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.
In July 2009, Mayor Bloomberg announced a series of initiatives to support and promote the city’s media and technology industries, including a “freelancer hive” offering affordable workspace to sustain small business and start-ups. That December, the Hive at 55 officially opened in NYC’s Information Technology Center at 55 Broad Street, in the heart of Lower Manhattan. The location was chosen in the hopes of bringing economic diversity to what had always been a finance-sector heavy area. Those were early days for co-working spaces and at 3+ years old, Hive@55 is one of the elder statesmen of the space. What is it about the Hive that attracts people down there, far from the hub and the maddening din of Flatiron’s tech central?
“We’ve always attracted a wide variety of industries, and a mix of independents: journalists, lawyers, accountants, designers, technologists, non-profits, telecommuters,” said Daria Siegel, an urban planner who helped to launch the space and has been its director since the beginning. “We’re predominantly tech, but not exclusively.
One of the seeming drawbacks of the Hive is its location, far from where the investors are and where they are less likely to casually drop in, hold office hours or even take ancillary offices
Then again, location may be one of the Hive’s greatest strengths.
“Flatiron is getting expensive,“ Siegel noted. “Lower Manhattan has lower rental rates and more space.” The space is also easily accessible by most public transportation and to entrepreneurs who live in the Financial District, Brooklyn and New Jersey, as well as to visitors from both out of state and from other countries. Also on the plus side: the space has flexible and affordable rental options. The Hive offers a wide range of pricing packages, including day rates, part-time and full-time options, private office rentals – and offers discounts through partners like the Freelancers Union.
Rates range from $30 a day for a drop in, to $300/month for desk space. For two, it’s $450 a month. Private offices for 2-3 people are also available, and rates are discounted if you work during off-peak hours. The Hive is open 24/7.
There are companies that start out at the Hive, and then move on to other co-working spaces around the city. And those who grow out of the Hive, but don’t venture very far.
“Shopkeep (a cloud-based point-of-sale software system) is our biggest success story so far.” Siegel offered. “The founder used to own a wine store and was frustrated by the system of doing things, like tracking inventory, so he got some programmers and developed Shopkeep. They just closed their Series B.”
The company moved to a dedicated office that can accommodate its growth. But it’s still based at 55 Broad Street.
Yet another plus: once your company grows, there are private offices available in the building, so you can stay close to the downtown hub. Or in this case, the Hive.
“One of the companies that used to be here signed a lease next door to us. They still come to our events and use our amenities. During Hurricane Sandy, we were closed for a week, then got our power and internet working, so they worked out of our space during that time.”
Lower Manhattan is one of the biggest commercial corridors in the country, so the area has a lot of redundancies built in for technology. “We’re resilient,” Siegel noted, referring to natural disasters like a Hurricane Sandy. “Lower Manhattan is completely cyber ready and not many neighborhoods are. We were up and running pretty quickly, because there are so many different lines and ISP providers running into the buildings.”
The Hive is also far from being isolated. There’s a lot of energy from the city and the NYC Economic Development Corporation to support technology and draw companies to hire and expand in Lower Manhattan.
“This is an exciting time to be in co-working in NYC,” Siegel offered. “This is the way people work and will continue to work. We don’t have to go to a 9-5 job anymore and with more companies taking on people as consultants, people need community, so the co-working community is continuing to grow and we’ll see more and more spaces opening up.”
With the sudden explosion of co-working spaces, how does an “old timer” like The Hive plan on keeping up?
“Every space has its niche, and its pluses and minuses” Siegel suggested. “We’re all going to have to distinguish ourselves. (The Hive) offers maximum flexibility, and we’re aimed towards freelancers and people who don’t want to sign long-term leases – or leases at all. We’re an open door to any kind of worker.”
Events and classes are another value add that distinguishes each space, and the Hive is planning even more of them in the upcoming months. They’re bringing on a new community manager who will be heading the charge, taking over where founding community manager Brian DiFeo left off. DiFeo, who caught the entrepreneurial bug himself, recently launched The Mobile Media Lab, a creative agency that works with brands on Instagram, including account management and campaign design. Of course he got a lot of help from Hive members to get the venture off the ground.
Then again, that’s why it’s called co-working. And sometimes your fellow co-workers and the community that a space creates is as big a consideration as is location, location, location.