Co-working is not just for techies and Millennials. It is not limited to upscale Downtown buildings with sleek, modern interiors.
In Madison, co-working is taking increasingly different forms in diverse locations.
The concept is simple: Sharing space in a work environment, whether that means sitting side-by-side at a long table or occupying individual offices.
The goal is universal: To provide support and encouragement to people who want to try something new — a new business or a new skill — and creating a small community of like- minded people.
“We really are trying to support the ecosystem of entrepreneurship,” said Eugenia Podesta, co-founder of Synergy Coworking.
The best known co-working spaces in Madison have been around for three or four years — and another has been in development for at least that long but is not yet built.
Places such as 100State, now in the 316 W. Washington Ave. tech hub building; Horizon Coworking, 7 N. Pinckney St.; and Madworks Coworking, 505 S. Rosa Road in University Research Park, got their start around 2012 and 2013.
StartingBlock Madison has been under discussion since 2012 as a center for tech startups, inventors and support services.
After enduring a lengthy exploration of possible locations and a major fundraising campaign, groundbreaking ceremonies were held in January for the building that will house StartingBlock: The Spark, an eight-story building being constructed by American Family Insurance in the 800 block of East Washington Avenue. It’s expected to open sometime in 2018.
Meanwhile, other types of shared work spaces are joining the field, often with a specific focus. They include:
- Synergy Coworking, 5201 Old Middleton Road, opened in May 2016 with an international flavor.
- One-OneThousand, 78 N. Bryan St., began in late 2015 and is a combination co-working/art studio/maker space.
- Threshold, 2717 Atwood Ave., started in summer 2015 and houses wellness businesses, artistic ventures and a social justice organization.
- Matrix Coworking, 6302 Odana Road, opened in 2013 but with less fanfare than the more tech-oriented spaces Downtown.
- Matrix is “unconventional co-working,” said founder
- Tiffanie Mark.
“Co-working spaces are just as different as any other business,” Mark said.
If there is a work trend that’s seen tremendous growth in the past several years, it would seem to be co-working.
According to the Global Coworking Survey for 2017 by Deskmag, an online co-working magazine, nearly 1.2 million people worldwide are expected to use a co-working space this year.
That’s more than double the 510,000 people that were predicted to share organized workspace in 2016, which was a jump from 295,000 the year before.
The survey projects there will be about 14,000 co-working spaces operating around the globe by the end of 2017, up from the 7,800 that were anticipated by the end of 2016.
“Co-working has become ubiquitous over the last three years,” a March 2016 article in Forbes magazine said, crediting the “startup boom” for fueling its growth.
“This fast-growing, new sub-sector of the real estate market has become one of the largest startup segments, hiding in plain sight,” the Forbes article said.
Podesta and Spencer Hudson, partners in business and in life, researched the options before they opened Synergy in the former KW2 (Knupp & Watson & Wallman) advertising agency building on the West Side.
The two-story building has 17 offices and a couple of conference rooms on the main floor, with more communal space and a kitchen on the lower level.
Its members — about 25 regulars and other occasional users, whose ages are mainly 30-plus — include freelancers, nonprofits and small startups.
In one office, on a recent Friday, Tom Kermgard worked remotely as director of business development for a Wausau ad agency, Creative Communication & Design.
“Our satellite office is this,” Kermgard said, gesturing at his surroundings. “It’s the perfect scenario for me.”
Kermgard, who lives “up the hill” from Synergy, said Creative Communication wants to expand its presence in Madison but doesn’t need to rent a big space yet.
“It’s just a couple-hundred feet and a door that I can close at night,” he said. “My clients can come here and have a meeting, then we can walk up the block and have a burger at the Oakcrest (Tavern).”
Poet Sarah Sadie, a married mother of two who also teaches classes on creativity, said she works at Synergy at least two days a week. “It allows me to get away from the distractions of a home office,” Sadie said.
Jenny Wilson Siklós, a writer, editor and translator, said she recently made the jump to self-employment and lives near Synergy.
“I didn’t want to sit alone in my apartment all day,” she said. “It’s good to have other people around, trying to do something similar.”
In starting Synergy, Podesta and Hudson became first-time entrepreneurs themselves.
“It can be a very daunting process,” Podesta said. “We wanted to see what we could do to make it easier for other people.”
Hudson is a Madison native with a degree in social work from UW-Whitewater. Podesta was born in Peru and has lived in Madison since sixth grade, attending UW-Madison through law school. Her father, Guido Podesta, is dean of the UW’s International Division.
Eugenia Podesta also works full-time from Synergy’s offices for a Washington D.C. nonprofit, Vital Voices Global Partnership. Established in 1997 by then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright after a United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing, the organization trains women leaders and entrepreneurs worldwide.
Podesta views Synergy as a way to do that in Madison, too, especially for women of color.
“There’s a huge need and opportunity in Madison,” she said.
Matrix Coworking prides itself on having “a little bit of everything,” said founder Tiffanie Mark.
The office building has more than just offices; it also features a yoga and dance studio, a recording studio, and a massage therapy room.
A Madison native with a business degree from Alverno College in Milwaukee, Mark had been working in corporate relocation in Milwaukee when she decided to start a co-working space, and chose a Madison site.
The idea of shared space appealed to her. “I wanted to facilitate projects that might not otherwise happen,” she said.
Marks envisioned Matrix could attract people who wanted to keep their full-time jobs but also try something new, like opening a private practice or starting a freelance business.
Matrix’s 125 members range in age from 18 to around 65, Mark said, and have formed a community of mentors.
“Everybody is a student and everybody is a teacher. ... It’s really about shared information,” she said.
The name, One-OneThousand, is “a play on the counting game,” said founder Sara Artz.
“We’re building something together,” she said. “There’s a sense of playfulness, a sense of community.”
The focus for One-OneThousand’s nearly 50 members is art — creating home and lifestyle goods, Artz said.
The space, in an East Side building owned by McCormick Lumber off Milwaukee Street, offers a combination of creative co-working, maker space, art studio and business incubator, said Artz.
“I’m trying to support people who are trying to make a living off independent design and artisanal work,” she said. That may involve woodworking, making knives, weaving textiles or fashioning furniture.
A Green Bay native and UW-Madison graduate in communications and women’s studies, Artz also creates opportunities for One-OneThousand’s artisans to sell their wares.
She organized the Good Day Market — pop-up shops held in June and December 2016, with vendors from around the Midwest as well as from her co-working outlet.
Artz also has started holding creative workshops for artists to teach their skills. A beginners’ tapestry weaving class has been especially popular.
Threshold says its mission is to serve as “a place of community, creativity and well-being.”
With several small businesses renting space and a number of tenants who use the facilities intermittently, it is a center for wellness-oriented shops and community outreach, said Eliza Cussen, partnership director.
Its members started a nonprofit, Open Doors for Refugees, Cussen said.
Working with Lutheran Social Services and Jewish Social Services in resettling refugee families, Open Doors organizes volunteers and collects household items for the newcomers, and helps them acclimate, Cussen said. She said Open Doors has about 500 members.
Efrat Livny, a native of Israel, founded Threshold, housed in a former auto body shop from the early 1900s that had been vacant for some time. “Legend has it they used to fix Model-T Fords in the building,” Cussen said. “We injected life into the building. We think of it as a metaphor for what we’re doing in the community.”