Add Genius@Work to the growing list of Milwaukee co-working offices.
An increased focus on startup formation and the broader shift toward more mobile workforces has given rise to these open, often collaborative office environments in cities across the country. That’s been the case in Wisconsin, too, as Xconomy chronicled last year. In Milwaukee, the options include 96square, the Hudson Business Lounge, several locations operated by Regus, the new Genius@Work space, and in a few months, Ward 4.
But can Milwaukee, which doesn’t exactly have a booming tech startup sector, sustain this many shared office spaces? The operators say yes, partly because at least some of them serve slightly different audiences.
Genius@Work, a 1,200-square-foot office that opened last week on the first floor of the 127-room Hilton Garden Inn, has a built-in pool of potential customers: business travelers and other hotel guests, says Elizabeth MacFarlane, a development associate with First Hospitality Group (FHG). Rosemont, IL-based FHG owns and manages the hotel and the co-working office. The office was previously vacant, but once housed the Michigan Street Diner.
“Being connected to the hotel kind of protects us,” MacFarlane says. “But we definitely feel there’s enough demand and interest” in co-working spaces in Milwaukee.
Genius@Work includes a lounge with couches, tables, and a TV; two small, private rooms with a desk and a phone; and a conference room with seating for up to 10 people. Amenities include access to high-speed Wi-Fi, audio/visual equipment, a printer/scanner/fax/copy machine, and coffee, tea, and snacks.
Tenants can purchase daily, weekly, monthly, or annual memberships, as well as group or conference-room only options. Besides business travelers, the space is targeting local freelancers, graduate students, professionals who normally work from home, and “innovative and independent thinkers of Milwaukee,” FHG says. Genius@Work will also host events, MacFarlane says. “We want it to be a space where people can network and learn about each other’s businesses,” she adds.
Genius@Work’s short-term membership options might make it attractive for some startups, MacFarlane says.
But it might also be too small for some startups. Indeed, the managers of 96square and Ward 4 aren’t worried it’ll hurt demand for their offices.
“It sounds like kind of a hot-desk setup,” says Matt Cordio, co-founder of Startup Milwaukee, which opened 96square in 2013. “96square is a dedicated co-working space specifically for entrepreneurs growing technology or tech-enabled companies. So we don’t view this as competition.”
Cordio thinks it’s a smart idea, taking the traditional hotel business center—a “typically under-utilized asset”—and turning it into a community space. The question is whether local professionals will flock there, he says.
96square, located in the Blatz Wash House, is nearing full capacity, with 22 tenant companies that employ around 55 people, Cordio says.
Ward 4, which intends to open in the spring in the Historic Pritzlaff Building, will offer a combination of shared desks and dedicated offices for startups that have 10 to 15 employees, says Brian Taffora, a managing director of CSA Partners, the Milwaukee venture fund that will operate Ward 4. The group has leased 26,000 square feet, with an option for an additional 10,000 square feet, Taffora says.
Ward 4 is going for more of a “curated community,” and unlike Genius@Work, will require its tenants to sign leases for at least 12 months, Taffora says.
He thinks each co-working space in the city can play different roles. “I think they’re all different in their own right, which is good because now the startups or people have options,” he says. “I think there clearly is a demand that these different groups are trying to fulfill.”