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Co-working offers more than office space

Friday, December 14th, 2012 | Posted by

Members of a Sonoma State University class eat lunch in the common area of North Bay iHub. (Jeff Kan Lee / The Press Democrat)

By NICOLE ZIMMERMAN / Rohnert Park Correspondent

The first week that Gera Yeremin spent co-working at Sonoma Mountain Village was the most productive he had ever had.

“Just being in this environment has helped me have higher output because there aren’t as many distractions,” says Yeremin, the 26-year-old founder of Pitch Theory, a start-up he conceived of five months ago to help companies develop a concise marketing pitch.

Working from his home office, so close to his wife and young son, proved challenging. After Yeremin came to a meeting of Web Interactive Media Professionals, a group of freelance designers, developers and marketers who meet monthly to exchange ideas and skills, he was sold on the benefits of a shared work space.

The facility, which includes cubicles and furnished offices for rent with access to business equipment and conference rooms, is a project of the Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster. Launched five years ago, the nonprofit aims to connect onsite businesses with service providers, from hardware and software companies to accountants and lawyers.

“While many co-working spaces feature the independent professional, this concept is a bit bigger,” says Joshua Simmons, CEO of Bluebird Interactive.

His company is one of at least a dozen belonging to the cluster, which acts as an incubator for growth-oriented startup companies and assists entrepreneurs with infrastructure, mentoring and access to investors.

In business for four years as a client-services oriented web developer, Bluebird Interactive began working on a new business plan last March.

“If I weren’t here, I probably wouldn’t be in business anymore,” says Simmons, 25, who worked from home for seven years. “Co-working gives you opportunities to learn and do things you never would have otherwise.”

In 2010, the state’s Business, Transportation and Housing Agency designated the cluster with its North Bay iHub status—one of six Innovation Hubs in California with the purpose of stimulating job growth through regional collaboration and commercialization of technology.

Simmons says that co-working is a big part of economic recovery, but the cluster has yet to fully rebound from the 2008 recession. In addition to small businesses, there are several dozen individual memberships, with capacity for much more. Of the 20 or so cubicles available, only four are occupied.

“It’s exactly the kind of work space some people want to avoid,” admits Simmons, who says the demographic skews toward those who are comfortable working in the corporate-style environment rather than trying to escape it.

Earlier this year, when Simmons attempted to raffle off a co-working membership at a business cluster conference, “it was the most spectacular failure,” he says.

Just one month ago he took a different approach. For another event raffle, Simmons included the Sebastopol Entrepreneurs Project, Share Exchange in Santa Rosa and WORK Petaluma in addition to a business cluster membership at iHub.

“Because we had that buy-in from all of them, we were able to talk about co-working as a whole and the value of making that extra effort to be a part of the community,” he says.

Its close proximity to SSU led the university to use a room for its engineering, physics, accounting and marketing clubs as well as business finance courses. (Bill Silver, the Dean of SSU’s School of Business and Economics, also serves as the vice chair of the cluster’s board.)

“Having students coming and going produces interesting conversations,” says Simmons, who hopes business opportunities will arise from those connections. But he notes that technical talent doesn’t stay local for very long. With graduates departing for New York, San Francisco and Silicon Valley, it’s important to spotlight places like iHub to keep innovators here.

While a niche membership includes one’s own spacious cubicle for $300 per month, most businesses opt for a small office, which costs just a bit more. Larger offices run on a three-year lease with a staggered rate leading up to the $1,500 per month maximum so that a start-up company can handle the initial costs.

Yeremin prefers his flex membership with the use of shared space for just $175 per month. Like Simmons, he’s excited to help promote Rohnert Park as more than a bedroom community surrounded by wine and tourism.

“In Rohnert Park we don’t even really have a downtown, let alone a technology hub. If we have a tech hub, it’s here,” he says. “We just need one home run to spark the Silicon Valley of Sonoma County.”

Sonoma Mountain Business Cluster and North Bay iHub are located at 1300 Valley House Drive in Rohnert Park. To learn more, visit northbayihub.org or call 794-1240.

Visit bluebirdinteractive.net and thepitchtheory.com to learn more about these innovative businesses.

  • Laurie McAndish King

    I’m so glad we—as a culture—are exploring new ways to work. More options will make our working lives richer and better suited to individual needs. This sounds like an excellent idea for start-ups that need flexibility and connectedness.

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Nick Walden is our Rohnert Park + Cotati correspondent.
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