Coworking Spaces Reflect Tampa Bay's Changing Workforce

Working from a coffee shop can only take a small business so far. Same goes for the living room, the garage and the overpriced, under-sized office.

For several years, coworking has experienced a steady national rise in popularity. Modern jobs may offer the flexibility to work from home, but some individual workers and small businesses have instead found their stride in the growing niche of shared work spaces.

Tampa Bay is no exception. Since Sept. 2012, at least five distinct coworking spaces have opened their doors to collaboration with the Tampa Bay community.

Joseph Warren, CoCreativ CEO and Chief Evangelist, has no doubt that coworking is more than a fad. "This is the future of work,'' he says.

Rooms With A View

Warren, along with cofounders Heather Kendall, Jason Stoll and Bryan Hunt, didn't set out to develop a coworking space. Instead, the idea presented itself to them.

"Our business team was meeting at Starbucks, Panera, hotels, our homes -- with all of the distractions that come along,'' Kendall says.

The team wanted to find the right space where they could work, where their friends could work. "Our friends kept saying, 'Do it! Make it.' ''

So, in March 2013, they did.

Today, CoCreativ is nestled behind an unmarked door on the 12th floor of the Wells Fargo Building in downtown St. Petersburg, where building walls give way to breathtaking views from every room.

The space, which CoCreativ shares with accelerator program SproutCamp, attracts a broad range of members, including startups and entrepreneurs, freelancers, small businesses like St. Pete local I Love the 'Burg, remote workers and business travelers.

CoCreativ hopes to reach a broad group of workers. Warren explains, "Our focus on a mainstream demographic sets us apart.''

Kendall and Hunt developed the warm, relaxing coffee shop vibe that runs throughout the space. In the "Chill Room,'' which is full of soothing green tones, a novelist might be found working. In the conference rooms and office spaces, floor-to-ceiling windows abound. In the community kitchen, Kahwa coffee is almost perpetually brewing; in little jars and bowls throughout the space, gummy bears are kept in stock for those who develop a sweet tooth.

Day passes, dedicated desks and event space rental are available to members, guests and out-of-towners.

"We're always trying to bring people together,'' says Kendall. "We are hopefully bringing value to St. Pete in a new arena that they haven't been able to enjoy so far.''

Paving The Way

On a busy one-way street in the heart of city limits, CoWork Tampa has transformed more than 6,000 square feet of an old Garcia Y Vega cigar factory into a modern loft space. Local art hangs on the building walls, a pool table resides in the kitchen, and everywhere, there is exposed brick.

Founder Chris Arnoldi left school for entrepreneurial pursuits, which led to developing his own media marketing company, Uhsome. As Arnoldi navigated the path of a small business owner, running the gamut of overpriced office rentals, he stumbled upon the perfect solution: Subsidize rent, space and other costs by creating a coworking space in West Tampa.

"Coworking is definitely a marketing vehicle, which gives us exposure. It's also just a really good deal,'' Arnoldi explains, for small business owners. "We give everyone a great value -- we're just out to break even.''

It's a win-win for coworking members, as well. Clothing label founder Roberto Torres credits some of his business Black & Denim's success to the decision to set up shop in the coworking space. "I love it,'' he says. "I was hooked from the first day that we tried it, the day the doors opened.''

To Torres, the draw of coworking for creative small businesses is obvious. "We've had the chance to learn something new, and meet all of these new people.''

On any given day since the CoWork Tampa space opened in November 2012, the main floor might see half a dozen members at a time, working at round tables or chatting in wide hallways. Many of the private offices, if not all, are full. Membership ranges from part-time access to a round-the-clock pass.

The newly expanded space, which includes a multipurpose room on the first level, is available to both members and non-members for event rentals.

"We hope to host all types of events, lunch-and-learns, seminars. We've even hosted a baby shower here,'' Arnoldi chuckles.

Quiet Collaboration

In September 2012, South Tampa saw London School of Economics graduate Blake Casper's homage to English culture arise in the form of an unadvertised (yet immensely popular) gift shop, bookstore and coffee/tea bar, the Oxford Exchange. Here, interior architecture fuses modern design with rustic touches, presumably inspired by the space's original purpose as the stable building for the old Tampa Hotel.

The coworking space, the Commerce Club, is on the second floor. Milk bottles and horseshoes that were unearthed during construction are elegantly displayed in reception.

