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News / Business / Clark County Business

Entrepreneurs, creatives, tech workers finding space at shared offices

By Troy Brynelson, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 22, 2017, 6:00am
3 Photos
Members of Columbia Collective on Main Street in downtown Vancouver work on their computers. The co-working space expanded to larger offices in less than a year.
Members of Columbia Collective on Main Street in downtown Vancouver work on their computers. The co-working space expanded to larger offices in less than a year. (Photos by ARIANE KUNZE/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Kylan Johnson’s previous office was a solitary, windowless basement.

Now he hears others walk by his steel cubicle, working and talking, he said last week while leaning back in his chair. They aren’t co-workers. Johnson is part of a wave of entrepreneurs, freelancers, programmers and creatives signing up for co-working spaces to dodge office leases or the distractions of home.

“I came here to be connected to the community,” the 24-year-old Vancouver resident said. “And I have three kids at home, all under the age of 4. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and it was harder to do that in a basement — with no windows.”

Johnson and his ilk are increasingly taking up at co-working spaces like these throughout the Portland-metro area. They cater to an evolving professional class, increasingly linked to companies through the internet instead of a desk.

In Vancouver, Columbia Collective fills that void. The space opened last spring on Washington Street in downtown and has already expanded to a larger space a few blocks away.

“People (today) can fluidly collaborate without needing to be face-to-face,” said co-founder Max Mikhaylenko.

(Sort of) co-workers

There are more than 50 members at Columbia Collective, now in a 1,500-square-foot space at 810 Main St. Members pay a monthly rate to access a place they say is more conducive for work than the library or their homes.

The arrangement is similar to a gym membership. Owners offer space and equipment to members, but instead of dumbbells and treadmills there are desks and cubicles, reliable internet and a pingpong table doubling as a conference table.

Glass-and-steel private offices are available for highest-paying members at $400 per month. Fourteen steel cubicles make up the second tier of membership. Basic members get access to long, wooden communal desks that would be at home at a coffee shop — only Mikhaylenko is quick to dismiss the comparison.

“A good co-working space allows people to connect with other people, network and chat, or focus on their work,” Mikhaylenko said. Subdued music plays overhead, he notes, rather than the cacophony of crashing dishes and cafe songs. “It’s not supposed to be as chaotic as a coffee shop.”

Co-worker spaces are mainly linked to startup culture and entrepreneurs, but there are established businesses there as well. A windshield repair service has an office, as does a software investment firm and a sportswear merchandiser.

“We’re attracting more and more people,” Mikhaylenko said.

Free coffee and beer is offered. Workers sometimes emerge from their cubicles and make their way to a kitchen in one corner or a beer tap in another corner before returning to their desks or offices.

A chance to network

Walking the co-working space can sort of feel like being implanted in a virtual reality of LinkedIn. The cubicles are separate businesses with different faces, logos and business cards.

That is the appeal for some. Johnson, the entrepreneur, said his connections from there have made for thriving business. Web design is one of his services and half of his new clients have come from leads mentioned by co-workers, he said.

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“This is really the only spot where you can be around people with ideas,” said Johnson, who joined Columbia Collective at its start.

Eric Preisz, of Graham Software Development, is the only West Coast employee of the Pennsylvania-based investment firm. He has not found investments directly at the space, but he has found prospects.

“It’s leading us to do deals that are being done locally,” Preisz said. “I’ve been (with Graham) since February, and we’ve been engaged with three or four local companies but none of them are a perfect fit for us. We’re also pretty picky.”

Preisz, who lives in Camas, added that he benefits from being around the co-working space because he can watch the trends develop among startups and new entrepreneurs.

“In tech, things move so quickly. Staying up on trends is beyond a full-time job,” he said.

Some are finding the place to be a respite from working at home.

Denis Kieft joined the California-based cybersecurity firm Barracuda in 2003 before it launched its first product. The Netherlands native often corresponds with European clients in the early hours. The 46-year-old is the company’s chief architect of email security.

At his home in Vancouver, though, he’s mostly a husband and father of two, he said. That’s not always productive.

“You think, ‘Oh, I need to do this, do that,’ ” he said. “Mowing the grass. Bringing out the garbage. Do I do it now or do I wait until dark?”

Vancouver’s own

Co-working spaces are growing rapidly all over the country. The largest is the company WeWork Cos., estimated to be worth near $17 billion with co-working spaces in 32 cities. Last year, Mikhaylenko said, that company doubled to nearly 80,000 members.

At least a dozen such spaces dot downtown Portland. They vary in size, pricing and amenities, but the concept of a prorated office space remains the same. Mikhaylenko and co-founder Alex Pavlenko both looked into co-worker spaces before deciding they did not want to commute over the river every day.

“We didn’t want to drive to Portland,” Mikhaylenko said.

Neither do many members of Columbia Collective. Tim North, a 35-year-old Vancouver resident, is the sole full-time engineer in the Portland-metro area for a Seattle engineering firm. The far-flung Oregon office the firm leases is mostly empty, he said.

“It just makes more sense (to be at Columbia Collective),” he said. “Traffic is terrible. It can be two hours a day just in my car. That’s how I pitch it to my bosses: they can get two more hours of productivity.”

It remains to be seen how co-working spaces will develop in the future. Office buildings will continue to rise in Portland and Vancouver for the foreseeable future and there is little in the way of someone leasing space and renting out desks to entrepreneurs, too.

But Mikhaylenko said he and Pavlenko don’t expect Columbia Collective to be a money machine. Revenues aren’t high, he said, but neither is the upkeep.

“We’re super lean on overhead and everything,” he said. Except, he added, they go through “quite a bit of coffee.”

Columbian staff writer