A key to Madison’s co-working spaces
Co-working spaces act as a third space
Before co-working spaces there were coffee shops. Popular among college students, freelancers and other members of the gig economy escaping the isolation and distraction of working from home, these “third spaces” were – and still are – great places to throw on your headphones and get some work done. But what if you need to make a few phone calls, conduct a private meeting or print a report? Or what if your solo gig turns into a team project, or you need connections and support to move your business forward, or you simply crave more structure, community and conversation?
Co-working is the new third space, offering one part productivity, one part office amenities and one part community. But instead of justifying your presence with the purchase of a chai latte and chocolate chip scone, you’ll be expected to shell out anywhere from $30 a month for a virtual plan (once-a-week access plus business mailing address) to close to $2,000 for a premium package for five people. As with a gym membership, the price tag depends on your level of commitment.
In general, a basic “hot desk” member enjoys all the amenities, including free coffee, with an individual desk or communal work space available on a first-come, first-served basis. Next-level members choose a dedicated spot at a co-working table, where you can set up a desktop, a potted plant and a picture of your cat. Those who select a private office enter a platinum-level experience, with even higher premiums based on size. These are the individuals, teams or organizations that want their own work space but not the longer-term commitment of a traditional commercial lease.
In growing cities like Madison, co-working is increasingly attracting solopreneurs, startups, companies with virtual headquarters and remote workers, and individuals or teams from larger companies (both for-profit and nonprofit) with satellite presences. Another fun fact about coworking? No two spaces are alike – each is unique with respect to size, pricing structure, amenities and vibe. We set out to explore the local marketplace to see what it has to offer.
The newest and swankiest of the Madison area’s co-working options is Industrious, where I ran into city alder Maurice “Mo” Cheeks during a tour of the facility. He was busy on his laptop in the lounge, where exactly this type of serendipitous interaction is welcomed and encouraged.
Industrious is the city’s first co-working chain – to date there are 29 locations in 22 cities – and it occupies some seriously high-end real estate in a downtown commercial building. From our fifth-floor perch on the corner of Main and Carroll streets, which offers a jaw-dropping view of the state Capitol, Cheeks and I talked about the coworking scene. His day job is vice president of business development at the global software company MIOSoft. He and his MIOSoft coworkers in Madison take advantage of an office space at Industrious, and he absolutely loves the flexibility, camaraderie and, not surprisingly, the location.
While Cheeks the businessman is content with his company’s Industrious membership, Cheeks the community leader and District 10 alder is a champion of 100state, the co-working space around the corner on West Washington Avenue, where he serves on the board of directors. Switching hats, Cheeks talks about 100state’s magnetic culture of community, where more than 300 members are drawn to the space for the people, resources, ideas and collaborations. A self-described “superfan” of 100state, Cheeks values the high energy and proactive community building that the space and its inhabitants create and cultivate.
Executive director Greg St. Fort is responsible for the vibe and the experience at 100state – from the coffee pot and membership management to community sponsorships and events. Occupying its third location since it opened at 100 State St. in 2013, 100state’s year-old space, at 316 W. Washington Ave., is double the size of the old one and features a dedicated classroom and art studio in addition to its own complement of communal tables, dedicated desks and private offices. There’s even a meditation and mother’s room for quiet contemplation or breastfeeding.
The latter is a sign of the times for 100state and other co-working spaces. The early founders and members were decidedly young, white and male, a mirror image of the tech-driven startup community that began to blossom here in the mid-2000s. Today, 100state is a diverse powerhouse of for-profits and nonprofits from a wide variety of sectors, rich with resources, a wealth of connections and mountains of inspiration.
“There’s true community being built, economic impact, relationships and retention of talent in this city,” says St. Fort.
The first co-working space as we currently define it opened in San Francisco in 2005. Serial entrepreneurs Preston Austin and Matt Younkle founded Horizon Coworking as Madison’s first co-working venture on Capitol Square in 2010, and its mission is continually evolving to meet the needs of the community and the members it serves.
Before moving their startup company Murfie to a larger facility in Middleton, Austin and Younkle operated out of Horizon. Doing so was both convenient and advantageous, as the pair has been instrumental in growing the voice and visibility of the entrepreneurial community and much of the early work took place at Horizon – including the incubation of Forward Festival, the Wisconsin Innovation Awards and the social-good nonprofit Collaboration for Good. The Doyenne Group is a community partner at Horizon, supporting women in starting and growing businesses while preparing for its own step forward as a tenant at StartingBlock. Millions of dollars have been invested in companies that started at Horizon, says Austin.
“In 2008 I was thinking we were way behind our economic potential for office space utilization,” says Austin. “We founded Horizon to encourage people to treat coworking as a valid and serious proposition.”
Mission accomplished, so Austin has begun to acknowledge and tackle larger systemic and societal issues around economics and entrepreneurship. He calls them “white, male tech sector problems” and talks eloquently about “authentically welcoming, safe and comfortable spaces” for women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color. He’s also exploring the feasibility of transforming Horizon into a member-owned cooperative.
“Horizon’s broader mission is trying to find the niches that make entrepreneurship and the tech sector work more broadly, be more beneficial and less [concentrated] but still connecting to the professional aspect of the space,” says Austin. “Building bridges that are highly productive have to be built on both sides.”
