The value of community collaboration centers

Sep 21, 2016 | Innovative Communities

Over the course of the past year, I have seen a number of things happening here in our community and in smaller more

rural communities around the country that are driving a new wave of entrepreneurship and innovation. Open access

creative spaces for individuals and businesses that have only existed in larger urban environments are being embraced

by smaller communities like Bellingham. These new maker spaces and Coworking communities are unlike the traditional

types of business spaces that have been associated with urban hubs like Silicon Valley, the Incubators and Accelerators.

These traditional spaces did not do well in smaller communities, primarily because the model worked with sector

specific businesses (like technology) and were very insular – which means they often had little impact in helping the

community that surrounded them experience the same types of growth as the few lucky ones within them.

 

Fortunately movements that started in 2005 are opening the door for more would-be entrepreneurs to find common

spaces for not only starting their businesses, but allowing inventors new opportunities to explore that idea that’s been

brewing in their head for a long time. They also encourage independent contractors or freelancers a place, outside of

the home, to find others to meet and work with expanding their own businesses. Now, after only a few years in urban

areas, that trend is taking hold in smaller communities across the nation, including here in Bellingham.

 

Maker Spaces

The maker movement, which got its start internationally in 2006 has taken off in the U.S. more recently and is driving a

resurgence in American Innovation. These maker spaces are providing an inexpensive opportunity for everybody to

access tools that might normally be cost prohibitive or require unique skills, like 3D printers, robotic components,

woodshop and metal working tools. These are the tools that allow inventors and innovators to prototype new products.

Additionally they provide opportunities for creative individuals to get together and explore new ideas. Jason Davies

(Mary/Troy), who co-founded Bellingham’s first maker Space, the Foundry, says “__________”

 

Coworking

Another movement, Coworking spaces, are open access work environment designed to be economical, efficient,

creative and collaborative. These spaces, unlike their predecessors the Incubators and Accelerators have a more open

and inclusive environment for small businesses, independent consultants and other entrepreneurs. Dana Rozier, a

Bellingham Coworker talks about why she likes the Coworking concept, “I liked the idea of networking and like minds

coming together in a shared space. You never know what's going to happen when you get a bunch of independently

minded people in close proximity to one another. When I work at Coworking, I feel like I'm part of a greater creative

whole.” Different Coworking spaces offer different amenities, attract different kinds of people and have different vibes.

Bellingham has three Coworking spaces to choose from: Invent Coworking, Workspace and 20/20 Engineering.

 

The value these kinds of spaces bring to a city like Bellingham are definitely felt by those who work or use these spaces

to start and grow their business. However, it reaches beyond the companies that participate in them. Other businesses

feel the effect of more people working, hiring other freelancers to help them build their business and getting out of the

house to meet in coffee shops or restaurants. The net effect for the community is more people are given the

opportunity they needed to start something instead of a lucky few. There are many intangible benefits as well, like the

energy and creative process that is happening in these spaces that brings a revitalization in innovation and ingenuity.

Who knows what kind of business will grow out of one of these spaces that will become the next big business and it

starts right here in Bellingham.

 

*This piece originally appeared in the Bellingham Herald.

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