When Orlando's commercial buildings emptied out during the recession, downtown owner John Hussey needed a Plan B.
One departing tenant at his historic Angebilt Building on Orange Avenue suggested he try leasing spaces for “co-working” – a modern twist on the traditional office suite – and Hussey listened.
Hussey reconfigured half of one floor and called it Colab – Orlando's first facility dedicated to co-working.
Colab offers part- and full-time monthly memberships, as well as daily drop-in rates, to individuals and startups looking to work in a collaborative environment.
According to Global Coworking Map, the number of co-working spaces in the U.S. has quadrupled in the last five years, with 142 such entities across the country. That number increased last month with the opening of Sbrubbles, Orlando’s newest downtown space on Washington Street.
Back in 2009, however, getting the word out wasn't so easy. “We really had to educate the public that we were not office suites,” Hussey recalled during a recent interview. “One of the first things we did was go to the tech associations and offer to host their regular meetings.”
He solicited members at meetups and coffee shops and offered free drop-in days. Among Colab’s first tenants were several tech startups.
Once members joined, Colab starting fostering a collegial atmosphere, hosting a weekly happy hour and holding video-game and table-tennis tournaments: winners would get a month of free rent. “It really was those small tech companies that helped drive us out of the financial crisis,” Hussey said.
Today, co-working outfits CANVS, Catalyst and Swivel Spaces have locations in downtown Orlando. South Orlando has Scribble Space in Windermere and Hub925 in the Dr. Phillips area. My Office and More is a co-working venue in Lakeland, and Palm Coast has two Office Divvy locations. In Brevard County, Groundswell Startups – a privately-funded nonprofit created to link startups with investors – is working to turn an old Melbourne skate park into a tech-focused co-working/business incubation site.
Co-working spaces offer many of the same benefits as traditional office rentals: month-to-month leases or memberships; flexible square-footage; round-the-clock access; services such as WiFi; printing and copying; and perks like unlimited coffee. Most have open workspaces as well as dedicated offices and access to common areas and conference rooms. Yet they provide a much-needed venue for networking and an escape from the isolation of working at home, according to Hussey and other co-working owners.
Hussey says he often sees users team up on new ventures, and seven startups have grown into long-term tenants. To promote collaboration, most co-working spaces employ community managers who help arrange regular meetings, training, presentations, workshops, and mixers.
And the best co-working spaces aren’t limited to any particular industry, says Dennis Pape, founder and managing director of Catalyst.
“A broad mix of tenants is appealing to creative people," Pape said. "It goes against the philosophy of co-working if everyone is the same."
The big question now: Why aren’t there more co-working facilities in Central Florida?
“Orlando doesn’t have as many spaces as we should have, based on our population,” said Pape, who predicts that’s about to change. “These spaces function more like a 24/7 meetup, and that’s why they’ll eventually replace traditional executive office suites.”
Photo caption: Co-working users work in an open-floor space at Catalyst in Orlando. / Credit: Courtesy of Catalyst