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A new reason not to commute: Startup gives freelancers, entrepreneurs a chance to work in downtown Santa Cruz

Posted by vishalsinghal on August 17, 2008

A truely inspiring article from SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL — Two city leaders and a prominent attorney are trying to stop what they see as an exodus of talented workers from Surf City to Silicon Valley and make life more pleasant for those workers and others in the process.

Mayor Ryan Coonerty, 34, city Economic Development Manager Jeremy Neuner, 34, and attorney Caleb Baskin, 32, signed a lease earlier this month to open NextSpace in the former County Bank Building on Pacific and Cooper streets. They hope to sublet the 10,800-square-foot office space above Pacific Wave Surf Shop to entrepreneurs who want to work independently, but crave companionship.

For around $200 per month, freelancers, entrepreneurs and home office workers can have access to Wi-Fi, couches and tables and reserve a conference room. For $1,000 per month, they can have their own private office with a lock on the door, overlooking downtown.

The concept, which was pioneered in San Francisco about three years ago, is simple: human beings are, by nature, social creatures. So even when they work alone, they like to be near other people, Neuner said. It also gives those who spend their days online at LuLu Carpenter’s coffee shop a legitimate office in which to meet clients and hold meetings.

Those who choose to work at NextSpace “are getting a membership in a community,” Baskin said.In addition, bringing together those who now spread out at cafes around town could help spawn new ideas, which might lead to new local businesses. That effort is crucial, organizers say, in a city that has seen its tax base shrink over recent years and its light industry all but disappear.

 

“Talent, ideas, capital, it’s all here,” Neuner said. “Two people with a rolling white board and a cafe space down the road becomes a company.”

In addition, the men said, companies with a lot of employees who live in Santa Cruz — such as Google or Apple — could rent out a few work carrels or a private office in NextSpace downtown instead of having those workers drive Highway 17 every day.

“We wouldn’t have done this unless we knew there was a demand,” said Neuner, who will drop from full- to part-time work with the city’s Redevelopment Agency once NextSpace officially opens Oct. 1, to spend more time on the new business. Over time, he could work for the city on a contract-only basis as he increases his hours at NextSpace.

The business is not considered a conflict of interest for Coonerty, as council members typically hold a full-time job outside their work as elected officials. However, he would not be allowed to vote on anything related to Neuner’s employment or awarding him any contract. NextSpace likely will not do any business with the city, Coonerty said.

Redevelopment Agency Director Bonnie Lipscomb said she supports Neuner’s venture, and that it will fit in well in Santa Cruz.

“It’s exactly the type of business we should be supporting in the downtown,” Lipscomb said. “It’s fulfilling a need in Santa Cruz.”

The lease for NextSpace began this month, and some workers could begin moving in next week, although no contracts have been signed yet. Construction needs to be done before the grand opening this fall.

Membership options will include a “cafe” membership, where workers can drop in with their laptops and cell phones and use the NextSpace Wi-Fi while sitting on a couch or at a table. Those with “carrel” memberships will have a reserved desk where they can store their stuff, and those with a private office will have a locking door. Memberships run between about $175 to $1,000 per month, depending on what type of space a worker wants.

In addition, those who need help creating a business plan or finding investors for a startup should be able to consult a panel of experts the men expect to have available to their clients, they said. NextSpace is already helping to sponsor a freelance “boot camp” this weekend, which about 200 people have signed up for.

The three men said they plan to make money on the membership payments and other services, like hosting meetings for outside companies who want to hold a retreat in Santa Cruz. Each has contributed around $15,000 of their own money to get the business going, Coonerty said. No city money was spent on the business.

The effort continues in the tradition of Santa Cruz NEXT, a group started by Coonerty and Baskin in an effort to get young Santa Cruz residents, many of whom drive over the hill to work, invested and involved in their community. Over the past year, the group’s hundreds of members have sampled wine and food from eateries around town while learning about local artists, housing issues and the city’s planning department.

As a result, more young people are showing up at City Council and other public meetings, and volunteering on city advisory boards, among other places.

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One Response to “A new reason not to commute: Startup gives freelancers, entrepreneurs a chance to work in downtown Santa Cruz”

  1. Great concept which will hopefully be appreciated in Santa Cruz and elsewhere. With all the benefits of telecommuting, it’s hard to disregard the downside of isolating yourself from the professional community by working by yourself and away from the actual corporate office, so perhaps this is one great compromise between isolations and unnecessary stress/office politics and long commute.

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