Randi McCray and Merieta Bayati were like a lot of entrepreneurs — young in their businesses and in need of a place to work. Instead of renting from someone else, they ended up launching one of a new wave of coworking spaces popping up around town.
The two women, who became friends during their time working at Yale University, had found traditional office space that didn’t fit the flexible, urban vibe they had in mind. They also found coworking space where there just weren’t very many people who were like them: women who also happened to be black.
So they decided to create what they were looking for—about 1,225 feet of open space with an urban loft feel. The Urban Collective, New Haven’s first black-owned coworking space, was born.
“We thought we could do our own projects and then open it to other small businesses like ourselves that don’t want the overhead of their own space but they need space periodically, whether it’s a couple times a week, or a couple times a month, or it was just for an event, ” McCray said
Open since August, The Urban Collective has played host to workshops, a women’s conference, networking events and a quarterly curl bar where people gather to talk about natural hair. Right now, events like the upcoming Passion to Product: Side Hustle 101 workshop are drawing people into the space.
Bayati said The Urban Collective has bookings through March. Eventually she and McCray would like to hire an onsite manager who can be responsible for showing the space to prospective coworkers.
Located at the Marlin Business Center in the East Rock section of the city, The Urban Collective is just one of several collaborative spaces for entrepreneurs blooming throughout the city as New Haven builds its reputation as the state’s home for startups and technology-driven businesses.
A second wave of of creative and coworking spaces have sprung up in different corners of the city, including:
• The Range at Lotta Studios in Westville.
• Hub55 downtown, geared to Brazilian entrepreneurs.
• A new Church Street space called DeskCrashers, a possible launch to a chain created by Jacob and Josef Feldman, one of the teams building new apartments in town.
• Make Haven on State Street.
• A planned coworking space in the under-construction “DISTRICT” tech campus in Fair Haven.
The city has gotten in on the action, too. It has coworking space in the Small Business Center on Dixwell Avenue for entrepreneurs who go through the Small Business Academy. It also is looking to provide more incubator space for those in the food-based businesses. (An earlier iteration of that idea was to have been housed in the old Goffe Street Armory.)
A Thousand Flowers Blooming
“The rise of coworking is part of a national trend driven by a couple of things: Corporations that are looking to make their working spaces more efficient and less expensive, but also by needs and interests of millennial workers in particular who need a very different kind of work style in their employment situation,” city Deputy Economic Development Administrator Steve Fontana said.
Fontana said more businesses see an advantage to having employees working in an environment that fosters collaboration rather than individual employees in a closed-door office all day. The Harp administration has been supportive of creating such synergies, he said.
“As you can see from the success of The Grove, this is going to be part of a huge national and international trend that I think will transform corporate office structure and office culture,” Fontana said. “Obviously the market is developing much more quickly than we can keep up with and people are taking it upon themselves and we think ‘Let’s let a million flowers bloom.’
“I think it’s great that we’ve got this kind of energy because it’s that kind of energy that the cities are going to need to survive and thrive in the 21st century. When you think about it we’re going to have communities built around shared interests, shared industry, shared backgrounds. In the case of Hub55 it’s people from Brazil, The Grove is focused on tech ... It’s great to try all these different models, different concepts and see what works. It’s the future.”
You Can Crash Here
Developers Jacob and Josef Feldman of Mod Equities called their new coworking venture DeskCrashers . They created the space in an 89,625-square-foot, eight-story brick building downtown that they bought two years ago at 129 Church St.
On the first floor, they’ve built out a space that features accommodations for individuals and groups. The building has a casual common area for eating and lounging designed to help coworkers collaborate and build community. There’s a shared gym. If DeskCrashers succeeds on Church Street, Jacob Feldman said, he and his brother might try to scale it up to a chain in Connecticut and beyond.
Feldman said the idea for the venture grew out this and his brother’s own experience of trying to find places to crash and work. He said in the early days of their budding New Haven real estate business, he and his brother were back and forth between New York and New Haven. They had no dedicated office space in New Haven. So they spent a lot of time at the library, Claire’s Corner Copia and Starbucks.
So when they bought 129 Church St. they saw an opportunity to create the kind of workspace they could have benefited from at the beginning of their business.
“A lot of coworking spaces have a mix of sort of closed office options and hot desks,” he said. “DeskCrashers is going to be a hot desk space with options of having a permanent desk in 129 Church St.” He also described an option for people who don’t need a desk but simply want a place where they can go work every day without the noise or hassle of working in a coffee shop. DeskCrashers has memberships that offer lounge-only access for $120 a month, hot desk access at $220 a month, and dedicated desk access for $350 a month. Day passes cost $30. The Feldmans also hope ventures the begin in the coworking space can grow into more permanent digs elsewhere at 129 Church.
“The end game is to open up DeskCrashers throughout Connecticut,” Feldman said. “That way if somebody has a membership to DeskCrashers they can use it at multiple locations. It’s the ultimate convenience. And New Haven is a great place for it because there are so many entrepreneurs looking for a place to crash. We were one of them at one point.”
Another communal space is planned for a portion of the the new tech and innovation campus known as DISTRICT.
DISTRICT is being built in the Fair Haven section of the city by developers David Salinas and Eric O’Brien on James Street.
“When done well, coworking space is both a tremendous value to the property itself as well as the businesses it supports,” Salinas said. “Our project is much bigger than, say, someone slapping a coworking space in to fill in some dead space. It’s really a function of a much larger ecosystem that allows us to play across a variety of different stages of the life of a business from inception to established.”
“It allows people to connect and create bigger and better opportunities in the area,” he added. “It’s really about economic development.”
Salinas envisions “collision” points throughout the nine-plus acre campus for people to create community through work or play. The campus also will boast a food hall and beer garden, a kayak and paddleboard launch, walking trails, athletic club, and an amphitheater.
“It’s about the entire campus,” he said. “You’re going to meet people not just in coworking spaces but when you go for a morning kayak or paddleboard sessions, or when you go to the gym. There will be all these opportunities for community, for growth, for economic impact.”