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APRIL NIBJ: Shared spaces lower costs, boost success

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | March 26, 2024 1:00 AM

Shared workspaces aren't a new concept, but they are gaining in popularity as entrepreneurs seek a spot to call their own without making a commitment to a full bricks-and-mortar spot.

The concept is simple — businesses, entrepreneurs and folks just getting started — rent anything from a chair or a stool and a space at a table or high-top counter to a cubicle, desk or an office. Common services, ranging from access to computers and printers to support staff, are shared.

"Small businesses and especially startups really need to watch their bottom line, and this type of arrangement really helps them get an affordable workplace in a decent location going without breaking the bank," Brent Baker, executive director of the Pend Oreille Economic Partnership in Bonner County.

Katie Begalke, CREC executive director, agreed, saying the Community Resource EnVision Center's goal in starting the Launchpad was to give nonprofits an affordable place to help others. It later expanded the space to include entrepreneurs and start-ups.

"It gives them that professionalism and access to shared services … things you might not have if you were just starting out or if you're working from a coffee shop," Begalke said. "Things add up and when you're starting out, it's great to have a little bit of support, through a tangible service or is through low rent. It's just great benefit."

In North Idaho, the concept is popular with businesses from startups to established businesses taking advantage of the ability to share expenses of centralized services. 

Known as Launchpad, the flexible co-working space is aimed at local startups, small businesses and nonprofits. Whether clients need a desk for just a few hours a week — or 70 hours, the facility offers everything from move-in ready offices for both businesses and individuals. It's a chance for startups and smaller nonprofits to grow and be the best versions of themselves, CREC officials said.

"Launchpad lends the perfect balance for those who work from home or on the road but who also want a place to securely keep files, privately meet with clients and to be creative and collaborative with like-minded professionals," Begalke said.

CREC's Launchpad was originally intended just for nonprofits but with with space available, the center made the spaces available to those just starting out, Begalke said. That expansion of the center's plan has turned out to be one of it's greatest strengths with a diverse blend of clients sharing their talents and supporting each other.

One client may offer IT services and another marketing. What she is seeing is that everyone will brainstorm with the others at the facility, Begalke said.

"The synergy aspect is a huge plus in addition to being able to keep their costs down," she added.

The idea isn't a new one, Baker said, noting that the concept has been popular for decades from the 1970s to the tech revolution to today. When he ran his own construction company, he was took part in such facility after working at his home office and out of his truck for a while.

He'd outgrown his home office but it wasn't practical to have his own standalone, bricks-and-mortar office. Though the shared space, now known as the Ravenwood Building, Baker was able to access the services he needed to help his business continue to grow.

Through the business, he was able to access central secretarial, administrative, and payroll services that were contracted out to the marketplace at large, but were also conveniently available for the small businesses that filled out the rest of the building.  The bathrooms and lunchroom were a common area, and most of the other businesses were just in a single room.

In Boundary County, Coalition BF exemplifies that concept as it works to build a community around entrepreneurship and skill-sharing. Not only are desk spaces, offices and conference rooms available for rent, the facility also hosts a coffee stand with additional offerings planned for the future.

Owner Tim Garcia launched the space, first in 2017 and then again in late 2023 after a six-month break to give him time to create a bigger, more inviting space.

The focus is on shared spaces with the idea of establishing connections with other users and local entrepreneurs. By being in a large space, it allows additional members to work in their own quiet space, while allowing connection and networking for those who want that, Garcia said.

"It just ups the level of professionalism in a very big way," Begalke agreed. "… this just gives them that space to play the part and look the part and to be in a synergistic relationship with a bunch of other groups of professionals that helps elevate that feeling and also their levels of expertise that are on loan essentially just through conversations at the watercolor."

Starting during the tech revolution — and continuing through today, access to the highest-speed internet also became an attractive addition to services offered. That as true today, Baker and others said.

"When the tech revolution started happening, the idea was taken even further, wherein code writers and others just needed space to comfortably operate a computer with a great internet connection," Baker said.

While the meaning of “great” has vastly changed over time, Baker said the ability to access shared spaces that give startups and entrepreneurs a jump up without the cost of adding it on their own before they are ready offers a chance to grow at a sustainable pace and an affordable price. 

Begalke said the Launchpad is working to expand services offered to those that might seem at first look, to be non-business. Among them, a podcasting studio, a community grant writer and a community marketing strategist.

While shared workspaces might not work for everyone, the flexibility they offer means such facilities benefit most, offering room for growth and support to make that growth happen, Begalke said. 

And if a client outgrows a shared workspace? That, Begalke said, means places like the Launchpad have worked just as they are meant to.

"Once they reach a certain threshold in terms of their team, where they just outgrow the space, that's the idea, right?," she added. "This isn't necessarily meant to be the end solution, but the launchpad, the area where you really just like start to take off and then grow to that next step. And so ideally, we would have a lot of turnover with those startups or those solo entrepreneurs — we'd love for the nonprofits to stay forever that would be the ideal — but you know, if if this is just acting as a launchpad for them to make it to the next step, that's that's the goal."