While garages and bedrooms are often considered the traditional home of start-ups and home-based businesses, co-working spaces have emerged as a new option of for these ventures.
The Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development at Missouri University of Science and Technology recently launched its VentureLab program, which combines a state-of-the-art co-working space with business counseling, as part of its effort to encourage and support entrepreneurship and small businesses in the Rolla area.
Co-working spaces are communal offices that provide entrepreneurs, freelance workers and small businesses with low-cost shared office environments as well as access to conference rooms and other highly valuable intangible benefits.
"Entrepreneurs and small business owners of various sorts have scraped by working out of garages, bedrooms and coffee shops for many years," said Malcolm Townes, associate director for the Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development at Missouri S&T.
"Often this is not by choice but by necessity because historically those were the only options that fit their budgets," said Townes.
He noted, however, there are significant downsides to such practices. Some people feel a certain level of guilt when they hunker down at a coffee shop table for an eight-hour workday, Townes said.
Home-based business owners often struggle against distractions and may have difficulty separating work life from home life, he noted, and neither scenario helps garner credibility with customers and potential partners.
In addition to avoiding the guilt and distractions of working out of coffee shops or bedrooms, using a co-working space offers other benefits, according to Townes.
"One of the primary advantages of co-working space is the sense of community and interaction with other entrepreneurs and business owners," said Townes. "Being an entrepreneur or a freelance worker can be a lonely, isolating existing. Co-working spaces help alleviate the isolation."
They also provide a more professional work environment which not only makes people feel like they have a real business but also greatly boosts credibility with potential customers and partners, according to Townes.
"This is a much more affordable option," he said of the recently-installed workstations. Townes said the workstations also offer business owners who need a mailing address.
Using a co-working space also creates the chance for networking, often without even trying, and sometimes generates serendipitous business opportunities, he said.
Demand for co-working spaces has been growing steadily. According to a report from Deskmag, an online publication focused on co-working, there were more than 1,300 co-working spaces worldwide with more than half of them located in cities with more than 1 million residents.
Deskmag reports that the number of shared working spaces has been doubling for the past few years.
Missouri S&T was able to establish its co-working space with a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The co-working space is inside the Technology Development Center at Innovation Park which is located off of 10th Street across from Phelps County Regional Medical Center.
Page 2 of 2 - The co-working space currently has 16 workstations.
As of Friday, five of the stations are being used on some level by startups, including four student businesses and one faculty business.
Individuals and small businesses must apply and be accepted into the VentureLab program to be granted access the co-working space.
There are several service level tiers from which participants may choose, including an option that is free.
"We have a free option for those who just want to work during the day or hold meetings to a dedicated space and a couple of tiers in between" Townes said. The other tiers cost $59, $99, ad $159 a month.
The VentureLab program is available to residents of Phelps County as well as students, faculty and staff at Missouri S&T.
Those who are interested in participating in the Missouri S&T VentureLab program or would like additional information or need an online application can visit the website, http://ecodevo.mst.edu/info/iparkventurelab/.