It’s a relatively new concept in the region, but the idea of shared working spaces is providing an alternative to independent, creative entrepreneurs who want something between renting an office and setting up shop in a coffee house.
“I really didn’t even know much about what coworking spaces were even five years ago,” says Jeff Mirkes, executive director of Downtown Green Bay, Inc. But for several years, the city’s Broadway district has been home to The Docking Station, owned by Peter Nugent and Dana VanDen Heuvel.
“It seems like it’s a convenient concept for today’s generation of people who maybe don’t want to sign a long-term lease on an office space but they still want to be in a setting that’s collaborative,” Mirkes says.
The concept also gives startups a chance to get established in a location and build capital for their own space, Mirkes says. Such spaces also can be for people working out of their homes who “find that they’re more productive if they’re in a professional setting.”
In Oshkosh, Colleen Merrill, director of UW-Oshkosh’s Small Business Development Center, opened Anytime Workplace on Main Street last summer and sold it to a group of entrepreneurs including Jordan Rhodes, who are currently rebranding the space as The Vault.
“We really want to make this more of a community of ‘iron sharpening iron,’ so that we can all surround ourselves with driven entrepreneurs and push each other to succeed,” Rhodes wrote in an email.
More people are looking into opening similar spaces in the city, says Rob Kleman, senior vice president of economic development at the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s an excellent tool for startup businesses,” Kleman says.
Typically these spaces offer varying tiers of membership, allowing entrepreneurs and independent contractors to choose the kind of access that’s affordable to them, Kleman says. These tiers generally include a daily pay-as-you-go option, a monthly fee for shared space or even monthly rental of a private office.
Avenue HQ in downtown Appleton has seen growth since its inception in July 2013.
“It’s great to see a collaborative and creative community exist within the space, especially given the diversity of individuals and companies that call it ‘home,’ Nathan Litt, project director for Willems Marketing & Events, wrote in an email message. “We think its presence and need for it is a sign of the emerging and developing ‘creative economy’ here in Appleton and the Fox Cities.”
Avenue HQ rents space from Willems Marketing & Events, which helped launch the space with Brett Schilke and Matthew Straub of IDEAco, originally based in Appleton.
“The cofounders were looking to create a space where people who worked from home and entrepreneurs could gather, have a place to work that wasn’t a coffee shop and get out of the house, and foster that community,” says Kim Hottenstine, an environmental health and safety compliance consultant, who helps manage the space.
The coworking space is home to about 11 entrepreneurs, says David Kieffer, part of the puzzle-game-developing Kieffer Bros. team, who also helps manage the space.
“Personally, I’ve met a lot of people, made a lot of connections and friends too, that I definitely never would have met just staying cooped up in my house all day,” Kieffer says. “It just felt really healthy from an emotional-social standpoint, and also very interesting from a business standpoint, being able to meet people who are in similar fields who understand the Internet and technology.”
Also in Appleton, BConnected owner Brad Cebulski is developing a coworking space with four other entrepreneurs. The inspiration came when he and another tech company owner were looking for creative spaces and decided to team up to find one they could share.
They looked and didn’t find many great options, Cebulski says.
“Then we came back and said, what if it was a lot bigger than that — what if it was more than just space for us?” Cebulski says. “What if it became something that improved this culture, this community?”
When they started looking around they realized they weren’t the only ones seeking such a space. As they looked at what other cities were doing, “we started realizing that we were kind of behind the times, if you will, and losing momentum at gaining that young talent,” he says.
The space is in the development stage but Cebulski hopes to have it open sometime this year. He’s working with Brandon Wentland of Optimal Digital Marketing; Neil Mix, an Appleton resident who is director of engineering for Pandora; Garritt Bader, principal at GB Real Estate Investments; and Peter Nugent of Green Bay’s Docking Station.
“I think that downtown Appleton has a lot of momentum going for it right now, and I want to take the position of creating the community that you want rather than waiting for someone else to do it,” Cebulski says. “I think it can serve as a hub for that part of the economy – that younger, creative entrepreneur that is looking for a place to start.”
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