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'Coworking spaces' catch on with 'digital creatives'

Sunday, September 18, 2011   (0 Comments)
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‘Coworking spaces’ catch on with ‘digital creatives’
From the Denver Business Journal

by Greg Avery, Reporter - Denver Business Journal
Date: Friday, September 16, 2011, 4:00am MDT 

The companies have names like UnCubed, The Hive and The Creative Farm — and for a new generation of laptop-lugging knowledge workers, they offer a place to work around others without all the hassles and costs of an office.

More than a dozen of these "coworking” spaces dot the metro area today, at least five of which opened just this summer, making the Denver area a coworking hotspot in the United States.

John Wilker co-founded UnCubed in August, turning a north Denver warehouse into an open work environment primarily for software coders, website developers and other digital creatives.

Wilker organizes software-development conferences and had worked from home prior to co-founding UnCubed. To beat the sense of isolation, he left home every day to work around other people in coffee shops.

"Coffee, and then eating out. Once you’re out, you decide to stay out and work all day until you go home,” he said. "It got old, and it got expensive real quick.”
UnCubed is meant to offer software coders a place to land that’s both quiet enough to let members focus, and busy enough that someone’s always around to help solve programming problems, Wilker said.

"We wanted space where everyone’s in one room, and everyone’s able to collaborate,” he said. "If a person is having an issue with JavaScript or something else, they can just throw it out there to the room and find an answer.”

The co-op charges between $80 and $350 a month for membership, depending on how many days per week a member wants access.

Bringing staff together
Full Contact, a Denver startup whose software automatically updates and corrects contact and client lists for businesses, bought membership at UnCubed for its six local workers while it negotiates a lease elsewhere that will serve as Full Contact’s first formal headquarters.

While it could’ve temporarily made do with a distributed workforce that communicated online, Full Contact co-founder Dan Lynn discovered UnCubed. He liked having the company’s workers together and establishing a work culture with each other.
In areas such as Palo Alto, Calif., or Boulder, there are coffee shops where it’s easy to find other software programmers to work next to, he said.

Coworking sites such as UnCubed are the natural evolution from that work style, he said.

"The coder-in-the-coffee-shop thing has been going on for years, and this is sort of formalizing it,” Lynn said. "Coworking is a name for something people were already doing. If it works in a coffee shop, it’s something that’s ideal for cowork.”
The Hive, off 15th Street, may be the best-established coworking site in Denver. It opened in 2007.

Since late 2009, coworking sites have opening steadily, with several aiming to cater to a specific kind of worker or offer a particular kind of work environment.

Some, such as UnCubed, focus on tech workers. Others, like Creative Density, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, and the four-location Creative Farm, try to attract independent and creative workers from a broad range of professions.

Cowork members and founders say there’s still a demand for more shared work space around Denver. But, with the wave of cowork openings continuing, there’s likely to be some that thrive and attract members while others close.

Planting Creative Farm
John Lanterman, a University of Colorado urban design and landscape architecture instructor, opened Creative Farm in a building site near Sloans Lake three years ago. Since then, he’s opened another in Lower Highlands, and two more in buildings near Colfax Avenue and York Street, and he’s working on opening another location in that neighborhood.

The Creative Farm sites have nearly 50 members. Lanterman has little trouble finding tenants who want an affordable space around like-minded professionals, he said.
"It’s about going in dense, urban in-fill settings and finding space for creatives where they can collaborate,” Lanterman said. "I’d love to take this idea national.”

Unlike many other cowork sites, Creative Farm has more private office suites than shared open space, and it has more traditional leases that can run for multiple-year periods.

Lanterman tries to recruit artistic professionals — architects, graphic artists, web designers, writers — who benefit from sharing ideas in person and who can contract with each other on projects.

Managing the leasing and chemistry of individual tenants paying for 200 square feet is difficult, and it’s hard to make money at it, he said.

But the popularity of coworking arrangements has been building here and nationally, Jennie Nevin said.

She moved to Denver to open Green Spaces in 2009, the cowork organization’s second location.

Its first was in New York City. There Nevin, a former finance industry professional, worked from her kitchen table in a tiny apartment and met clients in coffee shops, as she built a networking group for entrepreneurs building environmentally focused companies.

She co-founded the first Green Spaces, today located in Manhattan, to be a home for the green industry entrepreneurs she met. Many were living as professional nomads in New York City because their companies were either too small to afford rent, or the professional office spaces available in the city didn’t suit their work style, Nevin said.
She wanted to try living in a different city, somewhere she could open a second Green Spaces.

"Colorado had a lot of entrepreneurs, and it had a lot of green momentum, especially after the Democratic National Convention,” Nevin said. "It seemed like there’s a lot of startups and freelance workers here.”

She opened Green Spaces in a former art gallery at 26th and Walnut streets in the warehouse district north of downtown. Today, Green Spaces has more than 70 members, Nevin said.

Sharing a work environment with other kinds of creative people — even if just for two or three days a week — counteracts the isolation and monotony of solo work.

"I’m surrounded by people who have ideas all day long,” said Craig Baute, an independent market researcher and product development consultant. "It’s fun to go to work and talk with them.”

On June 1, Baute opened the Creative Density cowork space off 17th and Emerson streets east of downtown.

The 15 members of the 3,500-square-foot coworking center pay between $75 and $350 per month.

Baute relocated from Chicago to Denver last year after visiting here on a job interview. In Chicago, he worked remotely for clients in Michigan and spent a lot of time in two coffee shops.

"It was boring, and I noticed my circle of friends was dwindling because I wasn’t meeting any new people,” Baute said.

He joined a coworking space in Chicago. As a young professional, Baute found it valuable to be around others with more and varied career experiences, he said.
He toured several cities with coworking sites to research the business before opening his own in Denver. He created a website about coworking in Denver and used it to poll prospective members about what neighborhood seemed suited for a new cowork business.

His survey results strongly said Capitol Hill. It had a need and could attract the range of tech, artists and corporate telecommuters he wanted.

Baute hadn’t heard of a new coworking space opening in the metro area for a while, but four others opened within weeks of Create Density’s debut.

"I’m glad I opened up when I did,” he said.
Tech company Trada opened a free shared work space, called Codespace, over the summer on Walnut Street in downtown Boulder.

The idea was to give back to Boulder’s software developers and tech scene, said Ashley Colburn, who manages CodeSpace.

Two rooms of the street-level office are exclusive for use by tenant startups, while the larger community space offers free Wi-Fi, free soda and coffee, and walk-in access to its couches, tables, kitchen and other accoutrements.

"On any given day, we have anywhere from 10 to 15 people come in and out — 95 percent of them are engineers and software developers,” Colburn said.

Greg Avery covers tech, telecom, aerospace and bioscience for the Denver Business Journal and writes for the "Boosters, Bits & Bioscience" blog.

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