'More than a cheap desk': CoWorking Plus to provide access to classes, professionals and services
BRATTLEBORO — Dave Evans has brought his desk to the new home of his non-profit, Coworking Plus, taking the place of Mondo Mediaworks upstairs in the Hooker Dunham building on Main Street.
"It's an experiment," Evans said. "If people don't sign up and businesses don't donate money and people don't buy or donate furniture, we don't have the infrastructure for people to move in. The bank account is what our supporters make it."
The Coworking Plus mission is to support economic growth in southern Vermont by providing collaborative office space and educational programs to entrepreneurs and small businesses. Coworking space consists of cost-effective, shared office workspace in a purpose-built, business-friendly location used by unaffiliated people.
Evans likened Coworking Plus to a gym. Money for the membership goes toward equipment and maintenance, then classes.
Besides space, Evans wants to offer workshops on forming nonprofits, filing taxes and technology. He also plans to hold "pitch competitions" where ideas can be shared.
October is when the official opening is slated.
"This is so much more than a cheap desk," said Evans.
Mondo Mediaworks "simply ran out of space there," said company founder Luke Stafford.
"We moved to the Cotton Mill," he said of an approximately 2,400-square-foot space that more than doubles the former office. "At this time last year, we were eight people and we are now 17. We're hiring about one person a month here for the foreseeable future."
The Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation's Cotton Mill presents a place where Mondo can grow for the next year, according to Stafford, who started the company in 2010. As the only employee back then, he said he figured he would eventually hire someone else but did not think too much about it.
Three or four years ago, Stafford started "doing some real planning" after seeing "real growth potential." Investments in the company led to more hiring. Mondo became "a more serious endeavor," he said.
In the beginning, Mondo offered only services for social media management and video. Now, the company can also help with website development, e-mail marketing, digital advertising, public relations, content development and analytics. It's currently branching out into software development.
"We'll continue to expand and offer more services as we grow here," said Stafford, who hopes to permanently bring the company back to downtown Brattleboro at some point. "The BDCC has been very accommodating for us. This is an incubator space for us. That's very much what it is for us here. We're going through a period of rapid growth."
Right now, Evans is trying to configure the room at the Hooker Dunham building. Questions on whether pets can come or how much stuff can be left behind at the end of the workday are on his mind. Big desks or huge filing cabinets, he said, cannot be brought in. Laptops are welcome and furniture is part of the fundraising mission.
Open house events are being held on Thursday nights from 5 to 7 p.m.
"We're just trying to get as many people in here to let it evolve like the things here in Brattleboro evolve," said Evans, who hopes to help people with developing websites and software while providing access to attorneys and accountants.
He described the space as "a stepping stone, not a real estate play." He has already turned away salespeople, saying "we just don't have the infrastructure" for members to have loud conversations all day.
Evans said he has mostly always been an independent consultant, involved with internet startups since "day one of the web." In Boston, he worked with business accelerators.
Jeff Taylor, founder of Monster.com, was Evans' neighbor and a landlord for a business office. Together, they started Deep Snow.
"Jeff (Taylor) had large amounts of office space overlooking Boston Harbor," said Evans. "It was very unstructured. But we had lawyers, programmers, the foosball table kind of thing."
Evans recalled being on a phone call with a potential client when he hit the bull's eye of a dartboard in Deep Snow three times in a row. The person on the other line "said he had to hire me now because I made those," Evans said.
Several like-minded individuals in Brattleboro have talked about a shared space. In June, Evans held an event aimed at gauging interest in coworking at The Lounge at Duo in Brattleboro. He said he saw about 35 attendees. Then he put together a survey and heard from 50 people.
"If we could grab 10 or 20 from one little survey, that's great," he said, having spent a lot of last year talking with rural coworking space creators around the world via group chats online. "Our challenges are very much different than those in a big, major city."
The idea for Coworking Plus has been explored for about a year and a half, and Evans said there was a lot of consistency between responses from the survey and event. Eight members have signed up and he expects to see another 15 join over the next few weeks. He's encouraging members of the media and software developers to make their home in Brattleboro.
With sponsorship money from the local business community, Evans said local colleges could get "maybe 50 passes a month" to give away to students.
Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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