Austin says, in retrospect, he is a bit surprised if not disappointed about the way co-working has evolved here, noting a lack of collaboration and resource sharing among the space operators and the building owners. Horizon and Matrix Coworking (a popular space on the west side) offer dual memberships for $20 a month that work well for those who take advantage, but mostly, he says, there’s been little to no cross-pollination.
Eugenia Podesta, the co-founder, along with Spencer Hudson, of Synergy Coworking, agrees. She says the value of collaboration goes far beyond the relationships between and among owners and operators. Co-workers, she says, would benefit from closer and more fluid ties between spaces – matching the right resources to the right entrepreneurs, connecting people and ideas, and sharing knowledge and information about the community at large. In a word, synergy.
“We’re all good at what we’re good at and there’s plenty of need to go around,” she says.
What Podesta is extremely good at is mentoring – in particular, building an educational framework for members to emerge as entrepreneurs and community leaders. Located on Old Middleton Road near University Avenue, Synergy is cultivating a mini ecosystem of women and people of color within the larger entrepreneurial community. In addition to the menu of membership plans, Podesta facilitates a Synergy Masterminds initiative with 50 volunteer local and global experts who work with members and non-members to advance their ideas and connect them to resources.
She favors hands-on, individualized approaches to learning and mentoring, and is piloting an incubator – called Synergy Excelerator – with a cohort of eight social entrepreneurs of color in a variety of sectors. Her curriculum focuses on leadership development, venture development, and – no surprise here – partnerships and collaboration.
“The fascinating thing about it is 80 percent are diaspora – first-generation Americans ranging in age from 17 to 34,” she says. “If we’re really trying to bring about change, impact should be driving our work.”
Impact, says Jocelyn Dornfeld, is exactly what drove her entrepreneurial passion and vision to open Brix & Mortar Coworking.
“I started making an impact on more than the company I was working for,” says Dornfeld, who put herself through Madison College by selling and designing websites and then went to work as a marketing professional for a construction and restoration business.
After 10 years, she decided to start her own consulting firm.
“I loved being on my own, but didn’t like the isolation,” she says.
As the business grew and she began to build a team from across Dane County, face-to-face meetings at coffee shops became increasingly “awkward.” While shopping for office space, the idea of starting her own co-working space began to take shape.
Located at 30 W. Mifflin St., Brix & Mortar’s sixth-floor space looks out over the intersection of State, Carroll and Mifflin streets in the heart of the city. The five private offices on the Mifflin Street side enjoy spectacular floor-to-ceiling views of the Capitol.
Since opening Brix & Mortar in September 2017, Dornfeld has been busy growing her membership and building the community within it – just like the previous occupant, 100state.
While Dornfeld gave Brix & Mortar a fresh makeover, including bright orange and purple walls to match her energetic personality and style, she’s thrilled to continue the tradition and legacy of ideas, innovations and community that came before her.
“It’s perfect,” she says. “They did so well here.”
A Malleable Mindset
“The space chose me,” says Tiffanie Mark, who bought a vacant, three-story office building on Odana Road in 2013 and opened it as Matrix Coworking. A native of Madison, Mark was in the corporate relocation business in Milwaukee when she decided to move back home and play with the still-novel idea of coworking as a way to share management and cut overhead.
Membership is diverse and eclectic – lawyers, tech startups, massage therapists, even a hypnotist who travels back and forth from her retirement home in Florida. A recording studio, gym and a flexible dance studio occupy the basement level, organically adapting to the membership.
“We’re malleable,” says Mark. “We build the space around the people using it.”
Just down the road, Madworks Coworking, owned and operated by University Research Park since 2013, also evolves to meet the needs of its members. To enhance social and networking opportunities, Madworks launched @1403 on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus and partners with UW-Madison’s commercialization incubator Discovery to Product and the Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic. Madworks Accelerator provides resources and mentorship for early-stage entrepreneurs and startups, and gBETA is a campus offshoot of gener8tor, a nationally ranked accelerator for high-growth startups founded by two UW-Madison grads.
On the StartingBlock
Five years in the making, the highly anticipated StartingBlock space is open for business starting in June inside American Family Insurance’s new building, The Spark, on the 800 block of East Washington Avenue in the heart of the Capitol East District.
“We don’t define StartingBlock as principally a co-working space,” says Chandra Miller Fienen, director of operations. “We think of ourselves as an entrepreneurial hub and our target is entrepreneurs and startups that have the capacity to grow and scale, which means we have a larger range of base options than a traditional co-working space.”
Consistent with other area co-working spaces, a flexible monthly membership starts at $150. From there, startups can upgrade to pods, small offices and suites ranging from 1,000 to 7,000 square feet.
StartingBlock also employs a dedicated staff that helps startups launch, grow, innovate and give back to the community. Lucas Frisbie is the startup team strategist offering one-on-one consulting as well as workshops on talent recruitment. Entrepreneur-in-residence Scott Resnick oversees new business development, account management and portfolio investments.
The Doyenne Group, Bunker Labs and gener8tor will take up residence to provide additional resources and expertise.
“We want to help launch great companies and entrepreneurs that are financially successful, great to employees and great to communities,” says Miller Fienen.
Brennan Nardi is communications director of Madison Community Foundation and former editor of Madison Magazine.
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