Coworking and the Creative Corridor

COMMUNITY| 6.13.13| 3 Comments

“Coworking” is a relatively new term. The idea seems pretty obvious: telecommuters, freelancers, contractors and solopreneurs — and anyone else who doesn’t report to work every day — share an office space instead of working alone. The concept of sharing office space isn’t new, but coworking is about more than just sharing space — it’s also socializing, collaboration, education, events and making new business connections.

Many creatives in the state were introduced to the concept of coworking when group88 opened in 2008, a collaboration between Suzi Craig, now Director of Market Engagement at Fathom in Hartford, and Jaye Donaldson, president of The Donaldson Group in Simsbury. Their goal was to “help solo professionals recapture the best benefits of an office environment – community, collaboration and sanity – without giving up the best perks of working for yourself – flexibility, independence and doing what you love to do.”

Unfortunately, the idea didn’t catch on quite liked they hoped. “Back when we launched in 2008, I think Connecticut wasn’t quite ready for the concept,” says Craig, “and I’m not sure I was ready to fully take it on either.”

However, coworking has witnessed a significant resurgence over the past few years. Coworking spaces — and the collaboration and connections they provide — have become more and more important. These spaces are stimulating, inspiring, and fun, and can lead to new business development and increased levels of productivity.

Craig continues to champion the coworking concept, and was particularly inspired by an event held last October, where she heard keynote speaker Bethany Betzler of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center. “They are an incredibly successful initiative that is helping to redefine how creative people will change the direction of Detroit,” says Craig. “Critical to what they’re up to is having a physical space for people to collaborate. I see efforts like this as essential to individuals who are taking charge of their future. It’s all about laying fertile ground for people to connect and develop.”

Behind this event was the Fairfield County Communications Association (FCCA) and their initiative, the Connecticut Creative Corridor.

“They had learned about DC3 and Detroit’s Creative Corridor through a New York Times article, and had spent a fair amount of time studying the models of other similar organizations across the country,” says DC3′s Betzler. “They sent me a document titled ‘A Case for a Creative Corridor,’ which presented itself as a sort of rallying cry for the project and also a very educational resource about just exactly how dynamic the creative community is there.”

The vision for the initiative is to establish the Connecticut Creative Corridor as a recognized and reputable hotbed of creative and strategic communications talent that enriches our quality of life and makes a significant contribution to the regional economy. Their mission? To raise the visibility and reputation of Connecticut’s world-class creative and strategic communications talent and promote economic development and job creation via the “creative economy.” Their values? Community. Collaboration. Craftsmanship. Character.

And coworking is certainly part of the plan.

“We are truly delighted that so many coworking locations have blossomed across Connecticut since the FCCA introduced the concept of a Connecticut Creative Corridor last year,” said Randy Savicky, FCCA co-president and founder and CEO of Strategy+Communications in Weston, CT.  “That concept was really focused on connecting all the world-classs creative talent that lives and works in Connecticut to foster a community of collaboration that would benefit not only creatives, but would also have the powerful economic benefit of creating more work and jobs throughout the state.”

“The coworking spaces really bring that concept of creative collaboration to life,” added Sandra Ruiz-Desai, also an FCCA co-president and head of Sandra Ruiz Enterprises in Stamford, CT.  “They enable the Connecticut creative community to meet face-to-face to share their experiences and talents.  This also brings creative professionals together with companies large and small, government, universities, incubators and foundations.  These collaborative efforts can help drive a ‘creative economy’ that at the same time enriches the quality of life of the creative community.”

 
Stamford Innovation Center

The FCCA/CCC event was (not coincidentally) held at The Stamford Innovation Center, “the new entrepreneurial hub of ‘The City That Works.’”

“The building is a 108-year-old Beaux-Arts gem, formerly the Town Hall building for the City of Stamford,” says Vice President of Marketing Peter Propp. “We are focused on leveraging our assets to bring together the startup and tech community along with the freelancers, graphic designers and other consultants who recognize the value of working in a shared setting. Everyone who works here has gained advice, assignments, sales or connections from other members of our community and we expect even more positive outcomes in the months and years to come.”

“Coworking is an essential part of the business at the Stamford Innovation Center,” continues Propp. “We have a beautiful facility that provides ample room for events, classes and parties, but also importantly we have large, airy rooms with 20-foot ceilings that provide a great atmosphere to be inspired and think. (Fast WiFi and free coffee help with the inspiration as well.)”

“I’ve been coworking at the Innovation Center since April,” says Mary Callahan. “I’m a web designer and have been working from my home office in Fairfield for 10 years. I attended a Stamford Chamber of Commerce networking event at the Innovation Center and was excited to learn about coworking. It’s been a huge boost for my business and for networking. I have been picking up projects from the startup businesses in the building and getting referrals from the other co-workers. Virtually any day I arrive, someone is looking for me! The collaboration is fabulous. There’s an energy at the center that I was missing from working alone. I’ve also been improving my web skills by talking with other web designers; keeping up with what’s new and getting tips.”

“I was looking for a way to begin teaching workshops and seminars, and found a partnership at the Innovation Center! They encouraged me by donating space and promoting my schedule. I’m doing workshops every Wednesday morning on topics to help small business find affordable ways to promote their business with web and cloud services. The Innovation Center has been a fabulous experience for me.”

