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Coworking space provides opportunities for individuals or companies that might not yet —or ever —find their way into a traditional incubator. And it can provide a useful revenue stream from underutilized space.

Coworking space: The business of serendipity

by Dennis E. Powell

June/July 2012

NBIA ReviewIn an era of lives lived via social media, what could be more natural than social working, where people in unrelated businesses encounter others in the workplace, sometimes with serendipitous results?

It used to be informal: People from different established or up-and-coming businesses would run into each other in the coffee room, the copy center or, apocryphally, at the water cooler. Ideas would be hatched, deals made, people in disparate lines of work would discover how they might aid each other in new projects.

Then came the rise of the premium coffee shop. Writers and poets had always found restaurants and bistros hospitable to their muses – much of the Harry Potter series of books were written in such places – but the addition of Internet service made them friendly locales for professionals from other fields.

“Freelancers, entrepreneurs, serial entrepreneurs thinking of their next business, displaced executives, people in professional services, all of them found this need as creatures to work around other human beings,” says Jeff Joerling, brand evangelist at NBIA partner Turnstone, the office design and furniture innovations company. “They tried Starbucks, but it isn’t a good permanent alternative work strategy because there are distractions, such as people coming in to buy coffee.”

At some point, Joerling says, the entrepreneurial lightbulb went on in someone’s head: I have some spare space. Why don’t I invite my friends who need a place to work? I can charge everybody $200 a month and do well.

From such a brainstorm, coworking evolved into a thriving business that is more and more becoming part of incubation programs. In some cases, businesses offer coworking space and may or may not offer incubator-like services; in others, it is a service offered in a broader, more traditional incubation model. Some programs use it as a form of preincubation for prospective incubation clients, while some keep it entirely separate. With limited or  la carte services at fixed rates, it can convert common or unused space into a revenue stream while allowing potential clients to take the first steps in entrepreneurship without spending a lot of money.

NBIA member incubators integrate coworking space into their programs using a variety of approaches.

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Keywords: coworking, affiliate program, client services – general, social entrepreneurship

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