Incubators, Accelerators, Co-working spaces. The terms have become interchangeable in the minds of many, but there are distinct differences between the three. And to confuse matters even more, no two incubators, accelerators or co-working spaces are the same, either. What’s an entrepreneur to do? In this series, we’ll explore all three types of offering, as well as the differences between the various incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces, to help you find that desk, table, cubicle, office or quiet – and sometimes not so quiet – corner of the startup world that’s right for you.
The Co-Working Space: It’s Not Just a Desk Anymore.
Co-working spaces are good places to find an affordable desk and get work done without your cat vying for your attention, but wait! There’s more! You might also find free beer/coffee/pizza/bagels, demo days, classes, co-founders, coworkers, clients: each space has its own unique blend of whatever it takes to attract entrepreneurs. The coffee might not be as strong as what you’d find at Starbucks, but co-working spaces can be potent breeding grounds for startups. Get to know your fellow co-workers and you may well find those resources you’ve been looking for to found a startup, move yours to the next level, find a client or a beta tester – or five. Or just grab a quick bite and hang with the locals. The natives are usually friendly and you may never have to eat lunch alone in this town again. Oh, and no shouting baristas, either.
Where did we all congregate before AlleyNYC (affectionately known as simply ‘The Alley’) opened its doors? Despite the fact that the Alley has only been open since August, it’s already the go-to spot for hackathons, events, panel discussions, mega-parties, and of course, budding entrepreneurs looking for a space to sit down and get some work done. Encompassing 16,000 square feet, it’s certainly big enough to accommodate it all, or so you’d think: they’ve already run out of space and are about to build out into another 10,000 square feet, taking over the entire 17th floor of 500 Seventh Avenue.
“We have another 150 people on the wait list,” we were told by Jason Saltzman, CEO and one of The Alley’s three founders. The other two are Jonathon Ende, CEO of Bizodo, a paperwork automation tool that was part of ER Accelerator’s third graduating class and which is now headquartered at The Alley; and David Galanter, an attorney and former client of Saltzman’s and Ende’s, who is now President of The Alley.
“The three of us have been working together for about 4 years,” offered Saltzman, who is also Bizodo’s co-founder; Galanter was the company’s first investor. “When Jonathon was up here pitching Bizodo (the two were living in Florida at the time), I used to go with him to pitch events and noticed that there was a lack of a good, centrally located space.”
Jonathon and Bizodo were accepted into ER Accelerator, and Saltzman and Galanter went to work on TheAlley.
“We really focus on entrepreneurship and growing businesses,” said Saltzman, who is himself a serial entrepreneur. “We wanted to have a space where people wake up in the morning and they want to come to work.”
We can see that. Your entree to the space is a large open lounge area that has the feel of something you’d find at a student center and where we’ve yet to visit without finding people – lounging. Or working on the couches or tables provided there. But put techies and/or entrepreneurs in the same room as caffeine (which is free), and that’s bound to happen. And if you’ve overdone it on your coffee quotient or just need to de-stress, there are yoga classes available four days a week elsewhere on the floor.
“We have a different type of startup here: we get the hustlers who trek to midtown so that they can take 20 meetings a day.”
Midtown certainly is one of the city’s transportation hubs, and The Alley is convenient to the Path trains, Penn Station and Port Authority, and a little too close to the chaos of Times Square for some people’s tastes. Which might explain why they’re offering yoga four days a week now.
Membership also includes access to discounted healthcare and backend office management, and to legal and accounting help.
“Every space offers something different. Some focus on classes. Some are classier, like Grind. We do parties, events – we like to do stuff that celebrates entrepreneurship and…life. This is a great place because we want to love what we do, and we want to offer a great atmosphere to work in, where there are synergies and a community. WeWork is offering yoga classes now, too,” Saltzman noted. “We take it as a compliment. It means we’re doing something right.”
One of their regularly scheduled events is their own Friday afternoon speaker series, which features a different industry notable each week, and is free to Alley members – as are all events that take place in the space, and considering the number of them, not a bad perk.
So, what’s next for The Alley, besides taking on the additional space and making the world a more comfortable place for entrepreneurs?
“We’re toying with the idea of opening a hacker dorm,” Saltzman suggested. “Or we may do a niche co-working space for health tech or fin-tech. We’re looking at different verticals. Or maybe doing some investing ourselves, but as investors, we’re pretty hands on and we’re spread a bit thin at the moment.
No wonder, with 207 members presently, including Hustler (Entrepreneur), Hipster (Designer) or Hacker (Developer), which are designations on their membership form. Current members include education app developer Brainscape, Democracy.com and theater-meets-new-media group Lively Productions. Founder Collective investor and entrepreneur Micah Rosenbloom works out of the space, too, and DFJ Gotham holds office hours there. It’s also home to rockethub, the third largest crowdfunding platform. Since there are so many events on any given day, and at almost any time of day, it’s lucky that fiestah, a site that helps event organizers to get the various foods and sundries they need for their gatherings, is also an Alley member. Which means free food for fellow Alley members when there are leftovers. And we’ve no doubt that this does help to foster the collaborative spirit of the space: great things often happen around food.
AlleyNYC is now a fixture of the New York tech scene as a place to come to work, to learn, to network and to socialize. Saltzman even managed to meet his girlfriend there (she’s the yoga instructor). Not surprising, for a place and a CEO who seem to be making all the right moves.