Perched on the edge of a table in one of her coworking space’s conference rooms, Tiffanie Mark gasps, claps a hand to her mouth and then exclaims, “That’s what we should make the room at the foot of the stairs! A ball pit!”
A ball pit wouldn’t seem too out of place at Matrix Collaborative Business Solutions, a coworking and shared office space Mark founded on the west side of Madison in the summer of 2013. There’s already a yoga studio, a massage therapist suite, music practice rooms and a recording studio. And, of course, plain old run-of-the-mill office space.
Some may try to compare Matrix with other, higher-profile (“We don’t get a lot of attention,” Mark admits) coworking spaces in town like 100state, but Mark believes those comparisons would be ill-advised.
Matrix is targeting an audience that’s entirely different from the high-visibility, high-impact, scalable startups that work out of 100state. Mark wants to work primarily with small business owners, like therapists, holistic doctors, artists and life coaches.
“Madison’s got this huge movement right now toward entrepreneurship and billing ourselves as that kind of hub — but where is the line between entrepreneur and small business?” she asked. “I think that a lot of the principles that we’re starting to realize we need to apply to entrepreneurship — working together and collaboration and learning from each other — that’s all stuff that needs to happen with small businesses, too.”
Armed with this idea — though she had never even heard of the concept of “coworking,” she said — Mark left a corporate job in Milwaukee, returned to her hometown and found a spacious, 10,000-square-foot house to host her vision.
She had no tenants secured or in mind while she spent weeks refurbishing the space.
“The first few months were a little scary,” Mark said, pointing out that many professionals in her target audience had never even heard of coworking before.
“A lot of people who use this space are like, ‘co-whatting?’” she joked.
After a little more than two years of operation, Matrix has six full-time tenants and a slew of part-time renters, like Dane Buy Local and the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation, who move in and out for conferences and special events.
One of the full-time tenants, situated in a corner office brimming with natural light, is Alex Gish, who runs a web design and internet marketing business. He and his business partner decided to rent month-to-month at Matrix about four months ago.
“We quickly realized the value of working in a collaborative environment,” he said.
Gish’s business is one of the relatively small number of tech-centric companies at Matrix — especially considering "tech" and "coworking" often go hand-in-hand. He said he chose to work there instead of a tech hub like 100state because he thought his business would benefit from networking with Matrix community members.
“100state is saturated,” he said. “It’s a great place, we just like to work with people in the professional services, and we thought we could provide more value here.”
Situated away from private offices like Gish’s is Matrix’s coworking space, a spacious trio of rooms in the building’s top floor. The coworking space is free to use, so Mark is still working on keeping tabs on the number of people utilizing it.
Duncan MacFarlane works out of the coworking space two days a week, building the digital presence of his eBay-based resale business, Madison Bookman.
MacFarlane said he started working at Matrix for about six months ago, after realizing that working out of his home office just wasn’t satisfying any more.
“I needed to get out of the house,” he said.
“It’s great to have a flexible place you can go,” agreed Jenina Mella, who organized this year’s TEDx Madison event from a coworking space at Matrix. “It lets you do things on the fly.”
Mark said she is currently working on establishing partnerships with other office spaces in town, to create a network of citywide coworking spaces, all affiliated with Matrix.
In the meantime, she plans to continue marketing the small business-centric coworking space to local professionals and revising the design and amenities of Matrix, from adding more workout machines to considering a play space for tenants’ children to hang out while their parents are at work.
So that ball pit may be coming soon, after all.