Commerce Club manager Bianca Conigliaro notes, "It has definitely evolved, but once construction started, they knew they were going to create a coworking space. The way people work is changing.''

Membership to the club includes access to the Shaw Library (the name another nod to London). In this area, where green banker's lamps sit atop each desk and those who want to make conference or video calls retreat into "phone booths'' along the walls, hushed tones are expected.

Along with library access, membership includes the option to rent conference rooms of various sizes and costs. The largest of these spaces boasts a lovely view of the University of Tampa minarets, as well as the stable's original black-brick walls.

"We host programming events and book clubs, which are open to the public,'' Conigliaro explains, "as well as private events, like wine tastings, for our members. We also wanted to give them a place to meet with clients and work outside of their own offices or homes.''

Members include graduate students, lawyers, freelancers, startup companies and small business owners.

A unique perk of coworking here? Food and beverages from the kitchens below are always available for members to order.

Coworking & Creative Change

Steps from Sarasota's Main Street, a coworking community continues to grow.

With goals of community, creativity and collaboration, the HuB incubator space has been a steadily expanding home to entrepreneurial Sarasota residents since the summer of 2009.

"We wanted to create a space that encouraged creativity and entrepreneurship,'' says founder Rich Swier. "We understood that the modern version of 'two people in a garage' is this concept of coworking.''

Swier is excited about the growth that the HuB has experienced since opening at its present location downtown in Dec. 2012. "When we opened, the response from the community was amazing. Since then, we have welcomed over 30 dynamic businesses into our space.'' Recently, the HuB has even been in talks to expand the movement to Bradenton.

With a goal of being a "creative epicenter'' for entrepreneurial growth, the HuB expanded earlier this month (July) to include 17 new offices in a multifloor space. Both dedicated and coworking spaces are available for rental to entrepreneurs, artists, creative professionals and small businesses.

Swier describes the third level of the HuB as "open and urban,'' while the second level is "more earthy-zen. It is more subdued and chill.''

At the HuB, an emphasis is placed on fostering a creative community. In the eight months since its doors opened, the new space has hosted more than "30 events to bring our community together around building a new Creative Economy,'' Swier emphasizes.

"We started as only an incubator, which by nature is an open cowork space, and wanted to expand the space to allow for any creative entrepreneur to join.''

Indeed, the concept behind developing the HuB has always been focused on creating "a place where creative energy could thrive.''

The Round Table

The way Deborah Neff, Director of Operations for Tampa Bay WaVE, tells it "Serial Entrepreneur'' Linda Olson Creely and a group of friends just wanted to talk about their problems -- their tech venture problems, that is. And lo, the "Round Table'' was born. But it didn't stop there.

"They decided, 'Look, we want to help people, and we want to create this hub for tech entrepreneurs,'' Neff says.

Now, thanks to a U.S. Department of Commerce i6 Challenge grant that WaVE, with USF as a grant partner, won in September 2012, a 16,000-square-foot space inside Rivergate Tower is home to the FirstWaVE Venture Center.

Twelve offices line the curved inner walls of the massive, high-ceilinged space. On a typical day, small groups of developers or designers cluster together at desks. Many office doors are open, and entrepreneurs and programmers trade notes.

"Part of the venture agreement,'' Neff explains, "Is that the members in office spaces are agreeing not to come in, shut the door, and hide. For the most part, they spill out into coworking.''

Here, collaboration is king -- and offices, which are reserved for tech ventures, are on a long wait-list. The popularity of the space comes, in part, from community involvement.

"I want to be supportive of the community on all the different levels,'' Neff says. "And if there is an event that can benefit our entrepreneurs, I want to make it happen.''

Common events include tech meet-ups, seminars or hackathons. In June, Creely came up with the idea to paint a giant wall in dry erase paint, so future groups who use the space can benefit.

Neff recalls that in March 2013, during the early weeks when the Tampa Bay WaVE center had first opened, four or five members volunteered to install necessary wiring in the ceiling. "They had experience, so they offered to help -- and they would just leave each other little notes, explaining how far they'd gotten that day.

''It was amazing to see them come together,'' Neff says.

Justine Benstead is a freelance writer who spends her days walking her dog Chloe in her South Tampa neighborhood, drinking far too much coffee, and taking photos with her trusty Nikon. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

Justine Benstead is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.