Open-source office space
Coworking phenomenon is catching on in Chico
Josh Morgan runs a public-relations agency out of an office in El Dorado Hills, a two-hour drive from Chico. He has family and clients in Chico, but he’s not here quite enough to make getting an actual office make sense.
So, he uses the Uptime Coworking Studio for his work space. “This way, we have a space, we have an address we can use, a place we can meet with people,” Morgan explained.
Coworking is a new phenomenon that is catching on in cities across the country—and now has reached Chico. The idea behind it is to capture the growing number of entrepreneurs and other business people who rely mainly on “virtual” offices—laptops, Blackberrys and the like—but now and then need to use a real office space.
Known as “community offices” or “office parks,” they are shared work spaces that provide the latest in technological equipment as well as an opportunity for business people to bounce ideas off each other.
In Chico, Uptime is currently running out of the Golden Capital Network office until construction is completed on the 1,200-square-foot coworking studio in the same building. Business nomads like Morgan are using the GCN office until they can transfer to the studio.
Morgan’s clients include technology companies, and a big part of his job is writing. He likes to be in a quiet space for that. But his work also involves creativity and brainstorming, and for that he likes to have other people around.
“It’s having them there and the ideas they might have. You can bounce something off of somebody much easier,” Morgan said. “Working virtually, I can do that over IM, I can do that multiple ways, but there’s something to be said for actual physical interaction that can help the creative process.”
GCN is a nonprofit corporation that provides a business-education system for coaching entrepreneurs and early-stage companies. It serves as a platform for business infants, helping them gain economic development, investment connections, and showcasing.
Uptime is a product of Venture Communities, one of three components that make up GCN. Located on Salem Street, above Alley Tats and Celestino’s Pizza Parlor, the coworking studio is expected to open its doors Monday (Oct. 6).
Coworking started in San Francisco as the vision of a computer programmer named Brad Neuberg. About two years ago, he and other like-minded young techies and business people began meeting to discuss the idea, explained Tara Hunt, who was part of that original group and now owns Citizen Space, in San Francisco, one of the first coworking studios to open its doors.
Via e-mail, Hunt described coworking as being about providing affordable, open, collaborative spaces for people as an alternative to working from home or from noisy coffee shops. “Coworking is really tied to the nomadic worker who is part of a growing movement of people who don’t have offices to go to, but want to work in an environment with other people.”
The goal was not to create anything like typical office rental spaces, Hunt said. Rather, it was “more like an artistic collective with a technology twist. Many of the core ideas of the open-source movement (collaboration, community, openness) went into the core philosophy of coworking.”
That philosophy has spread quickly. Google has a map of coworking sites in the United States, and there are dozens of them. Most are located in metropolitan areas, but now they are spreading to smaller communities—as well as overseas.
“Mid-sized markets such as the Stocktons, the Fresnos, the Bakersfields, the Reddings—Chico—may want something like this in their community,” said Karen McHenry, manager of business operations for Golden Capital Network.
Alan Chamberlain, program director for GCN’s Venture Events, is overseeing the Uptime project. The people who really respond to it are young, independent and self-motivated, he said.
“They’re what we call the Millennials,” he explained. “They’re a very important economic force. They’re very picky about what they’re willing to accept in the way of a work environment and a job. They’re all about instant gratification. They’re also totally viral; they live on the Web 2.0.”
He loosely defines Web 2.0 as a concept for social-space interaction and collaboration. It encompasses such sites as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Wikis and Craigslist. He noted that 70 million Millennials were born between 1980 and 1996; a third of them are still in school, and altogether they earned $210 billion last year.
Four groups are likely to use a coworking studio, Chamberlain said, with the largest being sole proprietors who own home businesses. Mobile freelancers, telecommuters, and start-up entrepreneurs also will use the service.
Here’s how it works: For either a monthly or a day-use fee, clients have access to the studio, which in addition to the usual stuff—computer desks, tables, chairs, and sofas, a conference room and private meeting rooms—will have the latest technology tools. Those will include WebEx computer conferencing, IP video and IP telephony, as well as high-power, ad-free Internet service.
In addition, Uptime, in conjunction with Golden Capital Network, will host “dealflow” showcases (presentations in which venture-capital investors review early-stage companies), seminars, guest speakers, workshops, panel discussions, and networking events. Indeed, one of the major benefits of joining the studio is its intimate relationship with GCN.
The membership fees are similar to those of a health club, where an annual commitment is required and clients will be billed monthly. A basic business membership is $99 per month, $9.95 for a day pass. If a client wants a fixed-desk membership (located in Golden Capital Network’s existing offices), the monthly fee is $250.
Nolan Brown, the first person to walk into Uptime in search of a coworking atmosphere, is a good example of the kind of person who can make use of the service. He’s a 23-year-old entrepreneur with a nomadic lifestyle.
Brown and his brother started a mobile software company called Bitfire Systems in May 2008. They write software for iPhones and Blackberrys, or “smart phones.” They write software for other companies, as well, but mainly they’re a consumer product company; their main focus is consumer applications.
“We do everything over e-mail, over the phone, over Skype. We don’t need a central office, but I still wanted a place where I could have some kind of space,” Brown said, “and that’s where Uptime kind of came in.”
He has been at Uptime for only two months, and already he has networked with other young entrepreneurs who run their All Student Rental business out of the studio. He explained the benefits:
“Because I’m technical, because I’m computer science and a lot of people are business, we don’t ever mesh, but this way we do. We both own companies, we both run companies, and this way we get to know each other and are able to utilize each other’s resources and expertise. That’s how it’s supposes to work. It really is symbiotic.”