 
B:Hive

At the FCCA/CCC event, recalls speaker Bethany Betzler, “I met a young woman named Marcella Kovac who runs a design studio called Bananaland in Bridgeport. She told me that Bridgeport faces a lot of the same challenges that Detroit does — disinvestment, lack of vision from civic leaders, and economic challenges. Marcella and her peers are working hard to develop community around creative activities in the city — even supporting the country’s oldest movie theater with new and progressive programming.”

Since then, Marcella has become one-sixth of the team behind B:Hive, “a motley group, a hexagon-like Breakfast Club that includes a graphic designer, a programmer, a visual stylist, a copywriter, a teacher and a city planner.” B:Hive is Bridgeport’s first coworking and retail space.

“We want to tip our hat to some friends in Detroit, both at the DC3 and the D:Hive, whose efforts in the area in business development, coworking and retail more than inspired our own doings. The B:Hive was born from our passion for Bridgeport, for business and entrepreneurial spirit, and for each other. We named our project after some of the planet’s best coworkers, who collaborate endlessly for the good of their own communities, and to the benefit of all mankind.”

Why join the B:Hive? “Be productive. Be successful. Be part of something. We created the space for members who are looking to work, to cowork, to network, and to build an inspiring community of like-minded people and professionals. Whether you have a small business or a big idea, B:Hive Bridgeport is designed to help it grow.”

“Becoming a yearly member of B:Hive is the best business decision I have ever made,” says Ashley Keller, owner of Little Black Business Book. “I am now able to get up in the morning and go to work, not in the spare bedroom but in a beautiful, creative, energized space.  It’s amazing the impact that working from B:Hive has made on my business.  My productivity, focus, networking ability and revenues have increased dramatically just in the short time I have been a member.”

“The B:Hive space was designed with someone specific in mind: you.” elaborates Kovac. “An open floorplan and varied desk-like options are meant to facilitate both collaboration and concentration. The long list of membership amenities and very unique interior are sure to inspire ideas, impress clients and appease both the left and right brains.”

 
The Grove

The Grove is a coworking and collaborative space aimed at non-profits, social innovators, entrepreneurs, and independents servicing the social mission sector in New Haven. They provide all the typical technical amenities, as well as hosting a creative, idea-rich environment that inspires networking, incubation, and collaboration.

“I have been running a branding/marketing company for the last 6 years and prior to that, managing various marketing roles with retailers worldwide,” says Glen McDermott, an award-winning brand manager at Red Rock. “Lots of different working environments. The idea of a coworking space was new to me and I was one of the first ‘early adopters’ at the Grove in the fall of 2010, and the work/collaborate environment at the Grove has been a very positive one.”

“When you work in a collaborative environment, you are surrounded by folks that come from all different industries and disciplines and this is where it gets interesting in its diversity. Whereas when you work in a corporate environment, you are surrounded by colleagues that have similar roles and ambitions, where rivalry is fierce and ideas are closely guarded.”

The blend of not for profit and for profit has also proven beneficial. Says McDermott, “Having not for profit and for profit side by side has been a huge leaning curve for me and given me a fresh perspective on social change agents. These NFP groups have become a growing category in the clients I now serve.”

 
SoNo Spaces

“We created SoNo Spaces as an extension of the way our own work styles had evolved,” says Karl Heine, who with wife kHyal runs both SoNo Spaces and creativeplacement. “Since 2008, kHyal and I began to work remotely from other U.S. cities, and in places like Berlin and Paris when traveling for business. We became interested in the share culture cultivating in Manhattan and Brooklyn because of the rising costs of real estate. We had friends that were pioneering in the coworking arena, and we attended many events in different coworking locations.”

“For me,” continues Karl, “the idea of having 1,800 square feet of often-unoccupied office space in South Norwalk prompted the natural decision to convert it to a coworking space. We had already held collaborative design and learning events there since 2007 as part of our PUSH workshops initiative. At first we considered the standard model many use — allowing daily, weekly, walk-in or even by the hour use. We quickly realized that for us, a much better fit would be for longer term relationships with individuals and small companies. We didn’t want our focus to be administrating short-term memberships in an environment that might become more distracting than productive.  We wanted to nurture a culture that would help other professionals grow their businesses in the heart of downtown SoNo, Connecticut’s design district.”

“At heart, we are always about community. For us, community can be found throughout the world. While we have created our own coworking space in Connecticut, we also have collaborative offices at We Work SoHo West in New York City, and have worked remotely in other cities from Los Angeles to Barcelona. We believe that collaboration is not tied to one community or another, but is a universal truth that expands exponentially.”

“I use SoNo Spaces for collaborative work and client meetings in the area,” says Butch Quick, a freelance designer under the moniker b quick designs. “When I have a project with other designers, I can’t discuss it at a coffee shop or restaurant — there are too many distractions and it’s not confidential. The location is ideal, close connections to all the major highways, and Metro-North is just 2 blocks away. Perfect when you have people traveling in Connecticut and from NYC.”

“Karl was helpful to many of us during Hurricane Sandy. I was in the dark across town during the storm and needed to complete a packaging project for a client. I saw he was inviting anyone to stop in to work or charge their devices. Karl was a real lifesaver! The bonus was that later the same day while I working at SoNo Spaces, creativeplacement had a new client opportunity for me. Karl just grabbed my iPad where my portfolio was ready to go, presented the work, and I landed a new project. Just for being in the right place at the right time!”

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