The pandemic destabilized the coworking industry. This Sioux Falls coworking space maintained relevance by expanding their reach and diversifying their offerings.
The coworking space, though a relatively recent innovation in North America, has quickly become an essential player in any city’s ecosystem. But thousands of coworking spaces were severely—if not mortally—wounded during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even as our public health situation improves, the pandemic may have long term effects on how and where people work. Many professionals have established a home office during the past year, and the reopening of coffee shops may provide a more attractive (and free) option for those new to remote work. The coworking space’s return to prominence is not inevitable.
It is therefore understandable that many coworking spaces seek to maintain relevance by expanding their reach and diversifying the services they provide.
One path forward, currently implemented by CO.STARTERS member Startup Sioux Falls, is that of entrepreneurial support. When community engagement with their coworking space fell last year, the leaders at Startup Sioux Falls decided to give entrepreneurial education programming a chance.
“I noticed that several of the entrepreneurs in the Sioux Falls community were making the three-hour drive up to Fargo for the CO.STARTERS Core program,” shared Brienne Maner, Executive Director at Startup Sioux Falls. “I remember thinking that this gap in our ecosystem was really unacceptable, so I looked into bringing CO.STARTERS here!”
Startup Sioux Falls currently operates a 45,000 square foot incubation facility, which includes a dedicated coworking space. And while such an institution would normally attract high levels of traffic, their location has made relevance a challenge for Startup Sioux Falls’ coworking space.
When the center was built in 2004, the location was intentionally chosen for its premium access to internet services. But as technology has advanced, that rationale isn’t in play anymore, and Startup Sioux Falls remains located on the outskirts of the Sioux Falls city limits—separated from the city’s bustling downtown by a busy interstate highway.
This distance created a physical barrier that made it difficult for Startup Sioux Falls to fully engage with their community—which led to a shortage in customers for their coworking space and other services. Brienne saw this shortage along with the gap in the city’s entrepreneurship programming and realized she could kill two birds with one stone.
“CO.STARTERS was a plug-and-play solution for us. In fact, it solved problems we didn’t even know we had. After running one cohort, we already started to see increased engagement with the coworking center. But it also strengthened our relationships with our stakeholders and professional partners." - Brienne Manner
“CO.STARTERS was a plug-and-play solution for us,” said Brienne. “In fact, it solved problems we didn’t even know we had. After running one cohort, we already started to see increased engagement with the coworking center. But it also strengthened our relationships with our stakeholders and professional partners—now they have ways to give back and participate, either by guest speaking or sponsoring celebration nights. It’s created a much tighter-knit startup community here in Sioux Falls.”
A tighter-knit startup community is great news for a coworking space, especially when there aren’t many other designated places for entrepreneurs and stakeholders to connect.
Now Startup Sioux Falls’s coworking membership has increased by 27 percent, enabling the organization to search for a new location closer to the downtown, and Brienne attributes much of that success to the CO.STARTERS program: “There’s been so much word-of-mouth that’s come from just the program itself. It’s given us a mechanism to tell a much stronger story about the power of our ecosystem network. But now we’re so much more visible in the community. People know who we are now.”
Many other coworking spaces find themselves positioned similarly to Startup Sioux Falls—struggling to maintain relevance in an altered landscape of remote work. The changing economy threatens the livelihoods of these spaces, creating an urgent need to privot and adapt.
A proven solution for many of these organizations is the local entrepreneurial community; entrepreneurs need more than just a place to work. Concept-stage starters in particular need structured opportunities to network and learn. Entrepreneurial education opportunities like CO.STARTERS Core may be just what coworking spaces need to keep their waitlists full.