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Coworking connects entrepreneurs through shared office spaces



Coworking allows people to work at their own businesses in a shared space with common resources.

When Christopher Charlesworth’s crowdfunding business HiveWire started ramping up, he realized it no longer made sense to run the business out of his condo.

So two years ago, he rented four desks in the Centre for Social Innovation’s Spadina Ave. coworking space, one of more than 20 such facilities in the Greater Toronto Area.

Located between Dundas St. W. and Queen St. W., CSI Spadina has temporary and permanent workspaces in two renovated floors of an old building with plenty of light and exposed brick and beams. It is one of three CSI locations in Toronto.

Coworking is a growing trend among the self-employed. It allows people to work at their own businesses in a shared space with common resources. The major attraction for people like Charlesworth, an MBA graduate from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, is that unlike traditional rented office space, the arrangement is flexible and there are plenty of chances for networking.

“I didn’t have to sign a lease,” says Charlesworth, who previously headed the undergraduate recruitment program at the University of Western Ontario. “I can easily arrange meeting space or rent additional desks. Because there is such a wide diversity of organizations and individuals you end up connecting with people you wouldn’t ordinarily meet.”

CSI and other coworking spaces rent desks and office space and offer the usual amenities, including copiers, lounges and Wi-Fi. Many offer other services as well, such as workshops, seminars and social gatherings.

For example, CSI gives each member a profile on its intranet and the ability to promote events, jobs and announcements. Lawyers working in the space provide members with a half-hour of free legal advice, plus reduced hourly rates.

CSI was founded 10 years ago and offers monthly packages for ‘hot’ desks, which are available to multiple workers. Prices range from $75 per month for five hours of use to $250 per month for 100 hours. Dedicated desks can be rented for $400 per month and private offices or desk clusters are also available.

Last year CSI launched a loan fund that provides its members with loans of up $25,000 as part of a program funded in part by the Ontario government, with help from TD Bank and accounting firm KPMG.

The Foundery, a smaller coworking space at Bathurst and Dundas Sts., has room for 50 members at any one time. A day pass costs $25, with a monthly rate of about $290 for a hot desk. A permanent space with storage costs $490 per month.

Bento Miso on Richmond St., which caters to Web software developers and game makers, has no permanent desk arrangements. Members can sign up for a variety of hot desk packages from one day a month for $35 to six days a week for $325 per month.

CSI recently offered a seminar on how to use Google analytics and management of non-profit organizations. The Foundery has sponsored workshops on how to earn money making music. Bento Miso partners with the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. They also offer after-hours game salons, pop-up Mexican cantinas and a scotch-tasting club.

Charlesworth’s decision to join paid off when CSI’s CEO Tonya Surman awarded HiveWire its first big contract to develop a crowdfunding platform for CSI members.

German-based industry magazine DeskMag reports that as of February 2013, about 109,000 people in 81 countries were members of coworking spaces, compared to the 50,000 recorded a year earlier.

DeskMag editor Carsten Foertsch also says his database includes 94 Canadian coworking spaces with an estimated 4,100 members. Most of these facilities are located in Toronto and other metropolitan areas in Ontario.

Ashley Proctor is a partner in the Foundery. She says, coworking means everyone is working for themselves, but not by themselves and describes members of Foundery as “a bunch of ambitious, driven self-starters.”

For Steve Perpich who is employed by Toronto company Firth Babin and Associates Inc. to sell cloud-based software solutions to the financial services sector, paying $190 for 10 office days a month at The Foundery is ideal. “I found that there were too many distractions working only from home or at client sites.”

After six months at the Foundery, lawyer Kaz Nejatian recently moved his growing smartphone app company AvidTap to dedicated office space. But he says his time at the Foundery was an invaluable transition period.

“One of the things we were able to do is run focus groups of potential product users drawing from other members. What they told us was invaluable.”

If you’re considering coworking, do your homework. If you need a quiet, private space with a door, Proctor says you’ve probably come to the wrong place.

However, if you want to collaborate and be part of a community, she says, “Coworking promotes ‘accelerated serendipity,’ which is invaluable for many freelancers and entrepreneurs.”

Profile of a coworker

  • Average age is 34
  • 62% are men
  • 53% are freelancers
  • 14% are entrepreneurs who employ others
  • 80% went to university
  • Most work in creative industries or new media
  • Most use the space for short term projects

Source: Deskmag 2010, 2012 Global Coworking surveys

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