WorkSpace closes, thoughts on co-working space in Vancouver

Yesterday, the news that WorkSpace was closing exploded everywhere.

The co-working space – one of the first in North America dedicated to a tech / creative / small business audience – was founded and built by Bill MacEwen in March 2006. Bill – and the present owner, Jayson Minard – made WorkSpace a great physical gathering place at the center of our local tech community. The gravity notably shifted from Yaletown to Gastown, and more and more tech companies moved in along Water Street and into Railtown.

By providing a gathering space for meetups, clubs, and presentations of all types – often free of charge – the WorkSpace team helped grow the community from the grass roots. Hosting the first and second BarCamp Vancouver and numerous DemoCamps being just a couple of examples.

And, of course, WorkSpace provided a great for-pay service, even if the exact formula wasn’t ultimately financially sustainable. From shared desks to office space, many individuals were happy to move out of coffee shops, or have a reason to put on pants and go out and work in an environment where many other people were working on similar things.


Well, the only other space that has similar by-the-desk pricing is The Network Hub. It’s a good solution, but not nearly as large as WorkSpace, and not quite set up for the kind of “drop in and see who is there” vibe that permeated WorkSpace. They’re also very good at making space available for meetups, but just don’t have the capacity for medium to large gatherings.

The SFU TIME Incubator – tucked away on the 7th floor of Harbour Centre – is set up for startups that need office space and the rates are reasonable. It’s definitely not set up for drop in at all – many people don’t even know that it’s there, and being an elevator ride away on the 7th floor really limits the traffic that goes past.

The W2 Community Media Arts Centre say that they will have some hotelling space available, but I don’t believe co-working will be the primary focus there.

Discovery Parks Vancouver (as well as being the sponsor for all the space at BarCamp Vancouver 2009) is looking to fill their building with businesses and is open to different options for the space. Not listed on their website, they already have various work station and small business-friendly spaces available. See the attached PDF for more details – the pricing (which currently starts at “free”) is definitely attractive. The *only* strike against it is location – it’s not hard to get to by bus or skytrain, but there certainly isn’t the same food, fashion, and entertainment at its doorstep that Gastown has.

So, what it comes down to, is that the local community currently does not have a physical gathering point. I would argue that the following attributes are necessary:

  • the ability to drop in / socialize for free – have a coffee, use the wifi, connect with other people that might be there at the moment
  • flexible space available for free / low cost that fits 50 – 100 people
  • for-pay space that ranges from shared desks to small offices on a month to month or short term commitment basis (e.g. three month minimum for a small office)

What to do next? Well, a physical center is definitely something that we teased about on the Labs blog. It’s definitely something that the Society is looking into, and looking at different ways to fund and support such a space.

One idea I floated on Twitter last night was if people would pay a $50 annual membership to help support such a space. The limited audience seemed to be enthusiastic about the concept. Definitely something we’ll be looking into, although the financial requirements of a space are daunting regardless. Yes, that’s code for “it might not happen unless we get significant funding”.

Finally, a concrete “next step” I have is to suggest a session at BarCamp Vancouver 2009. Let’s get together and discuss what we, as a community, want out of such a space, and what we’re prepared to do to support it.

Please leave comments with your thoughts on this. Do we need such a space? Would you rent a desk or office? Would you support it as a community resource on an annual basis? What would you want out of such a space?

P.S. The folks at Kontent Creative were vocal last night on Twitter about making their space available for meetups – this is definitely the kind of pro-active action we need from local businesses. Brendon was suggesting Telus or SAP/BOBJ as local firms that might have large space to share, but I’ve never heard a peep from either of them at the “grass roots” level.

