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Virginia Co-working Initiatives Inspire Innovation, Collaboration

The global movement of co-working is taking root in Central Virginia, helping freelancers and start-ups escape the isolation of home offices and coffee shops. Organizations offering the low-cost office space say the larger mission is to share skills and build community. Virginia Currents producer Catherine Komp visited one co-working organization, 804RVA, to find out more.

Learn more: Find information about 804RVA and Lighthouse Labs, as well as SyncRVA, a community calendar of classes and tech meet-ups. And watch Norfolk’s collaborative group, 757 Makerspace profiled on Virginia Currents TV.

Transcript:

When Larkin Garbee set out to create a space where people could collaborate, she hadn’t yet heard of co-working:

Larkin Garbee: And I thought that was kind of an awkward word, I didn’t really know what co-working really meant. I knew what a coworker was, but co-working as a verb and an action did not make sense to me.

Garbee discovered her goals aligned closely with the concept of co-working, which offers a physical space for freelancers and small businesses and also fosters skill-sharing and collaboration.

Garbee: I always say people come for the workspace because that’s the immediate need or if they want to scratch, but they stay for the community. So with that it’s something people don’t realize they were missing until they have it and then you realize that it’s really this bigger family.

Garbee founded 804RVA in 2011. Since then, it’s grown to 80 active coworkers.

Garbee: This is collaborative space in the front, so tall tables and tables facing each other are good for collaboration. People come in and just choose their work style everyday, it’s completely up to them.

804RVA members include graphic designers, programmers, start-ups and non-profit consultants.  Some come in a few times a month, others have their own offices.

Garbee: Here in the back, it’s kind of a heads down area, so it’s a little less distracting, if you know you want to be a little less distracted that day. It’s also deemed the nerd lounge, but different work styles, there are no designated seats, it’s first come, first serve, we have outlets at every location.

Although it can take some adjustment to work in a shared space, Garbee says many members discover they’re more productive, especially when other co-workers can help troubleshoot a tech problem or provide feedback on an idea.

Garbee: Through here, there’s our 3rd printer. Richmond Grid donated it; it’s a Replicator 2X, meaning it prints out two different colors on the extruder...

Three-D printing is one of the regular classes 804RVA offers to the public. One project in the works is a glove that uses touch points to control mobile devices and provide biofeedback, like your heart rate.

Garbee: His idea behind it is that if you have smart watches and bands, you might not have your left and right hand to where you can actually control it, if you’re bicycling or if you’re snowboarding and everything is buried away into your outfit, so with this you could use the one-hand touch to control the phone which is pretty neat.

In addition to low-cost tech classes, 804RVA also provides a space for meet-ups, from Wordpress Wednesdays to Code for RVA hack night.

At a recent tech meet-up, co-workers rearrange furniture and use the keg bot to dispense local beer as people arrive to hear from three area start-ups: Producia, Refersal and Light the Music. Todd Nuckols organizes these monthly gatherings as a way for the community to learn from Richmond’s innovators.

Nuckols: I think where the tech meet-up comes into play is it really allows entire community to intersect and then you run into individuals who are a part of these other meet-ups and you can kind of go in for continuing education and connection as you meet them and so the tech meet-up is really where the mash-up happens.

At the tech meet-ups, three Richmond-based start-ups give short presentations followed by a Q&A. Afterwards, participants chat and network. The atmosphere is casual and comfortable.

Nuckols: People gather around stories, just like you gather around campfire, learn from each other and then disperse and they’re also introduced to everything that happens here as well during that process and so it organically feeds out into the education of the community in broad way and then they can self-select the path they’re going to take in other meet-ups or in other facets or become co-workers themselves.

Nuckols is also the director of Lighthouse Labs, which partners with 804RVA. The non-profit is sponsoring its second business accelerator this Fall, a free, but competitive program that guides start-ups through the process of developing their concept to beta-testing to attracting customers. Nuckols says 12 start-ups that went through business acceleration last year collectively raised about $600,000 in capital and several are now generating revenue. This year, selected applicants will receive $20,000 in grants.

Nuckols: The first time we did the program, it was kind of a nights and weekends program. We really believe that founders need to focus and spend all of their energy and effort in building a great company, or failing fast, which is also success in our mind.

As Lighthouse Labs and 804RVA continue to facilitate co-working and entrepreneurs, their long-term goal is building an innovation hub to provide greater opportunities for collaboration. There are a few other options for co-working in the Richmond area. Gather recently opened its doors downtown and Gangplank RVA offers no-cost co-working at two locations. For Virginia Currents, this is Catherine Komp, WCVE News.