The Future of Tech, Startups and Coworking in the Garden State
Cafes are crowded and loud. Home has the laundry and Netflix. So for the growing number of freelancers, currently 34 percent of the global workforce, what’s the answer?
Coworking spaces not only offer stable wifi and a place to call your own, but collaboration and creativity. And it’s not just for freelancers.
Startups are finding success at spaces where technology is priority and support is built right in. Coworking is professional, productive and can fuel entrepreneurship. Connections are made and deals are closed. It’s a haven for millennials, who crave flexibility and networking, but also a culture where corporate execs can feel they’re giving their employees a place to thrive. And more people are recognizing the benefits than ever before.
According to Desk Mag, 10,000 coworking spaces will open by the end of 2016, up from 7,800 the prior year.
We talked to New Jersey’s curators of coworking, Noelle Stary of The (Co) Working Space in Woodbridge, Bret Morgan of Cowerks in Asbury Park, and CoLab Sean Donohue to get the inside scoop on why New Jersey is such a prime spot for coworking.
Describe your coworking space. What kinds of members are you attracting?
Noelle: People who have had their businesses for several years, consultants, sales teams, and creative types.
Bret: We have a community of about 300 members. Mostly developers, designers, and creatives in their 20s and 30s who may or may not have a startup/product.
Sean: We have an open air environment with a mix of shared desk space and dedicated workstations for members. It has an industrial feel to it with lots of exposed concrete and pipes. There are glass conference rooms and some private offices but no one is hidden away. There is a shared kitchen space and some relaxation zones towards the outer edges which can also double as a place to meet clients for more causal discussions.
How does your location play into your space?
Noelle: We’re set up for people to have more individual space, located at the cross section of major highways, the Turnpike, and the Parkway.
Bret: I think being in Asbury Park is awesome. We have over 60 restaurants and bars in our downtown, the beach is three blocks from our offices, and we’re one block from a train station – the location doesn’t really get better.
Sean: Our location is at the heart of a live, work, play mixed-use facility. We function as community managers for not only our coworking space but the Bell Works community. As a whole, the mixed use community features larger established technology companies and will feature, restaurants, shops, and other amenities like a hotel, library, day care and a gym.
What does tomorrow’s coworking space look like?
Noelle: Smaller communities that are more inclusive of amenities and social events.
Bret: Coworking without community is just office space. I think whatever it is, it has to revolve around bringing people together.
Sean: Coworking has provided an example of how the traditional office space is evolving, and it will continue to grow to more locations as spaces continue to specialize community themes. Just like there are different types of hotels, coworking will continue to diversify itself. There will be the major players like the We Works of the world, but there will also be lots of smaller regional coworking companies and spaces and a lot of boutiques.
Why talk and collaborate with strangers?
Noelle: You never know what you are going to find out. It’s amazing how well “strangers” actually tend to work together.
Bret: When you get into a space and start working in an environment with other entrepreneurs who are doing similar things to you I think you connect with individuals really quickly. As we learn when we’re kids, strangers are just people we haven’t met yet…
Sean: The idea is to create an environment and ecosystem that has been lightly curated to create what we like to call ‘planned, serendipitous moments’ where ideas are exchanged that can open the door to collaboration and potential to network while you work.
People having success in New Jersey are focused on technology and the arts. Why are those so important to this area?
Noelle: New Jersey is a very diverse state and it is constantly looking for something new. These two areas touch on both of those often.
Bret: I really think there is a huge crossover. If you’re building a product or a service, you’re going to have to make it look good. I really look at commercial design as an extension of art. While a designer’s hands may be tied a bit more than if he or she were creating art for art’s sake, it still is one of our truest forms of expression. I think technology without art loses its purpose and is completely essential to making products that resonate with customers.
Sean: The mixing of technologists and artists is where wonder can happen. While both areas of discipline require different skill sets, both complement each other. The different views on attacking a real world problem can spur creative solutions that otherwise would not have happened without the open sharing environment. Innovation struggles to happen in a walled off world. When you put the dreamers and the makers together in the same room it creates an interesting environment.
Discuss the importance of keeping millennials in New Jersey to live, work and play.
Noelle: I think millennials are looking for a place that feels right to them. There needs to be an environment with a good work/life balance.
Bret: I think New Jersey has a lot of offer, especially living in a city such as Asbury Park. We have a vibrant music and bar scene that rivals anything you’ll find in Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Philly AND we still have the beach. It’s pretty incredible to watch the city evolve from being a community of pioneering artists to a vibrant restaurant and bar scene to an emerging tech and startup scene. There definitely is a buzz. I generally think if you put interesting and awesome people together great things happen and it attracts more interesting and awesome people.
