Startup Bootcamp for Coworking Spaces – Or how MN became the land of 10,000 coworking spaces

What is a coworking space? It’s a shared place where folks can go and work. There’s space and broadband and maybe office supplies, a conference room to host meetings and coffee maker in the corner. Sometimes there’s regular programming too – maybe guests come in to talk about various business topics. Or maybe the coworking members talk about their businesses. People work and network. It’s great for remote workers, for people who can’t get broadband at home, for entrepreneurs who want an office away from home but not full office rent.

There’s a lot of variety in coworking spaces – just as there are lots of different companies and communities. And I got to spend Friday and Saturday working with four groups on their emerging coworking spaces from all over Minnesota. Specifically, there were people from Ely (10 Below), International Falls (Ballan’s iSpace), Redwood Falls and Hutchinson. (Redwood Falls and Hutchinson are about to emerge.)

We were at a coworking startup bootcamp hosted/led by Betsy Bonnema from Workup (coworking space) in Willmar. Almost all of them had some connection with Blandin, either through broadband or the leadership training

I’m tempted to tell you everything about the bootcamp and the attendees because despite the fact that I had to give up row 7 tickets to Janet Jackson to be there – it was awesome and I’m now excited for the world of coworking in Minnesota and the impact coworking could have on community vitality and quality of life here. I’ll try to hold back.

We started with intros to the communities and coworking spaces:

International Falls – they have a furniture store that is morphing into a working space with a planned opening of Oct 1. (I visited there last month.) They serve a remote community bordering Canada. It’s a tourism area and paper mill. They have a community college and health care. The opportunity came up just when former furniture store owner, Patti, decided retirement wasn’t for her.

Hutchinson – is known as Minnesota’s manufacturing city because so many locals work in manufacturing. Their economic development team wants to work with people to understand that there are options outside of a 4-year degree. They want to work with younger students to talk about 2-year degrees, entrepreneurship and other roads. They have a place in mind but haven’t started building out a space yet. 

Ely – is a destination city. They are a Gateway to the BWCA. They have horrible broadband. So they set up 10 Below a year ago. They already have 78 members, but most are visitors who are able to extend vacations or relax more because they can get a little work done in town. They would like to expand in size and use.

Redwood Falls – They want to build out to smaller communities, to attract people to/back to Redwood Falls. They haven’t begun building their space but they have ideas and goals. Childcare is another issue in their community – maybe this is a solution.

International Look at Coworking

We heard from world class (and international) coworking practitioners (from Serbia and Chicago) via video conference. Fascinating to see how the world of coworking has exploded. How people can work from anywhere and even plan coworkations. These are vacations where you work from a very remote location – like Bali. You might work on solitary pursuits all morning – then enjoy a communal lunch or check out the local sights in the afternoon.

We learned that coworking is a lifestyle, a way to facilitate the work-life balance by embracing it. We also learned about options for sponsorship in coworking spaces. There are revenue streams beyond the business person using your space. Their employers or best customers might sponsor them. Or you might invite local corporations or business services to sponsor a conference room, coffee stand or other feature in the space.

What do Coworking Members Want?

Five of Betsy’s members from Workup spoke about why they joined and what they liked about being part of a coworking group. One was a remote worker whose employer was based in Minneapolis. Workup provided the broadband and place without distractions. Someone else found the space inspired creativity. For someone else, the space was closer to customers than his other office and so it was a good place to start a day of customer visits. People enjoyed having space for client meetings. One snuck into work during football games to watch the games on the big screens. They loved it. Someone brought his students here.

That led to the recognition that coworking spaces suit younger workers. They aren’t used to traditional office spaces and they may never need to be.

Members enjoyed the programming too. The opportunity to connect with other members and the human touch with Betsy making connections where they made sense.

What does each community want from coworking?

Each of the attendees talked about the goals for their spaces.

What are the goals for the #coworkingspace in Hutchinson?

  • Entrepreneurial ecosystem
  • Community – bring in young people
  • Reveal local talents
  • Make downtown more vibrant
  • Offer more options

What are the goals for the #coworkingspace in Redwood Falls?

  • Better sustained relationships
  • Increased collaboration
  • Service as trusted resources for entrepreneurs, business owners
  • Outlet for creativity
  • Continue to be relevant

What are the goals for the #coworkingspace in Ely?

  • Be self-sustaining
  • Encourage more members (maybe double to 150)
  • Get more local members

What are the goals for the #coworkingspace in International Falls?

  • Make the city more marketable
  • Allow for more business starts
  • More collaboration
  • Be relevant

We also learned more about the ins and outs of the business – like the financials. It was a very full day and then we did it all over again the next day.

Day Two: All About Branding

It’s tough to put day two into writing. While day one was all about learning about coworking and talking about your community – day two started out talking about ourselves. Each attendee talked through their personal why to get to the business why to the brand to the story.

Personal why to Business why to Brand to Story 

We talked about what we were like as kids and what lit our spark back then and brought that up to the future to figuring out what we believe to be true and how that sparks us. Below is a video that talks through some of the ideas and some pictures of the whiteboard discussion. I want to add that it was time really well spent; perhaps not as valuable to read.

In the end each coworking space walked out with a vision of who they want to be. At one point we laughed at how it might have seem easier to work together to create a template that everyone could use – easier but not as valuable. Each community is different. Each coworking owner/manager is different. But they all share a desire to help their communities thrive by providing space, opportunity, networking and support to local entrepreneurs and business. In that the discussions reminded me of many broadband discussions I’ve seen in communities. And I can see how a coworking space could be the cornerstone of a community broadband plan. The space wins when local business wins and vice versa.

This entry was posted in Conferences, economic development, MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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