Bryan Kristof founded Coworx in 2011 as a way for entrepreneurs to rent work space while interacting with other companies. (Photo by Chris Brehmer)
It’s 9 a.m. on a Wednesday, and Coworx at Barclay Commons is a beehive of activity.
Moving around in softly lit, open space that’s punctuated by a mellow “whirlwind orange” wall tone, up-and-coming business owners greet one another, plug into programs and chat on the phone.
Observing the scene from a sofa, Coworx founder Bryan Kristof, clad in sandals and shorts and balancing a laptop, describes the scene as “kind of flexible and vibrant and stimulating.”
Opened in 2012, this office-sharing arrangement for entrepreneurs, telecommuters and sole proprietors provides an alternative to kitchen tables and java joints. Options include part-time flex desks, dedicated studio desks and private offices. Leases range from one month to one year.
Current tenants at Coworx run businesses in fields such as real estate, marine financing, video production, marketing and jewelry. They’re sharing ideas, exchanging business leads and forging partnerships.
150 entrepreneurs served
Kristof increased attention on coworking in the region in 2011 when he moved his home-based marketing firm to Lumina Station. Creating an open floor plan for his company and others, he found that a collegial atmosphere strengthened collaboration and bred new business. The success led him to purchase additional property at Lumina for a second honeycomb of work spaces.
But when Kristof merged his own agency into what is now Tayloe Gray Kristof, he found it was no longer easy to do double duty and decided to spin off his coworking units.
Ryan Crecelius, founder of Do Good Real Estate and a coworking tenant, took one of the spaces for his growing firm but also agreed to honor all coworking memberships.
But, still sold on coworking, Kristof struck a deal with Cameron Management to fill vacant space at Barclay Commons.
Over the past three years, Kristof has helped about 150 entrepreneurs pursue their passions in novel, attractive settings.
Josh Harcus, head of inbound strategy at Hüify, a marketing firm that helps clients gain sales leads, plugged in at Barclay Commons in 2013 when he realized he couldn’t have interns work for him at coffee shops.
A year later, Harcus counts 15 Coworx tenants as business partners.
“Our company has grown the most in the last six months,” he said.
One of Harcus’ clients is award-winning beverage analytics company Next Glass. Kurt Taylor, its founder and CEO, also praises Coworx.
“We’ve also met several people through the unique working environment that have become friends and members of the team,” Taylor said. “Coworx has been a great place for Next Glass to grow.”
Creating new hives
One newer hive getting buzz is University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), which in less than a year has attracted 20 tenants – including a dozen to its coworking space.
Jim Roberts, CIE’s executive director, said most coworking members are information technology companies attracted by “the knowledge of the other people in the room.” Half of CIE’s coworkers are students, for whom space is free.
Charles Davis, co-founder of SIVAD Business Solutions, whose main product is EasyVote Software, just moved in.
“It’s that ability to be around other entrepreneurs and to feed off each other,” Davis explained, saying he wants to learn more about operations and funding techniques.
Members of the post-Millennial Generation, Generation Z, prefer to choose when, where and how they work and will increasingly turn to their own ideas for employment, said Diane Cherry of the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University, which studies coworking. In addition, larger companies are increasingly embracing coworking as a way to foster employee engagement and productivity, Cherry and Kristof say.
While Kristof is “letting the dust settle,” he hasn’t ruled out future coworking locations and may approach commercial developers outside the region.
Kristof and his tenants believe coworking will accelerate.
“I don’t think anyone dreads coming to the office” when the office means coworking, Hüify’s Harcus said.
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