This post also appears on the Built In Chicago blog here.
Finding the right office space for a business is a difficult task, and finding the right office space for a startup is even more of a challenge. Fortunately, the rapid rise of coworking spaces provides startups, entrepreneurs and remote employees with plenty of opportunities to find the office space that fits their budget, needs, and company culture.
Within Chicago alone, we estimate that there are at least 100 different coworking spaces in the city -- and that’s not even including the accelerators and incubators. While there’s no doubt that the multitude of coworking spaces is an incredible benefit to the Chicago startup scene, it can also be difficult to navigate.
While some spaces attract specific categories of startups (think B2B, tech, social impact, health care), there’s no one-size-fits all, and not every space is going to be a good fit.
As the director of Catapult Chicago, a nonprofit coworking space for tech startups with business traction, I’ve met with many different startups. Some were a good fit, and successfully pitched to our resident founders (Catapult is a peer selected community of entrepreneurs), and others not so much. So while not every startup is the right fit for Catapult (and vice versa), I strongly believe that if a company takes the time to do their research in scouting the spaces, asking the right questions, talking to the companies who currently work at the space in consideration, they’ll eventually find the space that’s the right fit.
So when it comes to choosing the right space, we hope these five tips will help you make a decision that’s right for your startup.
1) EMBRACE YOUR COMPANY CULTURE
Similar to the process of applying to colleges, finding the right coworking space requires an honest assessment of your startup’s personality and needs. So start by analyzing the company culture that you’ve already started to build, then take the time to figure out which amenities are an absolute must, and which ones are negotiable. Questions to keep in mind:
What’s your ideal location?
Do you need a space with multiple locations in Chicago or even out of state?
Can you to meet with clients and potential business partners?
Do you need a space that’s accessible on weekends and holidays?
Does your team prefer a quieter work environment?
Do you want a private office or desks within a shared space?
Is socializing with other entrepreneurs important?
Do you want access to mentors, advisors, or service providers?
Would you prefer a space that’s a nonprofit, for-profit, or backed by venture capitalists?
Do you anticipate needed access to conference rooms on a frequent basis?
Is it close to public transportation?
Is a gym membership included?
And, perhaps most importantly, what type of community do you want? Do you want an office space with a desk and nothing more, or a community of like-minded entrepreneurs with educational programs and mentoring?
2) DO YOUR HOMEWORK
As I mentioned, there are a plethora of Chicago coworking spaces to choose from with new ones cropping up every month. Find out your options. Check out sites like desktimeapp.com and illinoisincubators.org for listings. Ask your network for referrals. There may be great spaces you didn’t even know existed.
3) KNOW YOUR BOTTOM LINE
Like any responsible business owner, your budget will probably play a large part in deciding which space is a realistic fit for your company. Find out what the rent is (per desk or per company) as well as any additional costs involved - deposits, printing charges, furniture purchases, additional amenities. Is it month-to-month rent or or are there leases for an extended amount of time? Can you afford a private office? How much notice do you have to give before moving out? My advice - if you’re not sure where your company will be in the next few months, don’t sign a yearlong contract. Stick to the spaces that offer month-to-month leases.
4) LOOK PAST THE SHINY NEW OBJECT
Before you know it, coworking spaces will be offering on-site breweries, intravenous coffee drips, and phone rooms that beam you to Silicon Valley with the press of a button. I’m all for a great work environment and fun amenities, but make sure it’s still a professional space where you’ll be able to meet with investors and clients. (And full disclosure, we do have a keg on tap and ping pong at Catapult, but they’re counterbalanced by our conference rooms and private offices). Beautiful facilities won’t matter if the Internet doesn’t work and conference rooms are unavailable. And all the craft beer in the world won’t grow your business (although you could argue that unlimited gourmet coffee is vital to your business development).
5) TRY IT BEFORE YOU BUY IT
Before signing on the dotted line, ask if you can work in the space for a day. While you’re there, take note of the noise levels and distractions, the dynamics of other companies within the space and even resident complaints regarding simple but important factors like office temperatures, coffee provisions, package delivery, management and cleanliness, stolen property issues, etc. In other words, get a sense of the energy within the space. Can you continue to build on your company culture in the space? Can you actually see your team calling this place home base? If you do, then the right coworking space will help your team feel right at home, increase productivity, and allow your company to make valuable connections with other startups and entrepreneurs.