Coworking – A Treasure for Startups: Workspace and Community

Coworking is a way of working that is not only an opportunity for bootstrapping a startup, but also for overcoming the entrepreneur’s blues. It’s an inexpensive means of support and office space.

Sharing space and talent

Coworking is an emerging trend for a new pattern for working. As well as entrepreneurs, work-at-home professionals or independent contractors, or people who travel frequently end up working in relative isolation. Coworking is the social gathering of a group of people, who are still working independently, but who share values and who are interested in the synergy that can happen from working with talented people in the same space.

Some coworking spaces were developed by nomadic internet entrepreneurs seeking an alternative to working in coffee shops and cafes, or to isolation in independent or home offices. The ‘movement’ is spreading and more spaces are opening across the US and in many countries round the world. The phenomenon is international and the term ‘coworking’ is even used in other languages, as in ‘┬ęspaces coworking’ in French.

Coworking is growing fast

Estimates suggest there were some 760 coworking places in the US in 2011, up nearly 90% over the year before. The rise in coworking places is due to technologies like cloud computing and more women and freelancers in the workforce, as well as startups.

As Jane Hodges of the Wall Street Journal says, “Telecommuters, entrepreneurs, and the self-employed all grapple with the logistical challenges of working alone. At home, workers face isolation and domestic distraction. At the corner coffee shop offering free WiFi, there’s insufficient privacy, too few electrical outlets and the nuisance of latte orders shouted out throughout the day.”

Different coworking spaces have slightly different takes

Office Nomads in Seattle say, “Coworking is not a desk rental business. It’s not about the printers or the conference rooms. Coworking is about people. Coworking spaces bring together independent workers and provides them with a space in which they can work alongside one another in community.”

New Work City in New York say pretty much the same: “We’re the gathering spot for a community of like-minded individuals who need somewhere to work that’s both creative and social, and professional and conducive to working. We’re not an office space. We don’t rent desks. There are lots of businesses in NYC that offer those services; in fact we’re part of a coalition of them. Instead of renting desks, we offer memberships.”

Conjunctured in Austin, Texas say they, “provide a creative environment for entrepreneurs that encourages collaboration. Through a workflow, cursory needs are fulfilled, leaving you with the freedom to find or fuel your passions. Innovation occurs while collaborating with individuals with a shared purpose.” It’s a coworking space with a growing community of freelancers, entrepreneurs, and mobile workers who have grown tired of working alone.

For people on the move, coworking spaces exist all over

A ‘coworking visa’ is a new idea that allows active members of one space, when traveling, to use another coworking space, gratis. Current participating spaces are located in 25 cities in the US with a growing number in other cities outside the US. Loosecubes brings places with spare workspaces together with those needing them. They’ve found that coworking can lead to new jobs, partnerships, referrals, and friendships.

Coworking spaces can be had on all kinds of different pricing plans. Some are based on monthly arrangements and vary by intensity of use. Then there are often rentals on an ‘as needed’ basis, by the day or week, or it could be just for the use of a conference room. Additional services may also be available- such as printing, copying, a mailing address or storage locker. Deals generally include the use of coffee. Regus, the managed office space company, offers Businessworld, a subscription service with membership cards for their 1,200 locations.

Directories of coworking will connect you

As coworking become a very normal practice, generally in cities, all around the world, there are directories popping up so that you can always find a space on the move. Some directories are limited to geographic areas or countries. LiquidSpace is an example of a mobile app that connects people seeking workspace with venues that have space to share. High-end business centers, hip startup co-working spaces, hotels, and private spaces are listed.

The term coworking is not the only term in use-it includes desksurfing, desktime and shared desks. The more widely interpreted terms such as business centers, shared offices, and even wifi cafes. Though the concept of wifi cafes will even extend to McDonalds, most of which have people working on their laptops these days. But they are not dedicated to work and don’t lend themselves to extended work use.

In corporate offices, the term hot-desking has been in use for a long time, as companies make reductions in overheads. Some of the coworking spaces are in fact made available by companies with surplus space.

Specialist and sectoral coworking spaces

Specialist spaces are also becoming more common, with special facilities for architects, designers, the fashion industry, spaces with rehearsal rooms for performance artists. An organization called BioCurious recently opened a community biology lab in California’s Bay Area. Chefs and artisanal food manufacturers share kitchens. A kitchen incubator, also known as a culinary incubator, is a business incubator dedicated to early-stage catering, retail and wholesale food businesses.

An MBA student of mine with a new catering business works out of the kitchen of the local Veterans’ Club. Another example in my State is the Vermont Food Venture Center is a shared-use kitchen incubator for value-added and specialty food producers. There are similar organizations in New York, North Carolina, Montana, and other States.

The Pasadena Bioscience Collaborative is a non-profit organization created to support the growing biotechnology industry in the San Gabriel Valley. It promotes and supports new company formation by providing low-cost, high quality WetLab space and access to shared-used equipment to early startups. My own website page on Venture Incubators and Accelerators gives other examples