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.