19 thoughts on “WorkSpace closes, thoughts on co-working space in Vancouver

  1. roland says:

    your blog post got cut off! i'd definitel pay $50-100 a year if the money went to a downtown or Gastown meeting space for grassroots meetups and small conferences and i could get good coffee (for extra $ of course)

  2. I personally think it's less important to have rentable desk space and more important to have a space where meetings and gatherings can occur. I really have a hard time seeing most people pay $50 for a membership, but maybe that would work. I'd probably rather see a pile of local businesses contribute $250 – $500 each and get sponsorship of that space during the course of the year or something along those lines (which is a similar model to have many universities sell sponsorship for lecture halls sometimes).

    Just some thoughts.

    • At some point, every individual member of the community needs to step up. I, personally, would pay $50. The "lecture hall" model is, uh, significantly higher — like $100K per year or a $1M one time donation / sponsorship.

      From what many people have told me, rentable desk space / offices without long term commercial leases *is* a pain that needs solving.

  3. I'd pay $50-$100 a year to support a grassroots tech/creative space for informal meetups & conferences of about 50-80 with a coffee shop for extra $. Sign me up!

  4. For sure – I'd be more than happy to pay $50-$100/yr for a membership – and I don't think it's *necessary* for all event hosting to be free, though it is really great and simplifies things. Personally I think reasonable cost + sustainability are more attractive than free! And tbh – though those other spaces are cool for events, on a day to day basis, I'd really only consider space in Gastown as viable for drop ins.

  5. I personally think it's less important to have rentable desk space and more important to have a space where meetings and gatherings can occur. I really have a hard time seeing most people pay $50 for a membership

  6. Apparently my other comment got cut off. Sorry 😦 Anyways, I too would be willing to fork out $50. I just think the logistics of managing the memberships or what not would be difficult. But a great session for BarCamp.

  7. I'd pay $50-100 to support it (& I bet most small biz folks working in this community would as well). A item for discussion – what membership gets you, different levels of membership, etc. The community NEEDS IT.

    Apart from membership structure, though – the location is crucial – should be in gastown or the DTES.

  8. Great post Boris. In the last conversation Bill and I had about shared space models we both agreed that if we were to start fresh we would do something with a fee so low that almost everyone in the community would join. We were thinking more like $20 per month, which would get you free access to events and a discount on whatever other services the space would offer (mailboxes, meeting space?). Find a spot that's affordable and keep the overhead really low. Subsidize by charging for private events or company functions. If it were run as a non-profit with minimal or rotating volunteer staff I think it would be sustainable.

    I'm 100% interested in sharing what we learned at WorkSpace so I'll try to stay involved in the conversation(s).

  9. Well, it looks like I MUST come to this session at Barcamp because the Bootup Entrepreneurial Society (non-profit) is working hard to create a space that will nurture and help our technology community thrive. I am trying to meet with all the right people to help get some funds to support this initiative. It would be ideal to have something in place before the Olympics. We definitely need community support to show that there is a need for a space like this in Gastown. Thanks for all the comments and sharing this post with others.

    A big HUG to Dane and the Workspace folks for all the love! I will miss my visits to 21 Water Street…

  10. Judi Piggott says:

    It is unfortunate that somehow we were not able to step in or step up and save WorkSpace. But we must move on.. I think there is a great opportunity here to crash-connect a few siloes and meet a spectrum of needs and hopefully some good dialogue leading to action at BarCamp (whatever that is) will get us there. I've enjoyed all the times that I have elbowed my way into the tech/design crowd because the energy is great (very can-do) and welcoming no matter how grey our heads or how confused we eldermavens may be about tweeting.

    I'm getting notice my reply is too long, But wait! There's more!

  11. Judi Piggott says:

    There is a group working to develop itself as an intermediary (along the lines of ArtScape in Toronto), encouraged by the Cultural folks at the City of Vancouver as part of its cultural facilities development plan, and linked across a number of networks. And working to find projects to help initiate, faciiltate, or whatever-ate as we emerge and evolve.

    For example, David Duprey is involved (he of the Rickshaw and other developments in the DTES through leasing buildings dirt cheap, demising them and subleasing affordably to artists and other creatives and small orgs). Vancity development group people are there, artists and architects and planners, oh my! All getting together and establishing some common language and finding projects to get going on.

