‘Coworking Movement’ comes to Litchfield County

img_7946NEW MILFORD – Entrepreneur and visionary Tony Vengrove opened the doors to Makery Coworking.

He’s inviting freelancers and solopreneurs in the Litchfield County area to be part of his dynamic co-working space.

At 20 Bank Street, in the heart of New Milford’s trendy historic district, Vengrove is bringing independent professionals together so they can work, create, invent, collaborate and build a vibrant community.

Although the co-working concept has been around for more than a decade and has quickly evolved into a “Coworking Movement” in thousands of cities across the nation and around the world, it’s just starting to gain momentum in some Connecticut cities like Stamford, Bridgeport, Danbury, New Haven and Hartford.

What’s different about this experienced marketing and innovation leader’s vision is that he’s introducing co-working to a region that’s mostly rural. Vengrove is convinced “creativity is hiding out all over the area,” and these driven and self-motivated people working from home crave a place to meet and want to be part of a community.

Meredith Cleary, COO of the Bank Street Group, said the business is a great opportunity and an asset to downtown. “This new concept could bring many new people to the downtown area who will patronize the restaurants, retail stores, salons, movie theater and other local establishments,” she said. This commercial property investment firm owns the building Makery is leasing, along with six other buildings in the New Milford Historic District.

“New Milford has such a great creative and entrepreneurial spirit,” Mayor David Gronbach said. “The Makery space is a great catalyst to not only allow businesses to develop, but attract new ones.”

This founder’s mission is to “instigate creativity and build an entrepreneurial community that catalyzes innovation and change in Litchfield County.” Vengrove believes if the right entrepreneurs are brought together then they’ll feel empowered, and this will stimulate business growth and job creation.

Vengrove said that early on 80 people expressed interest in Makery, most from the area. “If I get 25 steady, loyal part-time members to start out, then I’ll be happy,” he said.

So far, professionals signing up are graphic designers, web developers and software developers. A few writers and video industry professionals want to join as well, he said.

“The Makery space humanizes the promise of technology,” said Gronbach. “Yes, computers and high speed internet allow us to work from home, but many ventures, human interaction and the creativity and connections that flow from it, can help take a home bound venture to the next level.”

img_7944The 5,000 square-foot shared office space is beckoning for creativity to happen. Built in 1904, the two-story brick Makery building started out as Barton’s Department Store, which later became Harts Department Store. Recently, the main floor served as an art gallery. Vengrove has preserved the artsy industrial look-and-feel and is maximizing the use of space.

The main area is open-concept and features many different creative work areas. Most of the walls are lined with shelves and cubbies that co-working members can use to display their products and services.

Makery also offers private areas. Western Connecticut Stock Trading is the first group to book the conference room monthly. The large, undefined creative workspace area is ideal for artists and photographers.

Makery members will enjoy all the perks of a nice commercial office space without having to pay for an expensive lease, or the bills that go along with it.

The rate for the day is $25. A “Friend of Makery” costs $300 for one year. The part-time monthly membership is $150 and the full-time monthly membership is $250.

Amenities include free Wi-Fi, private phone booths, printing and office supplies, and coffee and snacks. Add-on services like a mailing address, storage lockers, Visa membership, group discounts and a premium coffee club are coming soon, he said.

Only the monthly memberships include Curated Programming and access to the Advisory Council at no additional charge.

Vengrove said he’ll soon offer a mentorship program and special networking groups for startups, which will help entrepreneurs to accelerate their businesses faster.

He’s also excited about offering plenty of events, lectures, seminars and programs with industry leaders. Lunch-and-learn sessions and a Business, Books, and Beer meetup group are neat ways Vengrove is going to “facilitate the exchange of knowledge and ideas.”

img_7940Once Makery Coworking gets off the ground, Vengrove will open a second location “north of New Milford.” His long-term plan is “to serve creators in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut.”

Vengrove will also operate another business that he owns out of the Makery Coworking space. Miles Finch Innovation is his marketing innovation consulting firm, and the two will dovetail.

Eventually he plans to hire employees. For now, his wife, a nonprofit development professional, along with close friends, will help him out.

Born in New York City, and raised in Darien, Vengrove moved to New Milford in 1998. When the 2008 recession hit, he accepted a job transfer and moved his family to Richmond, Va.

The idea to start a co-working space began to take shape in 2013 when he and his wife wanted to move their family back to New Milford.

It wasn’t until last summer when Vengrove decided to make Makery Coworking a reality. “From that point, it was pulled together quickly,” he said.

Vengrove credits “the Virginia years” as his source of inspiration.

While he was on the board of directors of Richmond’s Creative Change Center, Vengrove saw firsthand what entrepreneurs were doing and how they made a positive impact in the community. He plans to draw from these experiences to make the Makery “an entrepreneurial hub in Litchfield County.”

HOW IT BEGAN:

In 2005, Brad Neuberg started the first small co-working community in the United States. It was located inside a wellness center in San Francisco, and he invited anyone to join. At the time, he was a software developer and wanted “the freedom and independence of working for myself along with the structure and community of working with others.” One thing led to another, and Neuberg’s project took off. His open source thinking became a decentralized movement. Anyone in the world can embrace the idea and run with it because he didn’t hold on to the ownership of the word or concept.

Source: Coworking.com

CO-WORKING FACTS:

  • More than 10,000 co-working spaces exist around the globe.
  • The average co-working space in the U.S. hosts 110 members and 70 workstations.
  • 27 percent of co-working space members work in IT (Software Engineer, web Developer).
  • 39 percent of co-working members are between the ages of 30-39.
  • 8.3 months, the average global time it takes to startup a co-working space

Source: The Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC)

This article written by Alicia Sakal originally appeared online as premium content and on the front page of the Business section in the February 5, 2017 edition of Republican-American, a regional daily newspaper in Connecticut. Photos: Alicia Sakal

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