LOS ALAMOS – For Natalie Melaschenko, going to work at projectY cowork Los Alamos saves her the 45-minute commute each workday from Los Alamos to her company’s office in Santa Fe, and keeps her closer to home and her 2-year-old.
“There’s no commute and you get a better feel for community,” says Melaschenko, an ecologist with the Canadian-based Integral Ecology Group. “This offers networking opportunities. And it’s a little more relaxed here than your typical office environment.”
Lena Isaacs has two young children, ages 1 and 2, and is utilizing projectY’s facilities as a launching pad for her business startup, ProcessQM, which aims to provide business and management services through a network of consultants.
“Primarily, it’s getting out of the house and eliminating distractions,” she said of why she comes to projectY, adding that the rate she pays to use the space is affordable. “As a startup, you watch every penny.”
The two women are among dozens of people now taking advantage of a 2,400-square-foot space located in suite 150 of Central Park Square in downtown Los Alamos, intended as the town’s “entrepreneurial hub.”
“ProjectY was started with the intent that this be a community space where people can come together. One of our goals is to foster collaboration,” said Lauren McDaniel, projectY’s director. “The idea is to have a shared workspace that serves as an entrepreneurial hub, so we reach out to people who normally work at home or from a coffee shop and are interested in a more collaborative environment. Getting into a new space, a new environment, surrounded by people with like interests can lead to a lot of collaboration and innovation.”
The nonprofit describes itself as “a hub for startups, freelancers and others to be connected to like-minded entrepreneurs, business experts, investors and mentors” to achieve professional goals and “harness the collective energy of those working and sharing ideas.”
In addition to the coworking space, projectY has programming that includes seminars, workshops and talks by experts on specific business topics that are open, for a $10 fee, to the public.
Open since June, projectY, which takes its name from the code name for the World War II undertaking that is responsible for the town’s existence, is a joint initiative between the nonprofit of that name, Los Alamos County, Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corp., Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Feynman Center for Innovation and Central Park Square owner Philip Kunsberg.
While coworking space is not a new concept, it has become a growing trend within the emerging shared economy that brought about Uber and Airbnb.
‘Out of the woodwork’
But projectY is unique among coworking spaces, and not just for the appearance of atomic bomb-era furniture used during the “Manhattan” television series that ran for two seasons on WGN.
“It’s unique in how it’s funded,” said Patrick Sullivan, executive director of the commerce and development corporation. “The fact we have a nonprofit, a municipality and the national lab involved, we haven’t seen that kind of model replicated.”
Sullivan says there was a well-known core group of aspiring entrepreneurs about town, but “this has brought them out of the woodwork.”
People with a home business or who were looking to start one are attending the programming events, and buying occasional use and membership packages that start with a $10 per day drop-in rate. A full-time open seating membership allowing for 24-hour access to the facility and its amenities, including 10 hours use of a conference room and a locker, costs $199 per month, which Sullivan said is about half the cost one would expect to pay for office space in Los Alamos.
Those who want their own dedicated desk at projectY pay $299 per month.
The price includes mail services, access to high-speed Wi-Fi, use of printing, scanning and copying equipment, white boards and a 60-inch high-definition smart TV, as well as coffee, tea and snacks.
For other beverages, projectY has a BYOB policy.
“That’s pretty common across the country,” McDaniel, said of allowing alcohol in the coworking work space.
Besides, projectY encourages collaboration and the open exchange of ideas in a casual, relaxed setting, even after regular business hours. And Bathtub Row Brewing is just up the block and the UnQuarked wine room is a few doors down. Picking up a growler or a bottle of wine to share with collaborators hardly seems an inconvenience.
What’s less common among coworking spaces across the country is the 24-hour access to the facility that comes with the membership, McDaniel said.
While most coworking spaces were created specifically to help startups get off the ground, several projectY members besides Melaschenko – an online broker and a marketing manager for a local solar company, for example – have established jobs and use the space to work remotely.
The space is also utilized by people who work at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“The advantage from the lab’s perspective is you have more flexibility in terms of access to space,” said Micheline Devaurs, market transition program manager for the lab’s Feynman Center for Innovation.
At projectY, LANL employees can meet up with those who work outside the lab at any time of day without the outsiders having to gain access through the lab’s security gates. Devaurs said the training programs and talks held at projectY are also valuable to lab employees, and give them a chance to engage in discussions and offer their expertise to those outside the gates.
“One of the purposes is to have a place where people can gather and be a part of a network where the random collision of ideas can occur,” she said.
A culture of collaboration
Recently, projectY entered into a partnership with FatPipe ABQ, a well established coworking space located in the old Albuquerque High School building in that city’s downtown.
“FatPipe ABQ first branded itself as an incubator for startup tech companies, but then realized there was so much more diversity than just tech,” said Lisa Adkins, FatPipe’s chief operating officer since the privately owned company was established in 2012. So, FatPipe re-branded itself as a collaborative workspace for what she calls “solopreneurs,” entrepreneurs who generally work alone or in small groups.
Initially, the target market was millennials working in the technology and film industries. While they have some of those types, “we also have independent workers who have been in business for five or 10 years who are interested in making connections with like-minded people,” Adkins said.
Most of FatPipe ABQ’s members are in their mid-30s to 50, she said. Recognizing the demographics it was attracting, the company developed a program called “It’s Never Too Late to Innovate!” She noted that FatPipe’s founder is 74-year-old Stuart Rose, an angel investor with his finger in six or eight startup firms.
Adkins said FatPipe is looking at opening coworking spaces in other New Mexico cities. Adkins believes the state is a great spot for coworking spaces.
“People come here for the skies and cost of living. New Mexico is a prime location for solo workers,” she said.
Santa Fe cowork spaces
In Santa Fe, Wayne Nichols started up Second Street Studios as a live-work loft community about 25 years ago. He says CoLAB, a cowork space across from the Second Street Brewery, evolved from that concept.
“We were ahead of the times,” he said.
CoLAB includes 15 desks, a lounge area and kitchen, and, offering a rate of $275 per month, is almost always at capacity. “It’s not a hub of innovation,” he said, “it’s a hub of community for people who want to be part of a shared working environment.”
The Santa Fe Business Incubator on Santa Fe’s south side is another coworking space that, like projectY, offers workshops, seminars and training.
As the name suggests, the incubator is geared toward startups, Marie Longserre, its president and CEO, said. But, “we’ve seen a need to expand services because people need help in all stages of development,” she said. “So we’ve been able to work with people at different stages and engage them in broader entrepreneurial opportunities. It allows for people to interact with other people to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem where there can be interaction and social exchanges, in addition to picking up new connections and networking.”
Both CoLAB and Santa Fe Business Incubator have received financial support from city government in the past, with SFBI getting $205,000 this year. A city spokesman said Santa Fe is investing nearly $1 million in cash and staff time in business and entrepreneurial development this year. A total of $844,000 went to 17 projects managed by groups like SFBI, MIX Santa Fe and Inspire Santa Fe.
One group, 12fps, described in city documents as two young entrepreneurs, received $10,000 to work on developing a coworking space. They are tasked with developing “a business model for coworking in Santa Fe to concentrate entrepreneurial activity and, potentially, engage entrepreneurs from other areas (notably San Francisco/Silicon Valley) in operation of a coworking space.”
City spokesman Matt Ross said the city is intrigued by the success of some coworking spaces in Albuquerque and hopes to develop something similar here. “It’s something that we’re taking a hard look at, for sure,” he said.