Wisconsin Startup Growth Driving More Coworking Spaces
[Updated 10:35 am] For the entrepreneur or remote employee itching to get out of the home office or corner coffee shop, the coworking space phenomenon of the past decade has provided a welcome alternative.
These open, often collaborative offices have been growing in number across the country, and that’s the case in Wisconsin as well. For a monthly fee, nonprofits or companies provide desks and offices to contractors, consultants, mobile workers, and small startups. These patrons gain access to amenities like the Internet, printers, and conference rooms, but the deeper, less quantifiable benefit is the constant interaction with peers that leads to new ideas and sometimes even new businesses, coworking officials say.
“People are colliding and meeting each other all the time,” said Matt Cordio, the co-founder and executive chairman of Startup Milwaukee, a nonprofit that last year opened 96square, a coworking space for tech startups in downtown Milwaukee, “It helps sharpen people’s ideas faster.”
96square has 15 tenants, mostly young tech companies who are sharing similar experiences like pitching their ideas to investors and adjusting their business plans.
“There’s a community of people that want to see each other succeed,” Cordio said. “They’re going through experiences at the same time. They have an opportunity to learn from each other and grow.”
Coworking spaces also encourage spontaneous collaboration on projects, said Niko Skievaski, the co-founder of 100state, a coworking space that opened last year on Madison’s Capitol Square and has about 100 members. If a startup needs help designing a logo, there are 100state members who might volunteer to do it for “super cheap or free,” he said.
100state members have also teamed up on side projects that are generating revenue. While shooting the breeze at a concert on Capitol Square last summer, members got to talking about an international medical code system that the U.S. is transitioning to in 2014. The standard includes about 76,000 diseases, symptoms, and external causes of injury. While not usually a joking matter, many of the codes include odd and downright ridiculous examples of possible medical diagnoses, such as “burn due to water skis on fire,” “bizarre personal appearance,” and “passenger in heavy transport vehicle injured in collision with pedal cycle in traffic accident.”
The 100state group thought it might make a hilarious illustrated children’s book, and the healthcare professionals, entrepreneurs, and artists made their idea happen.
It’s been a surprising hit for coffee tables, office waiting rooms, and bookshelves. The group has sold more than 3,000 copies of their book, “Struck by Orca,” driving more than $37,000 in sales since they started taking orders in November, Skievaski said.
“There’s so many opportunities that come about by being associated with a ton of entrepreneurs all working on their own startups,” he said. “They feed off each other. We try to empower them to do that.”
Successful coworking spaces take work, though. The biggest challenge for 100state is keeping members engaged with a mix of fun and/or instructive events to keep them coming in, Skievaski said. The nonprofit’s programming includes coder meet-ups and a happy hour hangout on Friday evenings where members can share some brews and take 100 seconds each to pitch their company, sing a song, or “rant.”
While helping startups expand is obviously the goal, that presents another challenge for coworking spaces because they must continuously fill desks as entrepreneurs outgrow the space, Cordio of 96square said.
The good news? There seems to be a healthy number of startups in Milwaukee and Madison to sustain the coworking spaces that have popped up, Cordio and Skievaski said.
“We have a lot of startups that are coming about, but also a lot of people toying with the idea of starting a company,” Skievaski said. “A lot of our members are people who don’t have a startup yet, they just have an idea, but a day job where they make their money… If someone quits their full-time job because their startup is growing, we see that as a success because we were able to help them get off the ground.”
The following is a list of the most prominent coworking spaces in Madison, Milwaukee, and around the state. It also includes major “makerspaces,” also called “hackerspaces,” which are a network of centers that often house manufacturing equipment like welding tools and 3D printers, providing a community space for engineers, inventors, and the curious to work on projects and learn from each other. (Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of any others. Hat tip to the Sector67 team and Jesse DePinto of Voxel Metric for alerting me to the spaces in Janesville, Whitewater, and Sussex, which were added after the initial posting of this story.)
1. 100state is a nonprofit coworking space on Capitol Square with a focus on community and mentoring startups.
3. Horizon Coworking is located within the downtown offices of Murfie, the online CD marketplace company.
4. Machinery Row is an office coworking space hosted by corporate real estate firm Cresa Madison.
5. Madworks Coworking is located in University Research Park on Madison’s west side.
6. Sector67 is a nonprofit makerspace located northeast of downtown.
7. Gener8tor, the startup accelerator program with offices on Capitol Square in Madison and in Milwaukee’s 3rd Ward, also has shared desk space available for professionals and entrepreneurs who aren’t program participants.
1. 96square is a downtown Milwaukee coworking space run by Startup Milwaukee, a tech startup support organization. Besides the typical coworking space features, 96square tenants receive access to potential investors with the Wisconsin Super Angel Fund, housed in the building, and Startup Milwaukee’s mentor network.
2. Bucketworks, founded in 2002 as one of the nation’s first coworking spaces, relocated last year from the Walker’s Point neighborhood to The Shops of Grand Avenue downtown in a month-to-month agreement, as I reported for The Business Journal. Bucketworks took over the Open MiKE coworking space from the Greater Milwaukee Committee’s Innovation in Milwaukee initiative, or MiKE. (Bucketworks is currently scouting a new location in Walker’s Point, director Tim Syth told me this week.)
3. Hudson Business Lounge, located in the 3rd Ward neighborhood near downtown, is a shared office space with an added feature: it’s attached to a coffee shop and wine bar.
5. Gener8tor (see Madison list above)
Around the state:
2. The Docking Station says it is Green Bay’s first coworking space.
3. Appleton Makerspace is run by the Distributed Hacker/Maker Network, a group of hackers, makers, and creatives in the northeastern part of the state.
4. The Avenue HQ in Appleton is a coworking space run by the nonprofit IDEAco and Willems Marketing.
5. Whitewater Makerspace is a makerspace located in Whitewater, southwest of Milwaukee.
6. The Janesville Innovation Center in southern Wisconsin is a city-owned office complex that also has manufacturing and distribution space. It’s targeted toward startups as well as existing local companies or businesses moving to the area that need a temporary lease.
7. The Meetupery is a hackerspace and community center located in Sussex, west of Milwaukee.
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