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VOL. 37 | NO. 52 | Friday, December 27, 2013

Shared office space more than a desk, phone

By Hollie Deese

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Kailey Faber didn’t have a clear career path in mind after graduating from Belmont University in 2009 with a major in religion and a minor in business.

She returned to her home state of Florida to help her real estate broker father run CoLab Orlando, a collaborative workspace for local entrepreneurs and startups. She was immediately taken with the idea of co-working.

“I absolutely fell in love with the concept and everything about the shared space,” Faber says. “It was the middle of the recession, and I saw a lot of hope coming out of the coworking spaces, a lot of people working together to create new businesses and create new jobs in a time that was pretty bleak.

“So that really excited me about coworking in general, and Nashville didn’t have anything like it yet,’’ says Faber, who was recently named community and operations director of The Skillery, a coworking space with a marketplace of online classes and workshops.

Faber launched Nashville’s CoLab in 2010 in the downtown Wells Fargo Plaza with the goal of creating an environment where the many creative freelancers could work without home distractions and the inevitable isolation that can come with it.

And for many people, Starbucks just wasn’t cutting it.

It helped that the building owners, including Gary Bowie, were investors in CoLab, and growth was quick.

Within three years, about 100 people were signed up to share CoLab’s space, either a few days a month or full-time.

The space even saw the launch of start-up companies like the social coding network GitHub and sales and marketing software developer Topspin.

But when the building sold quickly in October 2013, Faber had to come up with a new plan.

“The building had been on the market, and we were aware of it, but the sale of the building happened much quicker than anticipated,” she says. “Typically with the building of that size there’s a lot of time in between, but that wasn’t how it happened.”

Not just a fad

There is an obvious need for this new kind of workspace, and evidence suggests it is more than just a fad.

In 2007, the word coworking trended as a google search term for the first time ever. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates in the Industry Employment and Output Projections that 40 percent of the workforce will be a conglomerate of freelancers, temps, independent contractors and other “solopreneurs” by 2020, adding up to more than 65 million workers.

“I think the recession prompted it, but I think it has kind of caught on for everyone,” Faber says of self-employment.

“At some point you love working from home, but then it starts to get really isolating. I am doing that right now for the first time, and I am starting to go stir crazy.”

New space, new job

Faber won’t have to work from home much longer.

As many of her CoLab tenants are finishing up their lease in the Wells Fargo building – which will either become a boutique hotel or luxury condos by mid-2014 – Faber has already been moving forward with plans for a new space as the new community and operations director of The Skillery.

The Skillery was launched by Matt Dudley as an online marketplace for Nashville classes and workshops in 2011.

Faber and Dudley have since joined forces to open a 6,700-square-foot home in Germantown that offers flexible coworking space, as well as curated classes and events. The building is still under construction and is expected to be complete in early 2014.

“Now is a perfect storm of people feeling more empowered than they ever have before to seek out the tools to start their own companies like they never have before,” Dudley says.

“Mix that with Nashville being the kind of place where it is affordable to do that. It’s easier to start a business here than if you lived in Chicago or New York or somewhere like that.

“And there is a tremendous amount of attention on the city right now, and if you look at all the news articles, they are not talking about health care and music,’’ he adds.

“They are talking about Rolf & Daughters and Otis James and the kinds of smaller businesses that have popped up. So I think there’s a lot of synergy between what we are trying to do and the direction that we see Nashville heading.”

Low costs, free wi-fi and more

For small entrepreneurs, the minimal cost of sharing a workspace at The Skillery is one draw – $25 will cover you for a day, $30 for two, and unlimited access to the communal workspace is less than $300.

But perhaps even more important than the free parking, wi-fi and meeting spaces is the sense of collaboration and creative thinking that can happen when a group of budding working class creatives get together.

“The No. 1 thing I hear from other people when I talk to them about what they want, it’s that connection to other people,” Dudley explains.

“They want to be in the same space with other energizing, like-minded entrepreneurs. It’s a huge deal. It’s the reason I will go to coffee shops and things like that to do work, but there are limitations there. I’d rather be out amongst those people than sitting at home on my couch.”

And with the latest car-sharing services Lyft and UberX coming to town, it seems splitting expenses on big ticket items only seems to make more and more sense.

Dubbing January “Makers’ Month,” The Skillery is offering a broad, month-long cache of classes, workshops and even pop-up coworking spaces around town to showcase what is possible for people trying to go it alone.

“Even as the economy is getting better, the whole alternative office space has become more popular in general,” Faber says “I think the recession prompted it, but I think it has kind of caught on for everyone. Even businesses, they don’t want that big overhead of thousands of square feet of commercial building.

“This is actually a very reasonable option that makes a lot of sense. And I think that’s kind of true with the shared economy in general. It just makes more sense to share things as opposed to trying to own everything.”

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