Fellow Coworking helps foster creativity and innovation in Spokane

Fellow Coworking helps foster creativity and innovation in Spokane

Cities like Spokane are the perfect place to breathe life into innovative ideas, and coworking spaces are the perfect place to make those ideas a reality. At least that’s what Luke Baumgarten and Benji Wade of Fellow Coworking believe.

In a way, bringing a coworking space to Spokane is innovative in itself. While coworking has found great success in many cities around the world, finding traction in Spokane has been a slower process.

“I think there’s a potentially pretty big slice of the market here that we could have access to that would be interested in coworking in general, and Fellow specifically. But because they don’t know what coworking is, it’s not even on their radar,” Baumgarten said.

Coworking is a global phenomenon reinventing the way individuals work. To simply put it, a coworking space is a place professionals pay to work in. For these professionals- typically freelancers or telecommuters- coworking spaces are an alternative to the basements, couches, or crowded coffee shops with unreliable Wi-Fi they’d otherwise work at.

These spaces don’t just facilitate work, but also a community of collaboration between members.

Wade, who has worked remotely in the past, knows the challenge of finding a viable work setting.

“I used to go to a coffee shop all the time and be the guy who was feeling really awkward. I would sometimes spend 12 hours on any given day, depending on how busy I was, and all I would do was buy a cup of coffee. I was this barnacle,” Wade said. “Working by yourself, even if you’re in a coffee shop and you’re around people, it’s not quite the same as the sort of heads up space that we have provided with this particular business, and that other coworking spaces provide.”

Fellow opened in November 2013. Its downtown location on the fourth floor of 107 South Howard Street is open and bright; its corner windows overlook the heart of Spokane. The space’s main work area features long community workstations that were handcrafted by Baumgarten with the help of his brother.

Fellow’s members not only have access to the space, but all its accommodations including Wi-Fi, and a wireless laser printer. There is also a kitchen nook where members can refuel on coffee, and store their snacks.

In addition to the main workspace, Fellow offers a separate conference room, as well as a meeting room that can accommodate three to four people.

As beautiful as the current space may be, and as functional as it has been, Wade and Baumgarten are already focused on the future. In the year they have been in the space, Fellow’s membership is already outgrowing its current space at a rapid pace.

To combat this, Fellow will be moving to an all-new space that is set to open at some point in Spring or early Summer of 2015.

Currently under construction, Fellow’s future home is located at 304 W. Pacific Avenue in a building that previously housed the Washington Cracker Company. The new location boasts 5,000 square feet of coworking space- three times more than Fellow’s current floor plan.

“Having now a year plus to figure out what really works for this market, and what really doesn’t work for this space, we’re going to really be able to build something cooler in the new space,” Baumgarten said.

Wade said the new space will allow for different types of working environments that will suit more than just the pack in, pack out crowd. With more square footage the space will offer improved accommodations, and greater flexibility for its members.

Those interested in joining Fellow do not need to worry about any long-term lease commitments; Plans vary from one day a week, to unlimited, 24/7 access. All memberships are on a month-to-month basis, so there are no contracts to sign. Coworkers can change or cancel their membership at anytime.

Baumgarten and Wade hope this flexibility will allow Fellow to ramp up each member’s capacity in the smartest way possible, while creating a sense of community that provides both resources and opportunities.

In fact, most of the resources and opportunities Fellow provides come from the members themselves. Its membership base has grown to accommodate a variety of professionals. They include a mix of freelancers, telecommuters, non-profits, startups, and companies of one.

While each member may be working on their own projects, the community environment of the space encourages them to share ideas, and help one another in whatever way possible.

“If you have a two person startup, but need an additional person to help out with a certain aspect of things, you can potentially connect with someone already within the space and talk with them about coming on your team in one way or another,” Baumgarten said.

Because they work in the space themselves, Wade and Baumgarten constantly facilitate Fellow’s sense of community. It is their hope that members will not only help each other, but their ideas will ultimately benefit Spokane as a whole.

“We initially got super jazzed about people whose first impulse would be to be collaborative, and to participate in civic activities around Spokane. We definitely wanted to encourage membership among people who were interested in Spokane being a better place to live,” Wade said.

Brian Estes is a good example of a member who both works to improve Spokane’s community, and brings a helpful diversity to Fellow’s membership. Estes is a farmer who runs Food for All. Food for All is a project of Catholic Charities Spokane that works to improve the affordability and accessibility of healthy food through Spokane’s local agriculture.

According to Baumgarten, Estes is one of the most interesting members currently working at Fellow. When other members are in a bind, he always supplies a new problem solving perspective.

“What advertising agency, journalism place, media outlet, or development team would actively hire a farmer to problem solve, right? But that’s the sort of weird synergies that happen in a coworking space,” Baumgarten said. “You never really even think about them until you’re in that sort of space. In theory I kind of thought that would happen, but then it’s totally happened [at Fellow], and it’s really cool.”

Fellow is open to everyone, and Baumgarten believes the space could act as an entry-point for entrepreneurs to bring new innovation to Spokane. He said Fellow is the closest thing Spokane has to an incubation space.

“We want to incubate innovation here, and provide our members with as much support as they possibly need,” Baumgarten said.

Baumgarten and Wade hope by doing so, Fellow can help advance progressive industry in Spokane.

When people think of innovative startups, they usually think Silicon Valley. While Spokane may be a far cry from the Northern California region known for tech giants like Google and Apple, Fellow hopes to convince local innovators that they don’t need to leave Spokane to get results.

“Creating things in Spokane is way easier than it would be in a place like Silicon Valley, or even Seattle where rents are sky high, and there’s massive competition.” Baumgarten said. “If you’ve got a good idea, there is enough expertise in the town to pull it off more inexpensively than you would be able to in Seattle.”

It’s likely that fast growing startups will not live in Fellow forever. Baumgarten said once a company reaches a certain size, staying in Fellow probably won’t make as much sense. However, no matter how long their time in Fellow, Baumgarten said he and Wade will work to convince business owners their companies can permanently thrive in Spokane.

Innovation rarely happens without help. At Fellow, members have the space to make their visions a reality, a community to assist them along the way, and the potential to make Spokane an even better place to live. Those interested in becoming a member of Fellow can visit www.workatfellow.com