Coworking in Philadelphia continues to explode as small businesses and isolated teams from bigger companies alike flock toward shared spaces — whether it’s the venerable Indy Hall that’s been around for almost a decade, or the brand new Pipeline Philly that just opened its doors early this year.
Billy Penn talked to founders and staff members from five of the city’s coworking spaces to check in with them about who their members are, what they’re excited about and how they might expand or change in the future.
Their niche: Artists, developers, programmers, makers
Status: Could Indy Hall be changing locations? Philadelphia’s oldest and largest coworking community is in danger of losing its North 3rd Street location in Old City where it’s been since it was founded in 2007. And now Indy Hall’s more than 300 artists, developers, makers and business owners may have to get used to a new space.
Founder Alex Hillman outlined the problems on his personal website: Long story short, the landlords in the space surprised Indy Hall leaders with a 60 percent increase to renew the ground floor lease after pressuring them to purchase the space.
Hillman was able to negotiate a three-month extension on the lease, but Indy Hall is expecting a rent increase of 20 percent beginning Sept. 1 — “an increase we currently cannot afford,” he writes. Other options exist for Indy Hall to downsize. Hillman wrote that by fall of 2016, if they do not purchase the space, the landlords could theoretically raise their rent to twice what they’re currently paying (around $17,000 a month).
What’s new: Hillman said in an interview with Billy Penn that all options remain on the table. He said until now, the community’s priority has been securing the space “for long enough to have a conversation” with members about where they want to go and what the future of Indy Hall looks like, whether that’s downsizing the space or moving out entirely.
While Hillman said he would have liked to have taken steps to move Indy Hall to a new phase of its life without “having my hand forced,” August 2016 marks the 10-year anniversary of the events that led to the inception of Indy Hall, one of the country’s oldest coworking spaces. Maybe, he says, it’s just time for a change.
What they’re excited about: Other than possible changes to the physical space of Indy Hall, Hillman said internally, there’s been “an emergence of professional development” and people coming together organically in the art community. What’s that mean? Members who do art on the side are finding ways to harness those passions and make money from it.
Hillman said externally, Indy Hall’s recognition as one of the first successful coworking spaces is stretching across the globe and is taking founders to Africa this summer to keynote the *continent’s* first coworking conference.
What the future holds: That’s, of course, up in the air. But Hillman said that at the end of the day, the space isn’t relevant to the sense of community that Indy Hall tries to foster.
“The place doesn’t matter,” Hillman said. “This is a way for us to show that we really mean it. If we stay true to the things we are best at, we will end up a better version on the other side of this.”
(Full disclosure: Billy Penn is based at Pipeline Philly.)
Their niche: Small businesses, entrepreneurs, politics
Status: Since opening early this year, Pipeline Philly’s Center City location in the Graham Building near 15th and Market Streets has amassed close to 200 members representing 75 businesses. The space is at more than 70 percent capacity, something Josh Dubin, director of programming and strategy, said founders came to expect when they realized they were offering something unique.
Dubin said that in addition to the coveted downtown location, Pipeline Philly offers traditional coworking space with the choice of private offices — a feature not all coworking spaces can boast. That has also allowed for both startups and established companies to seek space at Pipeline.
“We don’t want pigeon-hole ourselves here,” he said. “We have a diverse mix of members, and we think that makes it a more valuable network.”
Pipeline, with its proximity to City Hall, also established itself as a hub for politics, as groups like Rittenhouse Partners — a powerhouse campaign consulting firm — were based there. During election season, the space played host to a handful of events including mayoral forums, sit-downs with candidates and a press conference held by presumptive next mayor Jim Kenney.
What’s new: Events programming is growing at Pipeline, and Dubin said the space is hosting an average of three events a week in three categories: Entrepreneurship, innovation and civic engagement. He added that Pipeline’s ability to influence social conversations through its members and outside its network is only growing.
What they’re excited about: Dubin said the business partners have been struck by how Pipeline has become a hub for teams of international companies to have a homebase in Philadelphia. Whether it’s French e-commerce companies or events with the consulate from the United Kingdom, Dubin said the international attention on the space has gone beyond expectations.
