Co-working space flourishes in downtown Vancouver

Columbia Collective allows small businesses, freelancers to share offices

By Brooks Johnson, Columbian Business Reporter

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Local paintings hang on the sun-soaked brick walls along the open second floor of an old downtown Vancouver building. Creative types mingle under cleverly designed lighting fixtures, and the coffee and beer is free.

This is no art gallery, however. This can be your office.

“We just wanted to make it a cool, creative workspace where people want to come to work every day,” said Max Mikhaylenko, a founder of the downtown Vancouver co-working space Columbia Collective.

The collective opened in April and already has 20 members, including freelancers and small companies, who rent space and share resources. No regular hours here: the members come to work when they want at 1010 Washington St. Suite 200.

In an economy where working remotely is increasingly commonplace, the trend is moving out of the home office and into communal spaces.

“Working in isolation is detrimental — I’ve done it,” said Mikhaylenko, himself a freelancer with space at Columbia Collective. “Our motto is ‘together is better.’ ”

Columbia Collective hosts individual offices (which are already all taken), permanent desks and “flex” desks for monthly fees ranging from $175 to $350.

Last week a writer, an industrial designer and Web developer were all keeping early hours at the space, which is still coming together even as the co-founders eye future expansion.

“This feels like the early days of Portland’s Pearl District — there’s a cool, quaint energy here,” said writer and Portlander-turned-Vancouverite Dan Meyers from his decorated private office at the collective. “A lot of people here have crossover skills. Everyone will be able to share business with each other.”

The collective was modeled after offices like NedSpace in Portland and a host of others in tech-savvy cities around the country. A pingpong table doubles as a conference table visible from the entryway, while another tech-equipped meeting room can be reserved on a tablet. High-speed Internet is included, of course, and 24-hour access is available. While there are plenty of spaces like that across the river, Vancouver hasn’t seen anything quite like Columbia Collective until now.

Mikhaylenko and Alex Pavlenko, both 29, met at Evergreen High School and recently decided to create a space for their hometown’s creative community.

“We’ve got the startup bug; we’re startup junkies,” Mikhaylenko said. “I see this as a startup hub for downtown Vancouver. We’re just local dudes who believe in Vancouver and want to make it great.”

The two men self-financed Columbia Collective and plan to build out the space in phases, with the dream of someday taking over the whole floor. While they admit the co-working space by itself “doesn’t pay the bills,” it was never meant to be a money-making venture in the short term.

“I think Vancouver is ready for a space like this, so we said, ‘Let’s provide this resource for the community,’ ” Mikhaylenko said.

The two recruited some people they knew in the broader startup community — several from Portland — to join the collective, while others heard about it at the right time.

“It’s kind of the future of independent business professionals,” said 23-year-old Web designer Kylan Johnson from a sunlit desk nestled in a warm corner — a big change from the windowless basement office where Vancouver man worked before.

One entrepreneur is using an office at Columbia Collective as a second location.

“As a startup, every dime counts,” said Jessica Chan, a designer and owner of WinkPens, a new Kickstarter-backed company that makes pens capable of using any staining liquid as ink. “The mornings I don’t have meetings in Portland, I get to skip the traffic.”

As her company grows, Chan may grow out of co-working spaces, opening up her office for other entrepreneurs to get plugged in.

Mikhaylenko and Pavlenko said the co-working trend was made possible by cloud computing, which increased the “ability to work smoothly remotely.”

Along with creating an attractive and productive workplace, having a bunch of creative resources under one roof can help with networking, and Pavlenko said events will be a big focus of Columbia Collective.

“We’ll be really focused on events, workshops and a community hub,” Pavlenko said.

He added that as the co-working space grows, Vancouver itself stands to benefit.

“As we bring a creative group of people together, the local economy will flourish.”