Bloomington, Day 1 (Pt. I)
By Britney T-M
TRIPPIN’ is a summer blog series featuring coworking spaces, as BoxJelly intern Britney T-M travels to attend George Mason University’s Social Innovation Program. Follow the trip on Google Maps.
For those of you not familiar with Bloomington, a major fact is that it’s home to Indiana University. Because of the talent that pools here from this mega institution, it’s no wonder the coworking spaces in B-Town established quickly. With sucha concentration of skills for the area’s labor force, you’ll see companies sprout up in very unique ways, explaining a sort of “wild-card effect” of the midwest in terms of innovation and industry.
Cowork Btown started in the way most do. The founding members worked remotely for their companies. They met up at coffee shops and loved the social benefits of working together – chatting about the game, sharing info. about recent product releases, etc. But spending $20 every day and having to constantly feed the parking meter inspired them to find a space of their own. With one tweet, they found 10 more people to join them, and BOOM!, Cowork Btown was born.
I met with one of the founding members Aaron White, a lead designer at Formstack, who also works with Bryan and Brandon (trippy!). It’s located in a building with multiple tenants – a yoga studio and investment group are their closets neighbors.
It is a smaller space, only about four or five months old, but is equipped with all the essential amenities – common work area, meeting rooms, and soon-to-be lounge room. They might be able to acquire an extra room as well that they would turn into a copy room with more lounge space. The kitchen space and restroom is shared with the investment group, which is an interesting way that they are unintentionally coexisting with other working professionals. When first finding a space, they encountered a bit of misunderstanding with landlords thinking of coworking more as subletting. It was a reminder for me of how recent this industry has developed.
As our conversation continued, the topic shifted towards an area that I think a lot of coworking founders will find themselves in. “We need to partner with someone,” explained Aaron, “…to help manage the community. It’s just that we’ve got full time jobs…family and kids…it’s hard to work on the space.” Planning events, managing new member signups, making sure there’s TP in the restrooms – these are things that need to get done for a space to operate. As founders establish the needs of space creation, who will be there to maintain it?
The simple answer is those who need it. The needs of tech. parks and coworking spaces relate to each other in this way. If no man is an island unto himself, coworking spaces should recognize the channels for which they are part in the ‘archipelago’, or their connection to ‘the mainland’–quite simply, the surrounding community/city and industry ecosystem of which they are in. During our Business Scholars consultancy project, our recommendations continually pointed to institutional partnerships for the sustainability of our tech. park client. For example, Purdue, Notre Dame, Rose Hulman–all of these educational institutions have technology parks who are partnered with them. Universities provide the research and talent, tech parks provide the infrastructure and networks for that research and talent to be implemented and relevant.
There is soon to be a tech park in Bloomington as well. With the IU and a growing tech. community, Bloomington certainly has fertile ground to grow and prosper as a town. And with young and ambitious professionals such as Aaron and the team of Yellow taking their early career steps in B-Town, there will be much more to look out for.
“Revenge is never a straight line“, and neither is any journey. Exploring coworking spaces means exploring communities, and the stories of people in that community. It was only after speaking with Aaron that I knew about Blueline, a coworking space that finds its niche in the creative realm rather than the tech. space. So after Cowork Btown, I trip’d myself over a few blocks on 6th St. and a half block north up College Ave. to Blueline.
Founder Chelsea Sanders graciously agreed to meet with me on a moment’s notice. After graduating college from Illinois State University, Chelsea landed in Bloomington for an art director’s position at Auxiliary Services for IU. By that point, she had already started Blueline Media Productions, a creative agency doing full marketing and branding campaigns for companies. An artist of photography herself, she eventually wanted to have her own business and gallery to give local artists a chance to showcase their art and host shows. “With artists, it’s more than likely that the majority of people don’t have the money,” exlains Chelsea. “They’re just trying to have a show…it’s expensive to rent a studio or gallery space. So if you share, it’s just cheaper.”
As she made enough money, she resigned from the director’s position to fill that gap. Fast-forward through a few locations and you’ll find Chelsea right off the main square. She’s livin’ her dream, working amongst other creatives – a copy writer, a video director, their corresponding employees and interns, and even fashion blogger Jessica Quirk!
At Blueline, there’s a reception/couch area, a general workspace, a laptop/desktop bar, and a dedicated office space in a back room that is home to three programmers from Three Amigos. The conference table is a center piece of sorts in the space, and for shows, everything is cleared to transform the space into a gallery. Most of the furniture are refinished pieces from an old furniture store, lending to an antique/vintage vibe.
Memberships break even on the rent, but making money isn’t the point. This gives her a chance to make her business and have like-minded people to work with, which is another one of those innovation metrics difficult to measure. The next steps she wants to take involve community oriented events. She is currently working with one of her clients to host a leadership workshop for Blueline and community members (which is arguably an added value for her client, in access to exposure and networking).
While conversing with Chelsea, we talked about the changing culture of competition. Even with Cowork Btown and an upcoming technology park, competition looks like it will take a backseat to collaboration. The challenge that Chelsea sees is basically more of a marketing issue – how people understand what the space is, how it is used, and the referral of members.
It reminded me of kayak racing and running track. Coaches would tell us the clock was our only competition. Co-working, co-operation, co-mmunity…the stories of these spaces are all conceived with the purpose of benefiting through co-operation. I have a feeling that there is a redefinition of the competitor happening along with this paradigm shift of the way we work.