Coworking Options Swell

By Alexander Soule
The Stamford Advocate, Conn.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The Co-working phenomenon continues to boom.  This article takes a look at a new business suite in Stamford CT.  The owner, John Arenas says members tend to be in their 30s and 40s with established business networks. He also points out that many members are women in business looking for the flexibility to work as much as a space that is close to where they live. 

The Stamford Advocate, Conn.

At 700 Canal St. in Stamford’s South End, Serendipity magazine publishes quarterly issues focused on lifestyle topics germane to Fairfield County and Westchester County, N.Y.

In fitting out a new “lifestyle” option of sorts for businesspeople on the building’s ground floor, John Arenas says it is only happenstance that his company shares the magazine’s name — but promises it will be a happy accident for Stamford, and soon other locations throughout Fairfield County.

A former senior executive with Regus, Arenas is opening a Serendipity Labs “coworking” space in Stamford’s South End this July, taking space vacated early this year by Eclisse Restaurant. It will be Serendipity Labs’ third location after its initial startup in Rye, N.Y., followed by a Chicago site, and with several more in the works in multiple states. The company has disclosed nearly $9 million in funding in Securities and Exchange Commission filings, with its backers including Steelcase, which sells office furniture, technology and interior design ideas.

Arenas likens his company’s concept to a shared office with the welcoming feel of a hotel lobby, adding the vibe of a startup incubator with evening forums and meetups. He said members tend to be in their 30s and 40s with established business networks, looking for the flexibility to work as much as they want in a space that is close to where they live. Women comprise about 40 percent of Serendipity Labs’ membership base, he added, a higher level than that seen by executive suites and startup incubators.
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Arenas was CEO of Stratis Business Centers for five years through its 2001 acquisition by Regus, where he was president of the United Kingdom-based company’s Americas region that today runs nearly 3,000 business centers, 10 of them in Fairfield County including two Stamford locations. Arenas left Regus to create Worktopia, an online platform for people to reserve space for meetings at hotels, with the technology now owned by Virginia-based Cvent.

“What we learned in that process was a lot about delivering experiences, which is what the hospitality world does,” Arenas said. “It led me to, ‘what if we took the workplace to the next level and brought it into delivering workplaces and experience as opposed to just renting rooms and having a landlord-tenant experience?”

Through a mix of jointly owned and franchised sites, Arenas hopes to establish additional centers in Greenwich, Darien, Norwalk and Westport over the next 18 months. In Stamford, he hopes to see at least 200 members join, with the space available for use by companies for meetings.

Fairfield County has a rising count of shared workspaces, which in Stamford includes traditional office suites for rent like Regus, Stark Office Suites and BLT Business Centers; and more differentiated options like Workspace Stamford housed in the downtown Stamford Innovation Center; the new Workpoint facility at Shippan Landing; and Comradity, steps from Serendipity Labs’ location on Canal Street.

Bridgeport is home to B:Hive, the Bridgeport Innovation Center and CTech IncUBator at the University of Bridgeport, while others include Danbury Hackerspace, SoNo Spaces in Norwalk and the Westport Innovation Hub. In Fairfield, Kleban Properties is considering a redevelopment of General Electric’s headquarters into a high-tech hub, possibly to include a shared workspace concept; and in Stamford Building and Land Technology is in the process of converting Pitney Bowes’ former headquarters in the South End into the tech-focused Silicon Harbor, without stating whether the massive building might include an office suite or shared workspace section.

And blossoming elsewhere is WeWork, which has 30 locations in New York City, where it was founded, as well as 60 more in cities internationally, but which has yet to expand into suburban areas.

With so much in the works, is Fairfield County’s market for entrepreneurial hubs fast reaching market saturation? Workpoint founder Jeff Kay thinks the concept will find plenty of adherents, while acknowledging the challenges of getting home-based businesspeople to pay extra for shared space — even in a space like his in the former headquarters of Time Warner Cable with banks of windows overlooking Stamford Harbor and Long Island Sound, and space to accommodate 160 members at any point in time.

“People have some really nice basements around here,” Kay said. “They say, ‘why do I need to leave my house?’ Well, I happen to think — and I come from many years of freelancing — that being in your house is isolating (and) it’s also very distracting. And frankly, you’re not meeting anyone.”

A 2015 Harvard Business Review study determined that people were more effective working in coworking spaces, earning a six on a seven-point scale versus a five for traditional office environments. Part of that was driven by the nature of the people seeking out such spaces — freelancers and others who are motivated by the short-term projects they have won to work on — but the communal, collaborative environment itself was touted by participants as helping given them a boost versus a more “siloed” experience in office suites or a solo existence in the home office.

“Work has changed forever — people are mobile yet connected,” Arenas said. “We’re delivering a workplace experience at a corporate service-level standard so that you have that combination of hospitality, a place you can rely on … and a vibrant experience.”

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