By AnnaMarie Koehler-Shepley
As a national trend, coworking spaces are quickly taking over urban spaces and becoming the new normal for many in the business, tech, and creative industries. In Greenville, that may feel even more tangible as new facilities continue to join the scene.
While the coworking concept is fairly young, it’s got decade-old roots in Greenville. Veteran coworking space Atlas Local, formerly Cowork Greenville, began in 2007, and managing partner Chris Merritt says that in the last decade, he’s seen the market explode.
“It almost feels like the only thing there’s more of than cowork places is CrossFit gyms,” Merritt joked, referring to the fitness trend that seems to have taken off equally quickly.
And the numbers don’t lie: there were more than 4,000 coworking spaces identified in 2017, with that number predicted to grow by 12.5 percent in 2018, according to Small Business Labs US Coworking forecast. And the 2017 Q4 Flexible Office Report from LiquidSpace indicates coworking has grown by about 23 percent each year. If that growth rate continues, the study suggests, there will be nearly 100 million square feet of coworking space by 2020.
“There’s a new coworking space opening all the time. The part that’s interesting is seeing the folks who have chosen to take a slightly different path,” Merritt said.
The traditional coworking model typically features a membership package of some sort that includes varying levels of access to work spaces, conference centers, and amenities like food, drinks, or even gyms, depending on the place. While this has worked well for established spaces like Atlas Local, which Merritt said prides itself on remaining “industry agnostic,” many newcomers to the scene are delineating themselves by catering to specific industries.
For example, marketing professionals may find their work-homes at places like Endeavor or The Wheelhouse, two places that offer coworking specifically for those wanting to be surrounded by others in their field. The Wheelhouse is also unique in the fact that it operates as a cowork space of professionals who also work together as a marketing agency, The Wheelhouse Group.
Co-owner Jeff White says that he and his business partner, Rebecca Cale, were mainly interested in starting their own agency, but that their added coworking concept has been very well-received.
“The model worked better than we expected it to,” White said. “We ended up with a very diverse group of skill sets, which worked perfectly. There’s not a lot of overlap here: we have everyone from designers to marketing analytics to coders to user experience to search engine optimization... pretty much across the spectrum of what an agency would want as employees.”
And for the entrepreneur: the Brickyard Innovation Lab just opened its doors in May in the NEXT Manufacturing building. Founded by Harold Hughes, founder of the secondary ticket marketplace for sports fans, Bandwagon, the concept of Brickyard is focused on helping to strengthen the budding community of entrepreneurs in Greenville.
Executive Director Sydney Cooke says that while the space will offer mentoring services, educational training, and event space, the coworking component of its model will be crucial to helping beginning entrepreneurs get off the ground.
“It can be really hard to be an entrepreneur as a ‘solo-preneur,’ so we’re trying to surround those people with like-minded individuals who can hopefully help each other,” Cooke said. “We want to be intentional about asking what they need in this space. What do you not have access to and what do you need help with?”
No matter the niche, though—marketing, entrepreneurship, or otherwise—the ultimate goal of any coworking space is to provide its members with a community that not only accommodates, but inspires.
“Community is such a buzzword, but when we say that we’re about community, we actually practice that,” Merritt said. “We are constantly balancing what it looks like to operate as a business in tandem with what it looks like to operate as a community.”
Part of that, Merritt said, is reinvesting into their space, members, and events, including a premium coffee budget (large enough to have a comma in it, Merritt says). Beyond that, Atlas Local incorporates frequent events to bring its members together to network and to learn about what others may be working on.
While coworking’s collaborative premise is clearly beneficial to a variety of different industries, and while most seem to agree it’s here to stay, what that looks like in Greenville could change drastically in the next few years.
“I think it will probably create a different version of what we see and know,” Merritt said. “It’ll certainly be interesting to see how the next couple of years pan out.”