Grand Forks Herald
A Grand Forks nonprofit organization wants to bring entrepreneurs out of their homes and coffee shops and into a new “co-working space” this year.
Evolve ND officials hope the space can provide the infrastructure found in an office setting to its members, driving down overhead costs for startups and existing businesses that are looking to work in a collaborative environment. While the group hasn’t yet nailed down a location, they hope to open in Grand Forks by Oct. 1.
“It’s an office management style that really hinges on shared resources to keep that overhead low,” said Brandon Baumbach, a co-founder of Evolve ND. “It offers opportunities for different industries to come together and create something new.”
The concept is a relatively new one, especially to the Red River Valley. CoCo, which operates co-working locations in the Twin Cities, closed its Fargo facility this summer after less than a year. But the idea lives on in the form of Prairie Den, now run by Emerging Prairie.
The idea for a co-working space in Grand Forks has been gaining steam over the past year and a half, Baumbach said. His first exposure to the concept was while he was working for a nonprofit in Norway a few years ago.
Baumbach said he wanted to “bring that international model to our area, only to learn it’s happening all around us.”
While CoCo may be the most well-known operator of co-working spaces in the region, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal found about a dozen of them in the Twin Cities with roughly 35 locations.
Peggy Stefan helped open the Commons about three years ago in Excelsior, Minn., a suburb of the Twin Cities. She said a push for more workplace flexibility over the years meant more people were looking to do their job from home.
“I think what’s happened is that there are a whole lot of us who missed the collaboration and camaraderie of working with other people around us,” she said. “Sitting at home can feel kind of isolated and be kind of distracting.”
Running a business out of a coffee shop isn’t much better, Stefan said, thanks to noise and spotty Internet connections. To that end, the Commons recently upgraded to fiber-optic Internet at its Excelsior office.
“You can’t replicate that at home,” she said.
Beyond merely offering office space, organizers hope the new Grand Forks facility can provide a space for collaboration to take place between members. Baumbach envisions members sitting in an open-floor bullpen atmosphere and using a whiteboard to ask for help on projects.
“I think that’s one of the things we’re really excited about, is bringing down those walls and letting people talk to each other,” said Nick Jensen, who has also been involved in launching the space.
Jonathan Holth, board president of the Grand Forks Downtown Development Association, sees the co-working space helping keep new businesses and entrepreneurs in the area.
“We want businesses that are home grown, that stay here and create jobs within the community,” he said. “This is a critical step toward that happening.”
Startups likely won’t be the only occupants of the space, organizers said. They also expect to see existing businesses sending some of their employees to work in a different environment for part of their day. Stefan said they have multiple salespeople from national companies using their space because their employer didn’t provide an office.
Organizers are also in conversations to allow Grand Forks members to use Prairie Den in Fargo and other similar spaces in the region, Baumbach said.
While Evolve ND hasn’t finalized a location for the co-working space in Grand Forks, a recent survey showed that an overwhelming majority would prefer it to be downtown.
“Historically and presently, downtowns are the hubs of our cities,” said Wayne Baumbach, Evolve ND co-founder. “Co-working is a hub of entrepreneurial activity. It just makes sense.”