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Evaluating Co-working Spaces in Chicago
Hi all - I'm often asked by our start-up clients the benefits and differences between the various co-working spaces in Chicago. Any in-the-trenches insight regarding how to navigate the various options and key advantages/disadvantages of each (e.g. 1871, Enerspace, Catapult, COOP)?
I've been a coworking enthusiast since 2005, when I was introduced to the concept at BarCamp Orlando. Since then, I've been a participant and vocal supportor of the global coworking movement, both in championing individual spaces and events, as well as extoling its values (see also: coworking.com) as a major force in the changing ways in which people are getting work done.
I've also had the pleasure of working out of all 4 of the spaces you mentioned and can hope to offer some advice to coworking newbies in picking the perfect coworking environment for you, your team or your company while also giving you my take on each space. My answer is long, but worth your time if you are serious about find a great space to work from.
This space has been getting a lot of press lately and obviously for good reason. Its huge, has some interesting companies working out of it, most notably Code Academy, and regularly holds well attended, well produced events and workshops. It also doesn't hurt that something like 5 VCs and at least 1 incubator have offices in the space, as well.
Your options, depending on if you're a startup or an individual will be vastly different.
The startup area adopts the open office layout, very similar to those at the Lightbank offices and other "startup starters". The idea is that when you force lots of companies to sit side-by-side the "friction coeffecient" will go up and ideas will be shared erstwhile and the walls will be dripping with innovation and creative ideas.
This type of environment may work for some but, speaking as an engineer, I can honestly say that this type of layout is huge detriment to productivity. These open office scenarios are generally louder and more distracting, which will take your technical talent out of their "flow", which is absolutely vital if you expect them to produce anything of quality. If your company is generally tech-oriented I would caution you before plunging your team into this type of space. A good pair of headphones help, but not enough in my opinion.
The individual "coworking" area at 1871 has more of a café vibe. It's essentially a bunch of large tables and various other seating options that are situated, conveniently enough, outside of the built-in intellegentisa coffee bar. I find this area is less distracting, but since there is no dedicated seating, it can be a bit disorienting if you and your team are trying to collaborate closely.
1871's biggest asset is likely its size and the access to plenty of the movers and shakers in Chicago's startup scene.
I had the pleasure of working out of this space over the summer and it was an absolute delight. Its location is a little lacking, being in the west loop, but its short cab ride into River North, and not at all difficult to get to. The space's owner's focus is on promoting a healthy work environment, for both the space and its members and has a variety of activities in this vien, like instructor-lead Yoga and access to an organic produce co-op -- all designed to help you achieve work/life balance.
The space itself is gorgeous, with exposed brick, hardwood floors, natural lighting, great views, exposed beams and custom reclaimed wood furniture. The layout is open, but there is plenty of room between the various clusters of desks that it feels a lot more private than the pack 'em in and make 'em share a table vibe of other spaces.
There are a couple of private offices, which I belive are both taken at the moment, and a conference room that seats 8 or 10 people. Its also a certified Dabble venue, meaning that there are lots of events and workshops happening here in the evening, many of which offered at a discount to Enerspace members.
I worked here with a group of 3 other programmers and UX/Design professional (all Code Academy grads) and found the space ideal for teams of this size. There are a variety of interesting members at the space, both solo practioners and teams (including a few startups), which help to create a colorful work environment, given the variety of industries they are working in.
This is a great space with a growing community of members, and I highly recommend checking this one out. For me, the natural lighting is itsbest feature, not to mention how accomodating the Space Owner is in accomodating the needs of her members.
This is Chicago's original coworking space and definitley one of it's best. I haven't been to their new locationm, which has a lot more space, both open and private, than their previous one. The Coop's vibe, which I have no doubt has continued at the new location, is more studious and conducive to working on hard problems.
They've got a great community, which includes the Uber Chicago team, and most of their events tend to be more art focused, which is pretty awesome. The space was started and is managed by a design agency, so startups that are looking for help in that area don't have to go to find it. This agency also made DesktimeApp.com, which is a tool for finding a variety of places to work from, including coworking spaces.
You'd do yourself a disservice not to check this one out too.
This is the space I currently work out of. Its location is great, being right in the heart of the loop, just north of the river. It's a quick walk to 1871, has a ton of restaruants near by for lunch, and the views from the 25th floor are spectaular.
