At co-working spaces, the startup concepts take root along with their creators. So it was no surprise when Alexa Inciarte, a 24-year-old photographer in the online retailer the North Face’s “try before you buy” brand, came up with the idea of a co-working space for the past seven months.
On the weekends, when she works at the brand’s Provo, Utah, location, Inciarte has a cramped work space that doesn’t accommodate her needs. In the summer, she often works outside the office, which is a wall away from the beach. “I’m also starting to get a larger family, so I need a space for that,” she says. She has a few ideas for other purposes, like lending space to neighbors or freelance photographers with extra space.
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But working at a shared office space isn’t all sexy. Working in one, Inciarte says, has been more complex than she anticipated. “I thought everyone would be so super-friendly, but there’s not really a culture of being friendly in co-working,” she says. Plus, setting up shop in the suburbs was expensive: She opted not to start the space in her home town, because she was spending nearly $200 a month for rent and utilities. She knows that one can find an even more budget-friendly space in the city.
The rents Inciarte found were low compared to the co-working space she found in the city—one with private offices and support from the national members of Blue Plate Catering. But a co-working space is a brand that mostly appeals to that millennial workforce. “I look at this and it’s sort of Millennial, so I can pretty much picture how others see it,” she says. “Some people can understand and not.”
That includes coworking spaces that are based in the city. Startups in the city tend to need a great deal of support, which has resulted in crowded workspaces and the inability to make meaningful connections, says Gene Wu, co-founder of the start-up Pink Dot, which rents out desk space for artists. “You have to get all this stuff together,” Wu says.
On the flip side, co-working spaces offering incentives to employers are a powerful market force in the suburbs. @1, which was started by Maggie Hawn, will operate out of Chevy Chase after new leasing on the 13,600-square-foot space is finalized. “The property owner told us he wanted a co-working community, and we see that as an opportunity to create an economy in the suburbs that’s not totally beholden to a center city environment,” Hawn says.
She sees opportunities at #1 for startups interested in launch prep, training, and coaching, and also provides coworking space for entrepreneurs and freelancers. Companies like The Hub are focusing on an enclave in Bethesda and had to offer discounts to land a corporate space: Thomas Jefferson Associates needed to create a reliable hotel and many corporate functions were held there. “Because the corporate enterprise has gotten much more comfortable with alternative forms of meeting,” Hawn says, “it’s caused a shift.”
But you can learn an awful lot from a co-working space on the other side of the political spectrum. Whitney Turrill, co-founder of The Federalist, says she gets the most value from co-working spaces that cater to politicians, activists, and social causes in Washington, D.C. “A good co-working space can bring people together on a regular basis,” she says. She recommends #1, a cooperative with shared offices, as one of the best in town.
This article appears in the September 2015 issue of Washingtonian.