Shared Workspace, AKA Co-Worker or Flex Space, is Becoming the New Norm in Coral Gables
By J.P. Faber
When the idea of shared workspace first emerged decades ago, the concept was called “executive suites” and the proposition was straight forward: You rented a private office, and you got an address, a floor secretary to greet visitors and answer your phone line, a shared kitchenette and mailroom (complete with a fax machine), and a conference room you paid for by the hour. If you wanted to start a company, or a place to hang your professional hat, or an address in a different city, it was instant accommodation: Just add water and voila, you had an office without hassle or upfront expenses.
Today’s shared workspace is a different animal. The new centers are labyrinths of glass walls, with offices ranging in size from a closet to a 1,000 square-feet, with common rooms that look like hotel lounges and shared kitchens that act like small convenience stores, with food and drink display cases and espresso machines.
Yesterday’s dark halls with separate office silos have exploded into light-filled, high-ceiling chambers with neon art and balconies. Moreover, rather than warrens of anonymous workers, the spaces encourage interactivity and engender a kind of communal creativity that make the new shared workspaces feel like incubators for entrepreneurs.
“We are focused on the creation of a community and serving as a platform where people can express their originality and create their business,” summarizes Philippe Houdard, who launched Pipeline in 2012. Its third location (after Miami and Philadelphia) was Coral Gables, where today 235 people work in more than 50 offices in a 14,000 square-foot space on Merrick Way. “I had started several companies, so I know how hard it is to start something on your own, in isolation. It’s tough. We thought it better to start in an office where you were sharing and engaging as your ideas were developing.”
The Pipepline space is eclectic in design, with what Houdard describes as “a feeling of green with a splash of Spanish heritage” to reflect the Gables sensibilities of a tree-lined city with Mediterranean architecture. There is a Spanish shield on one wall, and in a nearby space a multi-color picnic table on a swath of Astroturf.
The offices are occupied by a wide range of companies, from programmers (Big Duck Games), to “personal branding” photographers (ImageMe), to custom travel companies (Portocolo). They range from startups like Brioche Gourmet, to divisions of international firms, like France’s Alcatel. “The city now has a half dozen [co-work spaces] that are pretty significant,” says Mark Trowbridge, president and CEO of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce. “We have the tried and true, like Regus, who have been in the landscape for many years, and we have the locally owned, like Quest and Office Edge,” he says. “Pipeline is there for startups and scaleups and entrepreneurs. And then you have a juggernaut like WeWork, which is changing how business is done.”
Despite its recent corporate travails (in which their CEO has allegedly absconded with more than $1 billion), in the Gables WeWork has done so well that this year they launched a second, much larger space adjacent to their original location on Ponce at Giralda. “Coral Gables was unique enough for them to rebrand an entire office tower, right on Ponce,” says Trowbridge. “And overnight, as they leased up, they brought down the average age of downtown Coral Gables employees by a generation.”
Indeed, what the emergence of shared office spaces has done for the corporate hierarchy in Coral Gables – a city that doesn’t allow for home-based businesses – is to offer a solution for small firms with young entrepreneurs that want to scale up, with the cachet of a Gables location.
The Startup for Startups
Carolina Rendeiro, CMO of Connect2Global, was on the ground floor of the local workspace sharing phenomena; she was instrumental in attracting and establishing several early, successful coworking entities in Coral Gables, beginning with the Darby Tech Center – the first in city – in 2000. Among her first tenants was the design software company Adobe.
“When we opened these spaces, we looked at various components – who was the potential member base, proximity to airports, proximity to restaurants, hotels, transportation, and so forth,” says Rendeiro. “Coral Gables is a community where one can live, work, and play, and it’s recognized in the global market as an international hub for corporations and trade offices – all of which added to the decision process [to start here].”
Rendeiro says that since her first foray into shared workspace, the Gables has become a hot spot of the industry. “Per capita we have the most shared spaces in South Florida, especially if you look at the number of centers we have that [lease] full floors” – or multiple floors, as in the case of WeWork’s expansion, which includes three full floors for the Latin American offices of telecom giant Millicon.
That phenomenon – the location of divisions of larger corporations – is another factor fueling the demand for shared workspace in Coral Gables. Rather than lease out a large space for years at a time, larger corporations can expand with new divisions in co-workspaces, limiting their financial exposure while testing innovative concepts.
Bringing in divisions of larger companies is part of what makes a successful shared workspace, says Pipeline’s Houdard. “We wanted to attract both the startups in early stages as well as the large corporations, to create an environment that was blended, with a diversity that represented the full economy,” he says. “Some of our first customers included Uber, Google and Kayak… These [larger] companies wanted an environment where they were exposed to young people and to up-and-coming companies, while tiny startups like to be around the grisly veterans. There were benefits for both.”
“In terms of the future of flexible office space, my belief is that it’s not just for startups, but for every size company,” says Laura Kozelouzek, the founder of Quest Workspaces, which has two locations in Coral Gables. “Companies today are so dynamic, they can’t project what their office needs will be and sign 10-year leases, or even five-year leases,” she says. “They all need flexibility.”
