By Laura D.C. Kolnoski |
OCEANPORT – Providing viable, cost effective professional office space for emerging entrepreneurs has been gaining momentum here.
Usually found in metropolitan areas, such temporary “co-working” spaces offering desks, computers, training space, communal amenities, and conference rooms are expanding to the suburbs. One firm – Vi Hubs Co-working and Collaboration – now occupies a high profile location on the former Fort Monmouth.
Vi Hubs opened its 5,000-square-foot location in June on the first floor of Russel Hall, the fort’s former Commanding Officer’s headquarters. The brick building sits at one end of the fort’s Parade Grounds near the Oceanport entrance.
Vi Hubs opened the ceiling and removed walls to create a central open space at its center, adding a kitchenette. Meeting rooms equipped with whiteboards and televisions can accommodate 10 to over 30 persons. Private offices and multiple collaborative spaces, some with televisions and projectors, are available, complimented by Wi-Fi, parking, and activities focused on networking and creating strategic partnerships. Memberships start at $135 monthly, with day passes available for $20. Perks include workshops, education, and access to mentors and investors.
“We’re seeing a trend of technologists and entrepreneurs rising in Monmouth County,” said Chris Pallé who co-founded Vi Hubs with Sean Donohue. “By creating an environment conducive to collaboration, that talent is multiplied. The more people come together, the more innovation we can create. It’s the future of work.” Pallé said a dozen people in over five young companies are now part of Vi Hubs with more joining, including an Israeli tech start-up.
Businesses currently occupying the space include a digital marketing and finance firm, reFresh Advertising, Bricks 4 Kids which teaches children STEM concepts with Legos, and Silas Solutions. Created by teacher Chris Dudick, the virtual reality content firm develops software to help autistic children with social skills.
“Entrepreneurs know they need to connect with others to develop and grow their business,” Pallé said. “Trying to meet people from your home office just doesn’t work. Having space away from the distractions will help, but getting your own office is time consuming and expensive. Making a commitment to an inflexible lease is not attractive for small businesses. An inexpensive, non-commit turnkey desk or private office can make getting out of the home office more accessible to a young company.”
Co-working was highlighted during the bi-partisan national Start-up Day America earlier this month, when Congressman Frank Pallone (D-6), visited Vi Hubs. Pallone, the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over issues affecting start-up businesses including telecommunications and access to broadband, heard from the leaders and participants at Vi Hubs on how they are solving problems and what they need to grow and succeed.
“The internet has become a vehicle for all kinds of economic opportunity,” Pallone said afterward. “I can’t overstate the importance of these start-ups. Many really do make a difference for the area, creating opportunities that didn’t exist before. In today’s 21st-century economy, start-up companies are a driving force for American job creation, and I am especially pleased that Fort Monmouth is home to so many entrepreneurs.”
“Startup Day America is a good try at highlighting entrepreneurial activity and innovation and connecting our government with a local startup community, but we need more energy behind ideas like it,” said Pallé “We didn’t hear about it until a few days before and even our more informed friends in the media were unaware. Our government can be more supportive, specifically here in Fort Monmouth by putting more effort into bringing awareness into what we’re trying to do for the region.” Facilitating more private and public partnerships between corporations and universities, as well as building community relationships fostering economic development are ways government could make a positive difference, Pallé said.
“In Congress, we must recognize the importance of this emerging sector of the economy and craft policy that addresses the challenges they face,” Pallone said. “The Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) has been attracting more communications, technology, and engineering companies and creating more opportunity there. From the parade grounds where Russel Hall is, you can see work progressing on new housing in the former officer’s quarters. There’s so much going on.” During his high school years, Pallone was a paid intern in Russel Hall. During his recent visit, he noted how the new occupants “really fixed it up.”
“I’ve toured the space and it looks awesome,” said FMERA Executive Director Bruce Steadman. “It’s a beneficial addition to the technological aspects of the fort’s redevelopment, and is injecting a dose of millennialism into the 100-year-old fort.”
While working at New York City’s first co-working space “New Work City” a decade ago, Pallé recognized “the power of a distributed, shared economy as a means for a group of innovators to work together as a community.” He founded Wisdom & Craft, Inc. to bring “Design Thinking” to the startup community; providing more education and creative problem solving to meet competition and strengthen their chances at survival. His next goal is to offer support services such as attorneys, accountants, design and marketing, and human resources. Professional services, he reasons, can be shared as well.
Co-working in the suburbs can assist employees of large corporations who work remotely and commuters who can’t convince their employers to let them work from home, assuaging concerns over transit woes as well as trepidation about the pitfall of home offices.
Vi Hubs has a second location at Bell Works, the former Bell Labs in Holmdel.
This article was first published in the Aug. 17-24, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.
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