    More to come.

  12. Judi Piggott says:

    I'm sure this group (current working name is The Art Department) would welcome some cross-pollination to see if we can help shorten the linkages to success. We are also looking at the Hub model from britain that has gone global, with San Francisco opening this week, and the good old Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto being another good example.

    I had hoped to approach the WorkSpace people about opening a satellite space at or near the Main Street location of VIVO (I'm on the Board and we are thinking social enterprise) as part of our space re-design.

    So, all these ideas can converge. Let me know if it sounds like a plan and include me in the contact lists for any discussions that might be useful in moving these great ideas forward!

  13. I have a hard time imagining the forking of $50 a year "in benefit of the community" considering how frequently the words "free desk", "low cost to nothing", etc. are being thrown around. Consider me cynical, but I think that one of the things that devalues the value of things is the perceived notion that things are "free". Nothing is really free. Rents need to be covered, salaries need to be paid and supplies need to be purchased. None of those appear magically out of nowhere, and as you clearly mention, unless there is some serious funding, the whole thing is not going to fly.

    We pay rent and/or purchase our homes. Why shouldn't we have to pay for office space? I definitely believe in sharing a lot of stuff for the community, and the fact that we could drop in by WorkSpace and hang out and have events for free or sponsored was amazing. I was incredibly supported by WorkSpace. They sponsored the space, wifi and paid for Greg to be there (as far as I know – Greg may confirm this part).

    But again, nothing is really free. I myself have liveblogged, written about or spoken at community events absolutely for free (that doesn't mean my time doesn't have value – I just have contributed it in kind to the community). So have many others. That's part and parcel of what has created a strong sense of community. But I think that to have a really solid space for co-working, the model has to be financially sustainable. And I really don't see how else can we do that unless (a) space is paid for or (b) there's sponsorship. And we all know that sponsorships only go so far. No funding agency will pay forever.

    I'll go to the BarCamp session for sure.

  14. One last thing. I have a desk at The Network Hub and I'm pretty sure people can drop by any time and say hi. I rarely have people do that and I'm there all the time. Maybe people need to know them a bit more πŸ™‚

  15. Even before the demise of Workspace the place where I work was talking about a shared location concept and we’re not alone. We looked at sharing space with Bootup Labs. We talked to a lot of people, but the timing wasn’t right when we had to move from 325 Main. We’re still working with Bootup Labs, W2, Judi, David Duprey…

    Recollective is having some meeting about a Vancouver Hub. Google that, they say we’re involved in that too, which is a bit presumptious, but we’re not ignorant, we were invited, and we want people to come to Vancouver’s inner-city and start businesses even micro businesses or consultants or independant professionals.

    We have a couple floors of space in Chinatown. Our main floor we’re going to make available for rent, but we’re fine tuning our model. For us to replace Workspace, we can’t certainly not today. But we would like to be part of the solution and conversation. And who knows maybe there is an opportunity here that we or others we work with can fill.


    PS We know of office space and meeting space in the inner-city if anyone is looking for some, give us a call. 778-328-7672

  16. There are a lot of people still working on this. We, BOB, my employer are going to try it. We have a large main floor at 163 East Pender that we always planned to rent out for meetings and events to local businesses and non-profits. We're going to put even more furniture and up the bandwidth and offer it as coworking space for 200 dollars per month. We can't go any cheaper, we're a non-profit and are trying to offer a service to local entrepreneurs, independent professionals, and non-profits. We're not offering 24 hour access or weekend access just yet. That gets into a big staffing cost. We've got a key fob entry system so people can come and go, but at the end of the night the place will be locked up tight for security purposes.

    Contact me at Building Opportunities with Business if you want to know more. The space can hold 100 and we're going to get stackable event seeting style chairs, so hopefully it can serve as a space where a lot of people can come together.

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