Kozelouzek started Quest in 2010, launching first in Miami and then in the Gables a year later. Last year they expanded to a new location at 2000 Ponce de Leon Blvd., growing from their first spot at 2525 Ponce. Exemplary of the idea that no size or shape fits all comers, Kozelouzek geared her first location toward legal and financial entities.
“Our clientele are seasoned professionals rather than startups, like lawyers, and hedge funds and financial firms,” she says, which want separate office spaces because they need privacy. “We have created a lot of different common area spaces with amenities like phone booths, nap rooms, treadmills, board rooms, small conference rooms and chat rooms,” she says. “But we have designed many customized private spaces.” Kozelouzek does not favor the kind of open spaces where individuals can sit in a large room at a long table with their laptops. “I would rather create a smaller, private office where someone can be functional and not disrupted, and use the common areas and amenities when needed.”
Indeed, the clientele for shared workspaces is as varied as the overall business landscape of the city. A common misconception is that all co-workspace tenants are Millennials or Gen Z. In fact, the tenant demographic of each workspace is as diverse as the flexibility of the venues.
Fred Barrett, for example, is a CPA with 35-years of experience. He left a major accounting firm with 3,000 other employees to work alone in a quiet, single office at the Regus center on Galiano Street. “This concept in Coral Gables is great. You have all the resources without the extra overhead burden, and a workplace to call home,” he says. “We have reception and secretarial support, conference room, printers, faxes, mailing or delivery service and you only use them on an as-needed basis. Obviously one of the best plusses is that we are in the luxurious world renowned community of Coral Gables. Clients love to come here.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Jesse Stein, a serial entrepreneur who creates online businesses, such as his current success Dietspotlight.com. He downscaled to three spaces at WeWork for considerably less than the $15,000 per month he was paying for conventional office space on Valencia. Indeed, cost is a major inducement. Monthly prices typically start at an average of $200 for a seat at a shared table, $600 for a one-person office, $1,000 for a two-person office, and upwards to $2,000 to $4,000.
“I have become a more virtual company in general, with a lot of my staff working remotely,” says Stein, who is also developing a robotic arm that imitates human handwriting. “We thought about Regus, but that felt very corporate. WeWork feels like Silicone Valley kitsch, there they are trying to replicate a tech company vibe. It’s younger and feels more dynamic.”
Albert Santalo, a South Florida entrepreneur who started two successful tech companies, also chose WeWork to launch his startup 8base in 2017. The firm offers a platform for people with limited tech skills to build and host enterprise software, working with developers, contributors and users “in a decentralized ecosystem that makes software development fast and easy,” says Santalo. “We really thrive in entrepreneurial settings. We had looked at several spaces, but loved the new WeWork location – plus Coral Gables is great for meetings and it’s near the airport.”
The Next Generation
What is next for shared workspaces is already on the drawing board for a building at 299 Alhambra, in a project by the Forum division of Location Ventures. “We want to take co-working to another level,” says Location CEO Rishi Kapoor, whose firm is also working on creating co-living spaces on Alhambra (and the environmentally controlled Villa Valencia). “It not just about real estate over someone’s head, but that it also supports the entrepreneur within.”
In addition to providing office gear, kitchen space, meeting areas, and learning events for tenants, Kapoor envisions a coterie of support services for small companies, including accounting, administration, marketing, legal referrals and an onsite business coach. “The idea is that the entrepreneur is not alone, and that incubation services will add extra power to their efforts.” Being on the ground floor, Kapoor also wants to help retailers launch from mini spaces.
Kapoor hopes to open his first 9,000 square-feet this quarter and expand upward to five floors to meet demand. “We study our submarkets very thoroughly, and we have seen the other co-working spaces in the Gables and understand the high levels of occupancy in each of these locations,” he says. “You can see the large businesses moving into the Gables. That is corporate. But on a small business level as well, the Gables has done a great job of rejuvenating itself.”
And for that, co-shared spaces can take a bow. “These spaces have created a totally different environment for businesses here,” says the Chamber’s Trowbridge. “They tend to attract more ‘new-to-market’ kinds of companies, either entering wholly or just starting with a couple of offices, to do something larger along the line.”
Workspaces range from a few thousand square feet to more than 80,000 square-feet
95 Merrick Way, 3rd Floor, 786.477.6440
Edgy, hybrid spaces for startups and corporate division
2525 Ponce #300, 305.200.8700 | 2000 Ponce #600, 305.271.3100 Co-shared space for professionals, undergoing a makeover
2222 Ponce de Leon, 305.363.4997 | 255 Giralda Ave. 5th Floor, 305.250.2832 Cutting edge shared space, with startups and multinationals
2332 Galiano St. 2nd Floor, 305.728.7000 | 1 Alhambra Plaza, PH, 786.749.2200. Traditional executive suites for professionals
4000 Ponce, Suite 470 (S. of Bird Rd.), 305.777.0200
Executive suites and virtual offices with support staff
Platinum Business Center
1600 Ponce, 10th Floor, 786.350.1200
Executive suites and flex space, support staff
Rockefeller Group Business Centers
121 Alhambra Plaza, 305.779.5600
Power executive office spaces, association with New York
220 Miracle Mile, Ste. 234, 305.569.0311
Strictly co-working, a drop and take space, for out-of-towners