Sean: With NYC and Silicon Valley, pop culture is painting a glorified portrait for the millennial generation that the opportunities are in the valley or the cities. The truth is that companies like iCIMS and Workwave have been solving real world problems right here in NJ and part of the value proposition to the younger generation is rewarding them with a more balanced work/life situation. There are many small startups growing in NJ and there are many bright spots of innovation here. The problem is exposing the great locally homegrown companies here in NJ. We need more centers and more commerce. Mixed use developments like Bell Works can be those conduits that create the right urban vibe in the suburbs that can highlight the local technology and entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Fill us in on the NJ companies to watch who are using coworking spaces as a springboard for success.
Noelle: We find that companies such as Google still come to use our space because employees aren’t that interested in always going to NYC.
Bret: We have a bunch of development and design shops working out of the space. We’ve actually been quite successful at building our digital agency, Humble Humans, by leveraging these freelancers and small companies. Often times a project, whether it’s a mobile or web app for a startup or a branding and digital marketing campaign, comes into our wheelhouse. We’ve been very successful at building ad hoc teams within our membership to help not only our business grow but our member’s companies as well.
Sean: Small businesses and startups are the well-known players, but there is a trend of big corporate companies that are dipping their toes into the coworking world. They see the benefit of having small corporate teams located outside the walls of the mothership. It creates opportunities for interesting collaboration efforts.
How do your coworking spaces differ?
Noelle: Our space is different mainly based on size. Our space is very warm and homey – mainly because of the size. While still collaborative, the people that come here say that what they love most is how productive they are in the space.
Bret: Being in Asbury Park definitely has an advantage over a lot of other spaces. As I mentioned before, we have access to over 60 restaurants and bars which our members often meet with clients or friends after work. We also have the beach 3 blocks away with is pretty unique and incredible to any space.
Sean: I think that each coworking space creates its own culture to a certain degree. A space starts to generate its own identity as the community within develops.
Last month, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) announced it had closed on a loan to Cowerks to help the space expand its footprint in Asbury Park. Cowerks has outgrown its current office of 1,600 square feet and plans to use the loan to occupy and build out another facility in the city, close to its existing location. Cowerks also anticipates expanding its existing location.
Why is it important to have organizations like the NJEDA around to provide funding and support for coworking spaces?
Noelle: These spaces take support to really grow. Trying to do this without support is next to impossible.
Bret: I think the future of business is in small business. EDA programs that help build small business will ultimately help fuel the NJ economy for the next part of this century.
Sean: It can help accelerate the great things that are already growing in NJ. Though the model can function without state assistance.
Where do you see NJ’s future in funding and recognizing incubators/coworking spaces?
Noelle: I’d like to see NJ pick up support and recognize coworking spaces more. NJ has a ton of self-employed people who could greatly benefit from this.
Bret: I think NJ sees and respects the value coworking, accelerators, and incubators play in building small businesses and the economy as a whole. I think the next governor of NJ will really have to address small businesses, including freelancers and contractors who are going to play a role in the state’s future concerning economic redevelopment.
Sean: Coworking is here to stay as the environment we work in continues to evolve. Investors and VC’s need deal flow, so there needs to be an organic ecosystem of small companies and startups looking to scale and grow. We need to nurture the community here and provide a compelling story to the entrepreneurs outside NJ about the resources available in the Garden State.
How has your background played a part in your success?
Noelle: We started Jersey’s first coworking space over eight years ago. While the road has been long, it’s been impressive to see the turnaround over the last three years. It feels like it has started to explode.
Bret: Growing up two things were important to me – music and technology. I was heavily involved in the NJ punk and hardcore music scene for a very long time and the one thing I really took away was the incredible sense of community. People within the community were looking for an escape as well as others they could relate to. I think tech/entrepreneurship is very much a similar community. People that are into that are heavily into it. When we started Cowerks I tried to take lessons I learned from the music scene in regards to community building and bring them to our space. As far as tech, I started programming when I was in the 4th grade and it always was an important part of my life. I picked up a computer science degree with math and physics minors along the way so I’ve always been very heavily into engineering and the sciences
Sean: I have always been the type of person to have an in-person meeting instead of an email or a call. Being in an office environment like a coworking space is very comfortable for me. There are always things happening and it is fast paced, similar to a loose agency where everyone answers to their own bottom line.
Flexible office space, opportunities for growth with reduced risk and lower overhead, and access to new talent and ideas are just some of the perks of coworking in New Jersey. Coworking encourages creativity and productivity, not just within one company, but between organizations.
New Jersey is primed and ready for the continuing coworking revolution.
Is your company interested in coworking at Bell Works? Click here to schedule a tour.