Coworking Spaces Grow in Popularity

How shared working spaces are facilitating start-ups.

Inc. Newsletter

When software engineer Brad
Neuberg
opened a communal workspace in 2005 and called it coworking,
he wanted to achieve the benefits of self-employment without the
loneliness that working in a bathrobe can entail. He rented a space from
a non-profit organization that gave him a deal, set up rolling tables
that could be moved out of the way at night, and waited for people to
come work with him. Nobody came until two months later, and he closed
the coworking space after about a year.

"I thought coworking was
dead," says Neuberg. "But then it turned out that all those people who
had come by–because I told them take this idea, steal it, and remix
it–planted all of these seeds that started blooming about a year or two
years later."

Five years later, there are coworking spaces in
almost every major city in the United
States
and more than 75 spaces globally, listed on the coworking Google group's website.
There are coworking "remixes" that fit every niche from green business
to working mothers. And coworking is emerging not just as a rich work
community for the self-employed, but as an efficient platform from which
to build a business.

"[People who start businesses from
coworking spaces] are not your completely traditional entrepreneurs, but
they've got enough of a desire to be independent and entrepreneurial
that given a little bit better foundation they can take those steps,"
says Todd Sundsted,
co-author of I'm Outta Here! How co-working is making the office
obsolete.
"They've got energy, they hook up with people, they start
to collaborate, and start putting things together."

Sundsted
says last year he started noticing an increasing number of entrepreneurs
who were interested in setting up "coworking plus" locations that would
offer services to entrepreneurs beyond the sense of community and
networking that coworking traditionally supplies. Many of these ideas
were aimed at facilitating start-ups, such as adding small venture
capital components and consulting services to the spaces. But most of
these new models, Sundsted says, have yet to get out off of the ground.

The
Hub, though not formally part of Neuberg's coworking movement, is one
form of a "coworking plus" idea that has more than taken off. With 18
branches worldwide and about 51 more in planning stages, the Hub has
been facilitating new businesses since 1995, when it opened its first
location in London. The Hub
is intended to foster social and environmental change organizations,
and it uses its 4,500-person strong global network to introduce members
to other Hub users who have similar interests.

For instance, a
host at a The Hub Berlin might
connect someone interested in doing development work in Nicaragua with someone
working on a similar project at The Hub Sao Palo.

"There's been a
total evolution in how to mobilize business," says Alex
Michel
, who helped open The Hub Berkeley last September. "You don't
necessarily need the brick and mortar solutions that we once had, so
people are far more mobile. Coworking spaces make much more sense in
being able to access communities. Our business model is based on sort of
a zip car for business where you just pay for the hours you need."

The
Hub Berkeley is the first American hub, and three months after opening,
it has about 220 members. Five other locations are planned to open in
the Bay Area within the next five years.

In addition to The Hub
Berkeley's collaborative workspace, kitchen, meeting space, and office
tools, members have access to the worldwide network of Hubs. If they're
traveling in another area or country, they have not only a workspace,
but a connection to the same community. Every hub also has a host like
Michel who is trained to help facilitate connections, and start-ups
benefit from legal, social media, and business consults offered by
fellow members and staff in both lecture and drop-in formats. HubCap, a
project in the works at The Hub Berkeley, will one day offer venture
capital to its members.

Sundsted, who met his current business
partner in a coworking space, sees a bright future between coworking
spaces like The Hub and small business—especially as the technology to
work in nontraditional offices and the empowerment of creative people to
work outside of a big company increase.

"I think entrepreneurs
tend to be pragmatic enough to latch onto things that help them be
successful," he says.

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