Garages and bedrooms may be the archetypal home of scrappy new ventures, but these days entrepreneurs have another option when it comes deciding where to locate a fledgling business: coworking spaces. These communal offices draw independent workers and start-ups to a shared office environment, usually at relatively low-cost, providing conference rooms and photocopiers as well as other less tangible benefits for entrepreneurs.
What are these? CNBC recently rounded up a few ways co-working spaces help new businesses succeed, including low overhead and networking, but to get a fuller picture of the advantages these spaces offer entrepreneurs we went straight to the horse's mouth, emailing a handful of space owners and start-up founders who built their businesses at coworking spaces for their perspective on the coworking experience for entrepreneurs.
Liz Elam, founder of Link Coworking in Austin and an organizer of the upcoming Global Coworking Uncoference Conference, who also wrote the CNBC piece, expanded on the networking benefits of spaces like hers when we got in touch, noting that interactions with fellow coworking members often go beyond what we traditionally think of as networking to encompass emotional 'support.' This reflects the community focus of many involved in coworking. She writes:
The number one reason that a new business should join a coworking space is for the community support. Opening your own business is scary. It’s a huge risk personally and professionally. Coworking members will support you. They will let you bounce your ideas, give you honest feedback, and cheer you on when you have a success. It’s a ready-made, diverse support mechanism just waiting for you to walk in and join. We have named numerous businesses, changed website flow and even tasted products at Link.
Casey Bernard, who started her business CheckInsights out of Link, backs up Elam's assertion that coworking is a valuable source of support for entrepreneurs, both for the touchy feely emotional benefits and nuts and bolts exchange of skill. "I was working at home alone after moving to Austin from Dallas," Bernard explains. "I felt so isolated and wasn't meeting people in meaningful ways through the typical networking events and by working at coffee shops." So she joined Link and saw benefits:
One day someone was in for a tour and Liz found out he is an IP attorney. She introduced us and we chatted about my concept and he helped me file a provisional patent. Since then, just being around other entrepreneurs who share ideas and provide support has helped. Before I did my first demo of my product with a potential client, I grabbed a conference room with another marketing research professional who gave me feedback and support.
Craig Baute, owner of Creative Density in Denver, agrees that freely flowing feedback is a key benefit for entrepreneurs. "In a coworking space lunch time or anytime can become brainstorming sessions with some pretty smart people. The startup doesn't have to wait for a pitch night to get feedback," he says.
Another way to look at the community benefits of a coworking space is as a way to encourage serendipity. "You are able to quickly build out a diverse social network, which can potentially leads to new clients, new investors or resources to help you get the work done. This is what some in the coworking movement refer to as 'accelerated serendipity,'" says Don Ball, co-founder of CoCo in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
"In our space we have seen networking and relationships happen faster than in other environments," says Noelle Stary, co-founder of Launchpad Creatives in New Jersey, echoing Ball's sentiment.
But space owners aren't only interested in selling the intangible benefits of coworking. Like the CNBC piece they also point out that working in one can save cold hard cash for strapped entrepreneurs. "The best part of starting a business in a coworking space is the ability to be flexible and quick," writes Baute. "If you need a task done outside the partners' skill set then there is likely someone in the community that could help you out for a few hours. If you were working on your own, the startup would have to create a job posting or search Elance or oDesk and hire someone. This takes valuable time and hires someone with questionable skills."
Have you considered housing your business at a coworking space?