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Co-working movement gains steam

December 27, 2014

Buoyed by the early success of suburban co-working hub Launch Fishers, a group of business backers in Zionsville is lining up support for a similar initiative there.

Dubbed zWorks and billed as Zionsville’s “entrepreneurialism and co-working center,” the work-in-progress facility is expected to open next spring on or near the town’s brick Main Street. In addition to 24/7 access to shared workspace, the organization plans to offer members business-acceleration programming and services.

Organizers’ goal: to spur economic development in Zionsville by helping local startups live up to their potential.

“A lot of people are sitting on an idea, a concept, a passion project, and don’t know what to do with it,” said Dan Moyers, a Zionsville resident and project manager for KSM Consulting who is leading the founding team as a volunteer. “This will be a place to help them, to keep them from feeling like they have to flee to get started.”

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The co-working concept isn’t new. Central Indiana already is home to more than a half-dozen such sites, which provide collaborative space for entrepreneurs and others looking for an alternative to toiling away at kitchen tables and coffee shops.

Many have adopted the membership-based model zWorks is planning, charging an annual fee in lieu of rent. Members typically claim a desk—or couch or barstool or treadmill, depending on the location—for the day, using shared amenities like meeting rooms and copiers as needed.

Some facilities also offer “premium” services such as dedicated work areas, mailboxes and lockers, at an additional cost. Indianapolis co-working pioneer The Speak Easy has beer on tap. Launch Fishers has its own barista.

“This is the preferred work method of the future,” said serial entrepreneur John Wechsler, who founded Launch Fishers in collaboration with the town two years ago.

Despite its own startup status, Launch Fishers already has seen some early members “graduate” to more traditional office space. Among its success stories: mobile-app developers BlueBridge Digital and Haven, both of which landed seven-figure venture capital deals this year.

Co-working facilities provide promising startups much-needed visibility and credibility, said Julie Johns-Cole, executive director of the Zionsville Chamber of Commerce and a member of the zWorks founding team.

Adding the business-acceleration resources (think mentors, workshops and advice) should give first-time entrepreneurs the tools they need to start strong and grow swiftly—close to home. The chamber hopes Zionsville reaps the rewards of such economic gardening, Johns-Cole said.

Town Council President Jeff Papa likewise is excited about the possibilities co-working presents for the community. Launch Fishers has launched small-but-growing businesses, he said, and they have stayed in Fishers.

“I think it will be a huge success,” Papa said of the Zionsville initiative.

The zWorks group unveiled a website and started accepting membership “reservations” about a month ago. More than 50 founding members have signed up so far, Moyers said.

“It is validation—social proof of the idea,” he said. They’ll be asked to make a financial commitment early next year. Basic membership is likely to be $600.

Organizers also are seeking a modest $10,000 sponsorship from the town to signal its support. Fishers contributed $350,000 to get Launch Fishers started in the Hamilton East Public Library.

co-working factboxThe Zionsville team isn’t announcing a specific location for zWorks yet, but they’ve scouted a number of locations and are in early talks with one potential landlord. Moyers and others said it’s important for the co-working facility to be within an easy walk of the restaurants and shops in Zionsville’s historic downtown.

“Place matters,” said state economic development veteran Chad Pittman, another zWorks organizer and Zionsville resident. “The location, the feel, the proximity to the village—it’s all very important.”

Hired last month to lead Purdue University’s Office of Technology Commercialization, Pittman said co-working interests him both personally and professionally. He likes the idea of having somewhere to go when he needs to get work done outside the office, for example, and he is intrigued by the potential for collaboration among members.

“Magic can happen,” he said. “Who knows what can come out of it?”

Five Zionsville startups are listed on zWorks’ website, including Moyers’ Wise Fly mobile fly-fishing guide and Fanimation President Nathan Frampton’s Roust, which he describes as a social network for difficult conversations about issues like politics and religion.

Frampton said he has been incubating Roust at Fanimation, the ceiling-fan maker his father founded in a Pasadena, California, garage in 1984. He became a zWorks proponent after attending a meeting at Launch Fishers earlier this year.

“Being around other people doing the same thing can be extra beneficial,” he said. “I will probably work [at the Zionsville facility] one day a week … just to be around other entrepreneurs.”

AT&T Indiana President Bill Soards is another advocate, having visited about half of the 30 or so such facilities throughout the state. He likened their open, creative atmospheres to the “hackathons” the AT&T development team hosts nationwide to stay on the cutting edge of innovation.

“It’s a diversity of thoughts, of ideas,” he said, “an ability to move quickly and not be afraid to fail.”

Organizers envision zWorks serving as an economic development engine for Zionsville, as other co-working facilities have been for their communities.

Wechsler has led about two dozen community delegations—including Zionsville’s—on tours of Launch Fishers this year, sharing ideas and lessons learned. The strong interest gives credence to state entrepreneurship chief Jacob Schpok’s prediction that Indiana will be home to more than 100 such facilities within five years, he said.

“I don’t think any community wants to be left behind,” Wechsler said.

Having a local co-working hub is as essential as infrastructure like bridges, roundabouts and roadways, he said.

“It connects communities and enables commerce,” Wechsler said. “It’s just the 21st century version of that.”•

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