With their 4,000-square-foot downtown facility half empty, Corey Warren and Dylan Warnberg are seeking new office-mates—just not the conventional kind.
The business partners, who co-own and operate a screen-printing and design company called INNATE, want to transform their workshop at 1420 N. State St. into a space for coworking, an increasingly popular, urban workplace model defined by its tenants operating independent businesses yet sharing office resources such as high-speed Internet, kitchens, conference rooms and other amenities.
Warren and Warnberg said the plan is a way to help their company stay viable by bringing in rent money to help them pay the building’s overhead costs. But they also want to support local entrepreneurs in need of fertile ground for collaboration and partnership, which they said were both keys to getting INNATE off the ground when they founded the company nearly four and a half years ago.
“We want to be a premier space for the creative heads in this community,” Warnberg said.
The INNATE space, as Warren and Warnberg are calling it, would follow several other coworking offices that have opened in Bellingham within the past year.
While the model catches on locally, in larger metro areas, coworking is a hit.
More than 850 new coworking spaces opened in the U.S. between February 2012 and February 2013, according to a recent survey from Deskmag, an online magazine that tracks coworking news and trends. The survey estimated nearly five new spaces open worldwide every business day.
Business consultant Renata Kowalczyk partnered last year with the Bellingham firm 2020 Engineering to open the city’s first coworking space, called The Pond, on Dupont Street. Kowalczyk said that while Bellingham professionals have yet to fully embrace the workplace model, there are enough early adopters growing word-of-mouth interest and building demand for new coworking spaces.
“It takes time, just like any new concept that’s being introduced,” Kowalczyk said.
The INNATE space is expected to have enough room for up to 10 tenants, including the INNATE company itself as an anchor. Warren and Warnberg are also seeking potential investors to help handle overhead costs.
While much of the proposal is still conceptual, a floor-plan rendering shows half the facility split into several studio spaces, each between 100-200 square feet in size. The rendering also shows a shared conference room, kitchen, storage, as well as an “idea lounge” and a back area with a full bathroom and shower.
The coworking space, at least according to the rendering, would occupy the portion of the workshop that currently holds INNATE’s screen-printing equipment and storefront. The company’s production would be moved to make way for the coworking space if tenants begin applying, Warren and Warnberg said.
The other 2,000 square feet of the workshop is made up of three large rooms that are currently empty. INNATE occasionally uses the empty rooms for gallery shows and other community events.
Kowalczyk, who has been providing coworking advice to Warren and Warnberg as they develop their plan, believes the empty side of INNATE’s facility holds more potential for a coworking space.
One possible tenant might already be interested.
Suzanne Blais, executive director of the Center for New Media, a nonprofit media production and distribution organization, recently toured the space.
Student interns and community volunteers with the Center for New Media create a variety of news documentaries and other broadcast features. But the organization lacks its own video recording and editing studio, which Blais said makes it more challenging for its members to produce quality work.
She said the INNATE space could make a great location for such a studio. Creating one inside a coworking space would help the center stay affordable and easily accessible for its interns and volunteers, she said.
Blais is no stranger to the resource-sharing office model. She rents a coworking space next to Kowalczyk in The Pond on Dupont Street.
Coworking is an effective and cheap way for solo professionals to have office space, Blais said.
“Very few of us are floating in cash these days, and we have to be smarter with what we have,” Blais said. “Coworking is one way to do that.”
Kowalczyk estimated that the standard market rate for coworking rent in Bellingham would be between $225 and $250 per month. Coworking rents are generally all-inclusive, meaning payment gives tenants access to all the amenities available in a particular space.
How much Warren and Warnberg would charge tenants is one aspect among many the two will develop as they move their plan forward.
Yet in a downtown district still pockmarked with vacant offices and storefronts, the coworking model could be a unique opportunity to fill empty or partially empty buildings, said Darby Cowles, a Bellingham city planner who is leading efforts to revitalize the downtown area.
Cowles said coworking could be a useful solution for some of the older, historic facilities in the district, some of which have small or oddly shaped spaces that won’t likely fit traditional offices or larger businesses.
“We need to think of creative solutions for how to use some of these spaces,” Cowles said.
For Warren and Warnberg, opening the space is not just a business strategy. They both said it’s also reflective of their desire to bolster the spirit of local entrepreneurship.
INNATE owes a lot to the Bellingham business community, Warren said.
“We’re realistic in our expectations,” Warren said. “If the community will support [a new coworking space], we’ll build it.”
Corey Warren and Dylan Warnberg will host an open house from 5-9 p.m. on Friday, April 5, to present more information about their plans for the INNATE coworking space and answer questions from potential tenants, investors and community members. INNATE is located at 1420 N. State St., in downtown Bellingham.
Evan Marczynski, lead reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or firstname.lastname@example.org.