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Coworking spaces of all sizes in demand in Maryland

2.12.2016 BALTIMORE, MD- Spark, offices and workspace for entrepreneurs, creators, and innovators. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz).

Spark Baltimore’s offices and workspace for entrepreneurs, creators, and innovators. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz).

Coworking spaces are broadening their appeal, from tiny nonprofits looking to give parents a place to answer emails to spaces started by commercial real estate firms to foster startups.

Demand in Maryland for coworking has increased for a multitude of reasons, from the growth in contract workers to the rise of tech entrepreneurs hoping to be the next Facebook, Amazon, or Google. The surge in demand for these spaces also provides an opportunity for landlords looking to backfill space in markets like Baltimore, where older buildings are being ditched by traditional users following the flight-to-quality trend.

Spark Baltimore, which launched in 2016 at The Offices at Power Plant Live, has been at the vanguard of coworking in Baltimore.

Spark Baltimore’s purpose is to serve as a type of economic development incubator for the region. Shervonne Cherry, director of community & partnerships at Spark Baltimore, described the space’s purpose as “to provide flexible space for companies to grow.”

“Our mission is to be a catalyst for entrepreneurship,” Cherry said.

In the roughly two years since its launch the number of member companies has surged from 25 to more than 180.

Spark Baltimore provides companies with more than just a place to work. It embraces the idea that there’s no such thing as a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. workday for entrepreneurs. It provides a variety of hospitality options, such as concierge services, aimed at allowing startups to focus on their business

The concept, backed by Cordish Cos., has been so successful that Spark Kansas City is scheduled to open this fall. That expansion will even introduce a “co-living” component. The space in Baltimore has already been expanded to accommodate the market.

“We’ve had to speed up that (expansion) time line because of demand,” Cherry said.

Launch Workplaces, a network of collaborative workspaces owned by commercial real estate firm The Brick Cos., plans to open its first managed location, Launch Bethesda, in August.

The concept of Launch Workplaces emerged from The Brick Cos.’ need to fill space in its own properties. After its Gaithersburg location opened, demand for space quickly led the firm to add locations in Rockville, Edgewater, Towson, and Tysons Corner, Virginia.

Launch Bethesda will occupy a remodeled 14,000-square-foot space at The Shops at Sumner Place. The space, Launch Workplaces CEO Mike Kriel said, will attract members who want to be in Bethesda but not in the center of town.

Launch Workplaces are generally aimed at entrepreneurs and provide members a mix of open workspaces, private offices, conference rooms and a variety of educational opportunities.

Much of Launch Workplaces’ success, Kriel said, is the result of emerging from a commercial real estate firm and knowing what tenants want. The concept has been so successful that the company has had recent discussions with a dozen landlords about opening spaces, he said.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” Kriel said.

Red Wagon Baltimore is one of the smallest entries in Maryland’s coworking ecosystem. It seeks to address a big need for parents who work from home — child care.

The nonprofit launched as a pilot program in June. Red Wagon Baltimore, located in a basement space at the Church of the Guardian Angel in Remington, is open only on Fridays.

Opened with a mix of personal funds, sweat equity and a $500 investment from Moms as Entrepreneurs, co-founders Celeste Perilla and Angela Schaffer said their target members are generally looking to re-enter the workforce or trying to juggle a job with kids at home.

“There’s more doggy day care in central Baltimore than baby day care,”  Perilla  said.

While Red Wagon’s space isn’t a high-end, amenity-rich environment, it is located in a former Head Start center well-appointed for children and even has bathrooms designed for kids.

Child care is limited to supervision. There’s no diaper changing or meals served. Interns studying early childhood education and childhood psychology at local universities will primarily watch kids while parents work on site.

“We want to do a fuller launch in the fall and there’s potential to expand into other areas,” Schaffer said.

Another new face in the sector is Function Coworking Community at 4709 Harford Road in Baltimore. Located in a property built in 1920 as a movie theater that most recently sat vacant, Function combines coworking and community space.

Set in what co-owner Gene Ward called an inner-ring suburb, the site provides space for creatives, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and even skilled trades workers. Function, which is slated to open in about six weeks, will provide 15-16 private offices and 50 communal workspaces.

Ellicott City-based Alexander Design Studios has embraced biophilic design elements, adding an open air patio and atrium extending from the basement to the building’s third floor. Functions’ first floor will feature a 1,500-square-foot community space that will host activities ranging from what Ward called “low-key” concerts to community meetings.

“We don’t anticipate the (community) space will be much of a revenue generator … hopefully it will be a marketing asset,” Ward said.


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