What the future holds: Could Pipeline Philly be expanding beyond the two floors it currently holds in the Graham Building? Dubin said the company doesn’t have expansion plans it can publicly discuss yet, but said the space is seeing high demand, and expansion could happen down the road if the demand continues.
CityCoHo Philly Nexus
Their niche: Sustainability
Status: CityCoHo cofounder Drew Foulkes says that less than a year ago, he thought the coworking space was going to fail after bad weather caused low interest and a floundering number of possible members touring the space.
CityCoHo, which boasts sustainability and environmental consciousness, opened in late January 2013 with seven members. Since then, the space at 24th and Walnut Streets has grown to more than 70 members representing about 30 different companies.
What’s new: On a new floor that’s wrapping up on construction, Foulkes says there’s a new event space that will be used in conjunction with a Garces Group restaurant being constructed underneath. The goal, Foulkes says, is to share a liquor license with that space so that CityCoHo can become one of the only coworking event spaces in the city with an operating liquor license.
What they’re excited about: In partnerships with other sustainability organizations across the city, CityCoHo is going to be launching more programming and events over the next year, including a sustainable art curation program.
Other collaborations inspired by the People’s Climate March in New York City are coming, and Foulkes says that in conjunction with groups like The Sierra Club, CityCoHo plans to help launch a coalition of climate-focused organizations in Philadelphia to foster positive change.
What the future holds: Foulkes said that CityCoHo is wrapping up construction on a second floor in the building and is still looking for “the right mix of tenets” to fill it. He also said there’s a “high probability” that CityCoHo will be on the three floors by the end of the year.
Part of that, he says, is aiming to open more permanent office spaces and longer-term leases so that startups that come to CityCoHo, stay at CityCoHo instead of incubating and moving on.
Their niche: Tech
Status: After the last cycle at DreamIt Ventures concluded last year, five of the early-stage startup companies being incubated there moved to Venturef0rth. That co-working space, based on the 400 block of N. 8th St., has about 100 members, according to Community Manager Melissa Marsili.
What’s new: Marsili said that since December, Venturef0rth has grown in terms of the number of members, but also in how those members interact with each other. She said the space takes pride in hosting tech-related events for early-stage startups that often don’t have the budgets to hold events elsewhere.
“It’s always been part of our mission to support the tech community,” she said. “I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be able to host groups of people that might not have an event budget. It’s awesome to be able to give them our space and foster their community in that way.”
She said Venturef0rth is hosting an average of two events per week, but that fluctuates during times like Philly Tech Week when events happen multiple times a day at the space.
What they’re excited about: Venturef0rth, Marisili said, has worked hard since its inception to facilitate conversations (and let them happen organically) between members, especially members of the tech community who work alone in the space.
One way they’ve been able to better do that is through actual rock, paper, scissors competitions that are overseen by a member who is a certified rock, paper, scissors referee. (It’s a thing; read about it here.)
What the future holds: Marisili said that moving forward, Venturef0rth is aiming to continue growing its membership and move to rent out more space in their building.
“Growing our community and hoping that everyone can have the experience they want to have here is what’s important right now,” she said, “and I think that’s what they come to Venturef0rth for.”
Their niche: Women
Status: The Hive founder Melissa Alam said The Hive, a women-only coworking space based in Old City, averages 10 to 12 members a month — a number that’s fluctuates from month-to-month as members renew month-long leases in the space.
What’s new: Alam says The Hive is moving toward organizing more events and partnering with other organizations across the city as it continues to try to grow.
What they’re excited about: In conjunction with magazine Femme and Fortune, The Hive is in the process of planning a week of events to empower and inspire women in the Philadelphia region. Taking place Nov. 16 to 21, Fearless Philly Week will include panel discussions, lectures, health and wellness workshops and networking opportunities for women of all backgrounds, industries and ages. More info will be up soon at FearlessPhillyWeek.com.
What the future holds: The Hive’s only location is still in Old City, and while Alam says she would “love to expand” The Hive to other cities or to a larger location in Philly, she still needs the capital to get that moving — she’s hopeful Fearless Philly Week will help with that.
“I’m just taking it slow,” she said, “because I don’t want to expand too fast.”