Coworking spaces have come and gone in this city, but Carlson seems to have hit a sweet spot.
The 9-to-5 workweek is as old-fashioned as TV dinners and rotary phones—nearly extinct. And, according to Richard DeMartino, a professor and chair for innovation and entrepreneurship at RIT, entrepreneurship—and the interest in community growth instead of just punching in and punching out—is the reason.
“In the last few years or so, one of the embodiments of that has been cowork space,” he says. “Coworking is where people with smaller start-ups can say, ‘I don’t need to have an office that’s dedicated with walls, but I want to have places where all my people can share and contribute, where we can go in and work close to each other and have our business there, growing.’”
Here in Rochester, coworking hubs have had a tough go of it, with the most recent closing being ROC City Cowork, which folded in March. According to Chris Cooley, a local brand manager who bounced around at various former cowork spaces, these spaces lacked solidarity.
“All the other places I was at, there wasn’t any push to be collaborative,” he recalls. “If I was sitting across from somebody, the only way that I got to know them is if I initiated a conversation. There was no facilitation.”
Now based at the 1-year-old Carlson Cowork, housed inside an 800,000-square-foot building on Carlson Street, Cooley says he has found synergy.
“The similarity between everyone here is not their industry, it’s their mind-set,” he says. “We have a corporate sales guy sitting next to a digital guy, next to a copywriter, across from a not-for-profit grant writer. Everybody sees eye to eye. If anyone needs something here, everyone comes along side them and there is no competition. Everyone does things uniquely.”
And oftentimes, this hopeful vibe swirls just enough until the pragmatic meets the ethereal, and magic happens. Jim Locke experienced this serendipity when he was foraging his options for a major career change. Although he has an engineering background, it was chocolate that captivated him, and he set out to explore where he could nd his place in the industry. In 2010, he created a vision board with various newspaper clippings, including one from a Rochester sweet shop owner, Peter Livadas. After Jim joined the Carlson Cowork community, he was introduced to Nik Livadas, Peter’s grandson. Jim saw it as a good sign and says his start-up has “mushroomed from there.”
Indeed, walking into a place like Carlson is like being morphed into a buzzing beehive, except this one harbors close to 60 independent businesses, holds lunch-and-learn presentations given by fellow members, has a YouTube channel, TEDx Talks, 24-hour security and office access, as well as the largest game of Pictionary our city has probably ever seen.
The Carlson model appears to thrive because of the community (Mayor Lovely Warren visited on opening day in support) and also the attention and hard work of its founders—Barry Strauber, Josh Pies, and Kurt Ziemendorf— who see this as a labor of love and a way to boost a city on the brink of a resurgence.
“Our intention is to celebrate and lift up the entrepreneur,” Strauber says. “We want to make people successful. Our best thing is like, wow, someone’s gone from two people to four people to five people. It brings a lot of value to Rochester. This entrepreneurial grassroots thing that’s going on here, we just want to be a part of it and be a supportive place that can help them. If there’s an overriding theme to what we do, it’s that we get up every day and just try to fulfill the full intention of ourselves and those around us. We just think it’s very cool to liberate that amazing promise we all have inside of us. That’s what I think about when I try to describe the Carlson experience. As Carlson continues to grow, the ultimate goal is to have a major impact on Rochester.”