For entrepreneurs, co-working is the new norm

Robert Herrera, a Caesar Rodney High School graduate, opens The Mill, at the Nemours Building on April 1. The Mill hions the growing number of new work environments in Wilmington. // Photo by Luigi Ciuffetelli
Robert Herrera, a Caesar Rodney High School graduate, opens The Mill, at the Nemours Building on April 1. The Mill hions the growing number of new work environments in Wilmington. // Photo by Luigi Ciuffetelli

by Rob Kalesse
Special to the Delaware Business Times

As more and more entrepreneurs, start-ups, freelancers and contract workers flood the market, the notion of co-working space has gone from “new” to “normal,” particularly in downtown Wilmington.

In 2010, the coIN Loft opened on Market Street, offering Delaware’s first co-working space, where independent workers and thinkers could come together to share ideas and collaborate on projects. Since then, 1313 Innovation, at Hercules Plaza, and now The Mill, at the Nemours Building, offer more options for those looking to branch out on their own.

Mona Parikh, managing director and community manager of Start It Up Delaware, the First State’s preeminent start-up hub for young entrepreneurs, has called the coIN Loft home since early 2013. Although co-working spaces seemed to get off to a slow start in Wilmington, compared to nearby cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore, Parikh is happy to see her hometown catching onto the trend, and is excited about the collaborative future the three co-working spaces have together.

“Wilmington didn’t have that density to start at the beginning of the decade, but now we’re getting there, said Parikh. “The thing about the newer spaces, like 1313 and The Mill, is that they aren’t competitors, but collaborators and communicators. Each space has its own strengths and can be an attractive draw to different clients. It’s our goal to all do our best to give the community the resources they need.”

Robert Herrera, a Caesar Rodney High School graduate and visionary behind The Mill, is planning a grand opening for his co-working space on April 1. As the finishing touches are put on the fourth-floor space at the Nemours Building at 1007 N. Orange St., Herrera hopes to target small businesses, freelancers and entrepreneurs.

“I envision co-working as the future of doing business, because the old model of filling an office building with hundreds of employees — for a lot of people and a lot of small companies — is a thing of the past,” said Herrera. “For me, work takes place almost exclusively on my laptop, so while I might not need a physical office every day to conduct my business, I still need to collaborate, connect, and have human interaction in a space where I can share ideas.”

Herrera’s facility, which pays homage to the Du Pont powder mills and the “entrepreneurial spirit of the city,” offers members a common space for as little as $45 per month, or an office with a desk for $1,200 per month. Common space members will have access to a bookshelf-lined gaming lounge and library, a 28-foot-long docking station made of American chestnut and designed by JKB Design, complete with docking stations and USB ports, with seating for up to 25. A full bar area with a kegerator featuring two Dogfish Head beers on tap is accessible for an additional price.

Just across town at 1313 Innovation, new plans of expansion are also taking place. An additional 1,200 square feet of space is being unveiled this spring it will allow event planners at 1313 to offer more co-working space, while also holding various networking events for their clients.

“Since we opened in the summer of 2014, it’s been a constant growth process, to the point that we were running out of office space for our small businesses,” said Megan Anthony, community manager at 1313. “With additional space, we’ll be able to host events where our members can interact and find more opportunity, while still allowing current members their own working space during events.”

Two small, local businesses that have found a home at 1313 include Carvertise, a firm that matches brands with high-mileage car owners who want to travel with an ad decal on their car (for profit), and the Delaware Sports League, a co-ed, recreational sports league.

Bob Downing, president and founder of the league, says he switched from a permanent office due to rental fees, but really liked the energy he felt at 1313 the first time he visited. The existence of collaborative opportunities and the idea of “not working in a bubble,” he says, was the key.

“In our old space, the rental expense just wasn’t feasible, and it was only us, so collaboration was slow or non-existent,” said Downing. “But since we’ve started here in October, the ideas seem to flow naturally, and having conversations with other business was a big part of it. As a small business owner, it’s been the right medicine, and it allows my staff to come together on a regular basis without reporting to a dreary office.”

While the space at 1313 is owned and operated by McConnell Johnson Real Estate, a regional property management services firm for office and warehouse space in Delaware, the coIN Loft and The Mill spaces are owned by Buccini-Pollin Group, a privately held, real estate company, based in Wilmington.

For Herrera, Buccini-Pollin is a collaborative partner as much as they are a landlord, so much so that he says it is not uncommon to find Rob and Chris Buccini randomly walking the floor of The Mill since renovations began. Herrera feels that the Buccinis are as excited as he is to launch.

“They’ve been very supportive,” said Herrera. “In the grand scheme of things, this is such a small project in their overall portfolio, but I really feel like they understand how much of a game-changer this can be for Wilmington, if executed properly.”

The Mill is set to open its doors for official business on April 1, while renovations at 1313 will be completed this spring. When finished, co-working clients of all shapes and sizes should be able to pick and choose which of the three spaces works best for their small businesses or entrepreneurial enterprises.

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