Co-working spaces, with their modern designs and varied workplace amenities, have become a go-to place for entrepreneurs, small business owners, artists and corporate worker bees with flexibility to work outside of the typical cubical farms.
Amid skyrocketing growth, as many as half the state's co-working space is located in downtown Minneapolis. But a new collaborative launched this week by six co-working businesses in southern Minnesota reflects the need to expand access to flexible workspaces beyond the Twin Cities metro area.
Known as the "Greater Minnesota Coworking Passport," the program allows members to use office space and services at multiple locations through reciprocal agreements. Partners include co-working businesses in Mankato, Austin, Rochester, Red Wing, Winona and Pine Island, with potential to add other markets.
"We wanted to be able to support our entrepreneurs on a regional level," said Stephanie Braun, director of Mogwai Collaborative in Mankato, one of several people behind the effort to create a multi-location program for professionals.
For $99, passport members can make up to five visits each month at any of the participating co-working locations. A $250 rate allows unlimited access at the locations during posted drop-in hours.
"If you're traveling to Rochester and Mankato, instead of taking all those minutes in your car to gather yourself and get your notes together, or to meet in a coffee shop, a co-working space is a professional and productive environment that has inclusive amenities," Braun said. "Everything you need to get your work done is already set up for you."
Beyond a desk and chair, shared office spaces typically offer members meeting rooms, cafes, printers and fast internet. Corporations, such as WeWork or Novel, have fueled much of the growth in Minnesota and nationwide. But local companies such as Life Time fitness have joined upstarts such as the Coven, which is designed for women, nonbinary and trans people.
Members of the southern Minnesota collaborative, the first of its kind in the state, are smaller operations, but have the same goals: to support small businesses.
"Let's say you're a startup business and you finally get that meeting with the big client," Braun said. "Is it going to be more professional and more of a wow factor if you meet them at your kitchen table or if you meet them at a co-working space?"
The effort by the six co-working businesses in southern Minnesota aligns with Gov. Tim Walz's new initiative, Launch Minnesota, to accelerate the growth of startups and make Minnesota a national leader in innovation, Braun said.
In January, Launch Minnesota awarded $672,000 in grants to 20 technology startups across the state tackling energy-efficient heating and cooling systems, concussion therapy, food processing and obesity management. The grants require one-to-one matches with private dollars.
Joining forces with other co-working spaces to create the southern Minnesota passport program was a "no-brainer," Sean Williams, of Launch Coworking Space in Austin, said in a statement.
"Empowering the entrepreneurs in our communities to use all the assets available in Minnesota to make their endeavors easier is why we're here," he said.
Other members are Collider Coworking in Rochester, Red Wing Ignite, the Garage Cowork Space in Winona and PI-co.works in Pine Island.