new business opportunities, but also helps facilitate innovation and rejuvenation within an established organization.”
One of CoLab’s first members is Dave Barcos, co-founder of The Bridge, a Vancouver-based brand incubator focused on building startups in Southwest Washington. Barcos said that because his organization works directly with early-stage companies, coworking space is an ideal place to be.
“Coworking is a new office structure that allows for great connections and opportunities with the other members of the space,” he explained. “Vancouver is on the verge of some exciting changes and growth, [and] Coworking is part of that new energy and at the heart of the way new businesses are created today.”
Ventures at Work
Another new coworking space in Vancouver is Ventures at Work, which opened in January at 14301 SE 1st St., Suite 110, near the Hampton Inn off East Mill Plain Blvd.
One way that they differentiate themselves from other spaces, according to owner Ken Peterson, is with “makerspace” – a workspace with 3-D printers, a laser cutter/burner, a programmable embroidery machine, a serger machine and sewing machine.
For office space, Ventures at Work offers private offices, dedicated desks and “hot desks” – shared desks available on a first-come, first-served basis. The private offices all offer traditional amenities and 10-18 hours of conference room usage per month (additional hours can be purchased).
“It (Ventures at Work) is an option [for] corporations with overflow, and it’s a good place for the smaller entrepreneur who can’t do things at home, or who feels more productive elsewhere or who doesn’t want to go over to the other partner’s house,” said Peterson. “If they want an environment for networking and collaborating, with a big printer and copier, mailing address and a professional place to meet clients and hold meetings, it’s a great place.”
Elizabeth Whitworth, community manager at Ventures at Work, is tasked with organizing events and helping new members sign up.
“In the future, Ventures at Work plans to offer workshops or presentations for businesses to both members and non-members,” she said.
Like CoLab and Ventures at Work, one of the city’s first coworking spaces – Columbia Collective – relies not only on Wi-Fi and a desk to attract members, but on an environment based on collaboration. The company slogan, “together is better,” stems from the idea that working in isolation is detrimental.
“I chose a coworking space because of the community aspect,” he said. “It is a lot more fun to meet, interact and work with people in a group setting then it is to have my own office, where we can get closed off from the community. It’s especially easy to get overly submerged into the digital world, and being around other professionals and other local businesses helps keep my team and I grounded. The space itself allows my team to be extremely flexible. They can work from here, or work from Paris. As long as we get the work done, we can really work from anywhere. A coworking space is perfect in giving the team feel, even if most of my team works digitally most of the time.”
In the spirit of collaboration, and in observation of Small Business Month this May, new members can work at Columbia Collective (810 Main St. in downtown Vancouver) for free without any obligation to sign up for another month.
“It’s a great place for companies to grow in steps, to start in the flex area, then grab a dedicated space, and then go with your team to an office for three to five,” said co-founder Max Mikhaylenko.
Mikhaylenko listed a range of people who work at Columbia Collective, including web developers and designers, customer support, photographers, entrepreneurs who are on their own or in small teams, and other remote workers. Some work for very large companies and could work at home or at a coffee shop. However, he said many members find that a coworking space is their best option; the home environment has too many distractions and coffee shops are too loud and not conducive to productivity.
With the resources of a larger company, Regus’ amenities include a business lounge, a receptionist, a Regus app for booking workspace on the move, and access to an administrative support person whose services are rentable by the hour (for tasks like booking travel, taking minutes at meetings or stuffing envelopes).
More on the way
The commercial real estate agents we spoke to said they don’t see coworking spaces having a significant impact on the traditional commercial office market – at least not yet. However, that doesn’t mean the growing interest in coworking space has gone unnoticed.
“Coworking and collaborative workspaces are on the rise,” said Ault. “With freelancers and independent contractors on track to make up 40 percent of our workforce by 2020, coworking spaces are … increasingly more attractive – and not just to freelancers and startups, but also larger enterprises who seek a regional presence with low overhead and operational costs.”
Teresa Brum, economic development division manager for the City of Vancouver, added, “Collaborative workspace provides yet another resource for entrepreneurs and small businesses in Vancouver. We expect this market to continue to grow as more independent and creative workers put down their roots here.”
Entrepreneurship is seldom solitary
Turns out, there’s something to the idea that a collaborative working environment does more than just make entrepreneurs feel less lonely.
According to Martin Ruef of Stanford University’s Department of Sociology, “Entrepreneurship is seldom a solitary activity. Among individuals trying to start their own business in the United States, some 84 percent report the involvement of other startup participants.”
In his book, “The Entrepreneurial Group, Social Identities, Relations, and Collective Action” (from the Kaufman Foundation series on innovation and entrepreneurship), Ruef demonstrates that teams are the “leading force behind entrepreneurial startups.” He writes, “Even at the earliest stage of startup development (i.e., before there was a stream of positive cash flow), over a third of U.S. entrepreneurs in 2006 relied on regular contributions – including material investment, guidance and other support – from non-owner helpers. By comparison, only eight percent had hired full- or part-time employees.”
Ruef also stated that “Many entrepreneurs end up going it alone, but the reasons for this outcome can be complex. Some entrepreneurs are relatively isolated and suffer from limited social networks.”