I’m biased. I’ll start with that. I work for a coworking space so, of course, I’m going to speak highly of coworking spaces. But this post isn’t designed to drum up business for the American Underground or our new space Gridworks, but rather to make a case for coworking spaces in general. I’ve personally found that being associated with one has grown my professional network exponentially, and I think entrepreneurs, freelancers, artists and other types of professionals should consider coworking as an option to acquire more quality business connections.
At a coworking space, there’s an instant local community of thinkers and innovators to connect with on a regular basis. Also, tailored programming can allow for opportunities to connect or get help around a specific focus or niche. Finally, if the coworking hub is part of a national or global network, members can plug into an even larger community and see their web of contacts and influence span across borders.
In the past three or four weeks, I’ve seen some good examples at the AU that highlight each of these opportunity types.
Daily/Weekly Local Connections
We have a weekly internal speaker series that we do at American Underground called Helpfest. This past week we changed the format a little and had one of our members, Blakely, share a new and unpolished business idea that she had. She sought help from the community on fine-tuning her business model, thinking through incentives for her customers, and setting up a working pricing structure. Then, the Helpfest audience (about 80 people) broke off into groups and spent about 40 minutes prototyping and brainstorming solutions and opportunities for Blakely to consider. She left the session with a bounty of crowdsourced ideas to test and iterate on. The ability to easily tap into the surrounding community to problem-solve is an instant value of being in a coworking space. And while there may not always be giant brainstorming sessions, coworking spaces allow plenty of opportunities for smaller, one-on-one connections that can be just as fruitful.
Tailored Programming Around A Specific Focus
We’re currently running a program called the Startup Stampede, a two-month intensive program to help emerging consumer product companies build their digital storefront and scaling strategy. On top of getting quality mentorship tailored to their needs, the entrepreneurs also have the benefit of using each other as resources, sharing contacts, and discussing relatable issues specific to consumer product companies. Similarly, through a number of industry-specific happy hours and meetups hosted in the space, professionals can connect with others in the same or similar verticals. For example, in a couple of weeks, we have our inaugural Healthcare IT Happy Hour designed to connect thinkers in the digital health space.
National and Global Reach
If you’re looking for your business to have national or global reach, being a part of a coworking space with connections outside of your state can be helpful. American Underground, for example, is part of a Google-backed network of startup hubs and campuses across 125+ countries. With that, our members can have temporary workspace with any of our partner hubs when traveling to their cities. Also, through the Google For Entrepreneurs network, there are a number of impactful programs (such as Google Demo Day and Blackbox Connect) that our companies can apply to take part in. Being a part of a national or global network also means that leaders from the different hubs will periodically meet to find new ways to strengthen the network on behalf of their members. For example, I was recently in Mexico City visiting Centraal, another GFE tech hub. My colleagues and I, along with Google execs and leaders from the other GFE North American tech hubs, were meeting to share ideas and best practices, and discuss ways to expand the network’s mentorship capabilities.
If you’ve wondered about relocating your business (or a part of your business) to a coworking space, I hope this post encourages you to seriously consider it. But, I’ll also caution you. As more and more coworking spaces pop up, not all will offer the same kind of value for your budding company. Pay attention to what efforts (if any) a coworking space is making to foster community within their walls and with the surrounding ecosystem as a whole. Also, assess the quality and reach of their network. The right coworking space can help you make crucial contacts that can help take your business to the next level.
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