Work your own way in one of RVA’s creative spaces

Originally published July 29, 2013 on RVAnews.com.

A handful of places have cropped up around Richmond in the last few years that provide creative and collaborative work environments. From coworking to joint offices, these creative spaces are taking over the modern business world and are competing for the attention of startups and small businesses across the city.

804RVA, a “country club for nerds,” according to owner Larkin Garbee, is a coworking space in the Fan that relies on individual members, as well as budding companies to lease space. 804RVA currently boasts 75 memberships, ranging from individual creative tech types to nonprofit companies, and even lawyers looking to use shared space.

“You choose to work here cause there’s a culture and community that people want to have around them,” Garbee said. Since opening in 2011, 804RVA has hosted about 170 meetups for creatives and startups looking to network and expand their business.

Although it seems like a revolutionary idea for some more traditional brick-and-mortar style businesses, working in coworking spaces isn’t exactly a new idea. Coworking is a concept that is built around people who may work from home, or want to get leave the coffee shop and actually work around like-minded people.

But coworking, strictly interpreted, may not allow for the kind of collaborative work environment that other businesses are seeking. At a handful of other places across Richmond, the focus is less about the individual and more about the collaborative whole.

At the Corrugated Box Building in Richmond’s Old Manchester District, about a dozen companies work under the same roof.

“Our building was designed as a place where big and smaller sized companies could be all under one roof and just sort of create an environment for casual interaction with some collaboration,” said Scott Ukrop, one of the partners that refurbished the building in December 2004.

The 40,000-square-foot warehouse was gutted and transformed with a wide open floor plan and a fabric-drapery system that separates tenants. There are also a few enclosed rooms, two conference rooms, a cafe, and multiple spaces for people to interact and share ideas.

“It’s really for like-minded businesses that are all independent, we all sort of feed off each other with creative energy,” Ukrop said.

The space may be beautiful, historic, and full of creative energy, but it may also be pricy for startups looking to just get out of their apartment building (costs for a small business paying month-to-month can exceed $1,000). That’s where Gangplank comes in.

Gangplank RVA is part of a national organization that got its start in Chandler, Arizona. With three locations in Arizona, one in Canada and one here in Richmond,Gangplank is a registered nonprofit that uses “pay it forward” ideology to support their dream.

“We’re really a collaborative workspace, where there are no dues, nobody pays you a dollar to be there, and how you actually pay back is to pay it forward,” said executive director of Gangplank RVA Mike Vizdos.

With no memberships and free infrastructure, anyone can use the space for their business but is asked to actively participate when someone else asks for help. About 40 – 50 people a week drift through Gangplank RVA’s doors and participate in weekly meetups. But part of what makes Gangplank RVA different is the extra focus on mentoring that is lacking in most coworking environments, says Mark Deutsch, a Gangplank RVA co-founder.

“My primary focus was: can we do a better job not providing information to businesses but really holding their hand in the process of starting and driving it?” Deutsch said.

Since Gangplank is a nonprofit, it relies on sponsors and municipalities to support their concept and donate space. Local professional painting company 89paint currently hosts the organization in their space above 2930 W. Broad Street. But Gangplank RVA is looking for a more permanent home.

“There are people that are looking for free infrastructures, those people who want to get out of the coffee shop, there are people who want to network and business building and then there are community builders,” Vizdosaid. “Putting all three of these kinds of personas into our ecosystem really makes a powerful place for all three groups. When all three groups can work together thats when really good things happen, and that’s what’s appealing to people.”

Whether you prefer to work at home, at a coffee shop, in a collaborative workspace, or in a cubicle, there are an abundance of spaces around the city for creative working. And although it might not be traditional, these creative, collaborative workspaces may be the alternative trend that defines the world of business for the years to come.

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