It's got more of a bit more of "normal" office feel, given that almost all of the startups in the space have private offices. There is an open area for individual coworkers too and even has the requisite ping pong table if you're looking for that quientessial startup expirece. ;)
The mix of companies is pretty intersting and there are plent of smart people to bump into when venturing out of your room to brew tea and what not.
This space is still a work in progress, more so than any of the others, despite being almost filled to capacity. It's a little light on the extra-cirruclar events, but this is starting to change. My only real complaint with the space, which I have about all "traditional" ofices is the florecent lighting and the carpeted floors, but these nitpicks fade away quickly when you pull open the blinds and flip off the lights to reveal the inspiring expanse of the amazing city we work in.
As you can tell by now, all coworking spaces are not created equal and each of these spaces have different experiences and amenities to offer. However, a coworking space is a lot more than just a shared office space that is affordable. A good coworking space should be like a gym membership for you brain. You want to be around other motivated and passionate people working on something cool, something that all four of the spaces mentioned above have spades.
Pay attention to the type of environment that you and your team work best in, and then find a space that provides that environment. You can find a flat surface and an internet connection anywhere, but what you won't everywhere is a community of people that share your values, interests and ideals. And that's likely the quality you'll want to optimize for when selecting a coworking space to call home.
The list of advantages of being involved in a co-working space is endless. I was recently brought on board with a startup, MarkITx in the 1871 community - not knowing much about the 'start-up' world at all. But since being here for a little over a month, I can tell you one thing, and it's that there is no place I would rather be but here. The environment is similar to what I would consider a college university library - things are constantly happening, people are talking, learning, sharing ideas, and gaining insight and inspiration all day long.
The opportunities that are offered within the 1871 are incredible. I've already taken advantage of attending at least 4 different workshops given here by many knowledgable individuals in the Chicago start-up world. 1871 isn not only a place to work, it's a place to grow and learn from other professionals in the industry - a truly unique space where many valuable connections can be made.
After recently exploring a lot of the coworking spaces I recently settled on Venture SHOT, a great River North coworking space, which is conspicuously absent from the list above.
Venture SHOT seems to be a little less known than a few of the other spaces, but overlooking it would be a huge mistake.
I've spent a lot of time in coworking spaces and incubators in other cities as well, and one of the best things about landing here has been that its a little smaller and that has made it great for collaborating closely with other companies in the space.
If you're looking for mentorship, space, a collaborative environment, and friendly peers -- check out Venture SHOT.
As an entrepreneur and consultant to startups the answer, at least in my mind, is simple: EnerSpace, period. EnerSpace is quiet, funky, fun, friendly, airy, and just overall a great place to get work done. It doesn't have an overly defined focus like some places on the list, you don't need to get a blessing from on high, you don't need to be part of the in-group that Chicago entrepreneurialism focuses on. You just need to be a small company with a few bucks, a winning attitude, and an appreciation for high quality and reasonably priced space. After much shopping around, as well as knowing most of the players at the other locations listed, I was happy to sign up with Jamie and EnerSpace and haven't thought twice about it. Unless your business is specifically in one of the desired niches of the other coworking spaces and you really think the difference will make an impact on your business, then there is no reason why EnerSpace shouldn't be at the top of your list.
Thank you, all! This is extremly helpful insight. Anyone else sense a good infographic topic? ;-)
I want to reiterate the comments on Venture Shot. I cannot believe it is not better known. My company works out of this space and it is top notch. What I love about it is that collaboration isn't just encouraged, it's instigated. There are also excellent funding opportunities for those who seek it. Accolades to Dave Culver (founder of Venture Shot). As an owner of 8 companies he is a great teacher and genuinely cares about seeing your company succeed.
Easy. Are you looking to meet people or do some work? Or you looking for crappy internet or good internet.
1871: Good internet, meet a lot of people, do some work if you face the wall or work inside the fishbowl.
Coop: Sometimes the internet goes down but they hurry to fix it. Do a lot of work if you are the designer/programmer type. If you are the sales-type it feels weird to be on the phone all the time. Maybe meet some people.
Officeport: Many times the internet goes down, nobody cares to fix it. Do a lot of work no matter the type you are. Meet few people.
Ravenswood Coworking: Internet always work. Do a lot of work. Meet few people.
Ennerspace: I never worked there but have been in the area. The biggest pain is the commute. Just look at the map. This is pretty much why I never worked there.