Building Community One Cubicle Demolition at a Time

Internationally, the number of coworking locations has roughly doubled since 2006. With nearly a dozen coworking spaces, Denver is right in the middle of that trend. But why are entrepreneurs and others choosing to share workspace with strangers?  
"Do you want to play dodgeball? We need more people on our team to compete in the league."

So says the young, blonde woman to the man next to her. I was across the room sitting at a desk built from used filing cabinets and a heavy wooden door, enjoying some complimentary coffee. We were all at the Green Spaces workspace but none of us worked for the same company. 

Welcome to the coworking scene in Denver: Spaces where entrepreneurs, executives and even journalists like me can counter the loneliness of telecommuting with wide-open offices, familiar faces and the sometimes serendipitous interactions that can propel startups or spark a rousing game of dodgeball.

Five years ago, there were almost no co-working spaces in Denver. Today, there’s a little something for everyone. Options range from Cohere Coworking to Creative Farm to Denver Co-working to The Hive Cooperative to Uncubed to Innovation Pavilion to Creative Density to The Desk to to Battery621 to Traction. And that’s just the beginning. 

Eco-Friendly WorkspacesA large skylight fills Green Spaces, in the RiNo district, with natural light.
Jennie Nevin, the owner of Green Spaces, was kind enough to let me spend an afternoon working in her space. The office is very much geared toward green-minded tenants. The furniture is reclaimed, the lighting relies on solar tubes that pipe in sunlight and the kitchen features local farm co-op vegetables. Even the bathroom sports low-flow toilets and reusable towels. The occupants reflect that mindset. One -- Denver’s Moving Boxes -- rents eco-friendly, reusable moving boxes and another -- City Plantscaping -- specializes in miniature, indoor gardens. 

Working at Green Spaces was quite enjoyable -- I didn't have to drink coffee to stay there like I would at Starbucks and I didn't have to worry much about my laptop getting stolen like I would at the library.

Nevin launched Green Spaces in New York City in 2009, but moved to Denver in 2010 because "it just seemed like a good spot to be in. The mountains are nearby. And it seems like there is also a lot of entrepreneurship here."

Nevin’s Denver Green Spaces covers around 5,500 square feet, counts around 70 "members," and is at about 95 percent capacity. Nevin offers a variety of pricing options, ranging from $325 per month for a permanent desk to $50 per month for two days in the common "lounge" area. Coffee, copying, fax and mail services are provided.

But Nevin says the real reason people like to work at Green Spaces, instead of Starbucks or a library, is the community created around a shared workspace. 

"You just get to know each other because you spend every day with each other,” Nevin says. “The main way we encourage that is with an open space.”

The twice-monthly happy hour get-togethers help too.

Unplanned Cooperation
Collecting workers from a variety of fields under one roof also leads to natural collaborations. Nevin herself has employed a number of Green Spaces members to help her business, including a graphic designer for the Green Spaces website, a lawyer for legal advice and an advertising executive for the company’s email marketing.

"It’s kind of like you already have your own company here," she says. "You don’t have to figure everything out yourself."

That type of collaboration is evident across the coworking scene in Denver. For example, David Bacon explains that he moved his technology staffing business out of his basement and into the Battery621 coworking office in June of last year in order to tap into the space’s innovation.

"We just are an epic collection of companies that complement each other," says Bacon, who is the principle of BWBacon Group

For example, Bacon says that his company helped Company Be, another Battery621 tenant that makes point-of-sale systems, hire some experienced technology developers. And Company Be is selling its products to Battery621 tenant Icelantic, which makes skiing equipment. 

"I bought a pair of Icelantic skis that I ski on," Bacon says, "so that completes that circle."

By working in a shared space, "we get engaged in each other’s pursuits," he says.

Josh Marinos, who currently manages Battery621, says the success of the space is no accident.

"Every single person and every single business was hand-picked," he says. "What made this building was the harvesting of tenants. It’s not just about filling the office. That’s not what this building is about."

Marinos explains that the founding tenants of Battery621-- multimedia production company Wink and project management company The Public Works -- were initially looking for an office space of around 10,000 square feet that they could share. However, the only good, available location was 30,000 square feet at 621 Kalamath St. The solution, Marinos and his partners decided, was to invite other entrepreneurs and companies to fill out the space, ones they knew and liked. Two years ago Batter621 opened its doors; all of the space’s current tenants are on multi-year leases.

Marinos likens Batter621 to a dinner party, where guests are chosen based on what they bring to the festivities. He points to tenant Something Independent, a media company, for emphasis: One of the company’s projects leveraged information and resources, including video production and public relations, from almost all of the building’s other boarders.

The Desk, a coworking spot in Capitol Hill, also offers a coffee shop.Various Flavors of Coworking
If Battery621 is on the long-term end of the coworking continuum, The Desk is on the other. Co-owner Kristian Barowsky says that 90 percent of The Desk’s clients rent space by the hour. The Desk, which opened six months ago, features a coffee shop near the entrance and 2,000 square feet of conference and coworking space near the back. Barowsky says 300 to 400 people use The Desk on an hourly basis per month, and "we’re getting busier and busier every month."

Barowsky argues that you can create community through the hourly model, adding that more than 60,000 people work outside of a typical office setting within a five mile radius of The Desk’s location at 230 E. 13th Avenue.

"I play match maker because I speak to all these people," Barowsky says.

For example, Barowsky describes a chance meeting among an attorney looking for better ways to serve his clients, a mobile app developer and the concierge of a local hotel. 

"When you have an attorney sitting at the same table with a web developer and a concierge, you have some interesting opportunities for collaboration," Barowsky says. 

So what, exactly, is the size of the coworking scene in Denver? There are more than half a dozen established coworking businesses, and that number has steadily grown during the past few years. According to coworking trade publication Deskmag, the coworking movement has roughly doubled in size each year since 2006, and it now counts more than 1100 spaces worldwide.

Nevin is keen to take her Green Spaces coworking business to the next level -- she’s currently working to license the Green Spaces concept to entrepreneurs in other cities. To that end, she recently attended a trade show devoted to coworking in Paris. The event included sessions like "Is Coworking the future of big corporations?" and "How coworking helped NYC become a startup hub", and "Why coworking is about something even bigger."

Those of us that spend half our income on lattes and too much time in pajamas get it. Human interaction and sense of community. Who could ask for more?

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn

Read more articles by Mike Dano.

Mike is a freelance writer and executive editor of FierceMarkets Telecom Group.
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