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For Madison’s entrepreneurial economy to continue to grow and sustain itself, the infrastructure that supports these emerging businesses must keep pace as well. The co-working economy is one key indicator to watch, says entrepreneur Tiffanie Mark, who is taking the co-working industry to the next level by organizing the state’s first association of co-working spaces. Co-working found its way to Madison nearly a decade ago after originating in San Francisco.
Launching this summer, Wisconsin Coworking Collective aims to increase the industry’s profile and provide the general public with a better understanding of the unique value of co-working spaces. Another key role for the new entity is leveraging collective bargaining opportunities for bulk purchasing, software integrations, and even obtaining health insurance for members.
According to Statista, there were 542,000 people working in co-working spaces in the United States (1.18 million worldwide) in 2017. If the growth rate continues—around 23 percent per year—there will be more than 1 million co-workers by 2022. Wisconsin’s slice of the co-working pie is relatively small — Marks estimates between 1,300 and 1,500 co-workers in some 28 spaces.
“Operating a co-working space can be difficult work, particularly when you’re still trying to educate your community on how these models support systemic economic growth,” says Mark, a Madison native who opened Matrix Coworking, her own 10,000-square-foot space on Odana Road, in 2013. “What we need is more industry advocates, people to help build these partnerships so that space operators can focus on the day-to-day needs of the space and members.”
Mark has been studying industry best practices throughout the global co-working community, attending conferences and visiting hundreds of spaces around the world. In 2017, Marks partnered with fellow industry experts to form a real estate consulting firm, Agora RDM, specializing in the design and implementation of shared space models. She helped launch a co-working space in a hotel in Dubai, the first of its kind, and in Second City’s improvisation training center in Chicago.
Trends Mark would like to see in Madison include more joint venture partnerships between landlords and existing co-working spaces, partnerships with existing businesses, such as coffee shops and restaurants, and “pop up” co-working in cool commercial real estate properties awaiting long-term tenants.
“Wisconsin is pretty behind in this industry,” she says. “I think many people’s perceptions of co-working, and what co-working can be, is still limited to what they already see in front of them. But the opportunities are endless.”
One way to quantify their value, says Mark, is to capture more in-depth data around Wisconsin’s entrepreneur culture, including industry breakdown and company growth rates.
“This collective,” she says, “allows us to see not only how co-working affects entrepreneurs but how different kinds of co-working environments affect different kinds of entrepreneurs and, more broadly, the impact of co-working on the larger ecosystem.”
In my conversations with Mark and other co-working operators, it becomes clear that true co-working is communal, not just transactional. These spaces offer benefits to members beyond desk space and free Wi-Fi. Each offers its own brand of shared resources and opportunities to connect. Likewise, each attracts a diverse and dynamic mix of members. Matrix, for example, is mostly non-tech and non-millennial, with members who are lawyers and financial advisers, artists, therapists and other professionals. It occupies a sprawling, 10,000-square-foot building on the west side. 100state is also 10,000 square feet but located in the 316 Building downtown along with tech startups EatStreet, Adobo and a variety of others.
“Co-working is more than just a ‘space as a service,” it’s a gateway to new ideas, business models and opportunities for people,” she says. “Freelancers are a perfect example. If you’re someone looking for local talent, you should be connecting with co-working spaces.”
Find Wisconsin Coworking Collective at www.wisconsincoworking.org.
Brennan Nardi is communications director at Madison Community Foundation and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Reach her at email@example.com