A hub for innovators

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August 29, 2011
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

CoCo Minneapolis provides a home for freelancers, small businesses in the Grain Exchange building

It’s known as the “Brain Exchange.”

The former Minneapolis Grain Exchange trading floor has been transformed into a collaborative working space for freelancers and small businesses called CoCo Minneapolis. The new 16,000-square-foot coworking location shares its home with Project Skyway — the state’s first tech accelerator program for entrepreneurs.

CoCo provides a place for people looking for an alternative to working in a coffee shop or at home — a space that can provide more structure to the work day, said Don Ball, a digital strategist and veteran copywriter who co-founded CoCo with Kyle Coolbroth, Jeff Heegaard and Roger Heegaard.

“For some people, that means having more discipline or having a work routine that is harder to maintain at home,” Ball said. “For others, it means being part of a community where you get to know other people and have ‘coworkers’ who you look forward to seeing every day.”

Besides serving as an antidote to the isolation many feel working on their own, it’s a spot to help generate new ideas and forge new business partnerships.

“Familiarity breeds trust, which leads to lots of new opportunities,” Ball said.

The historic Grain Exchange trading floor CoCo calls home went quiet in December 2008 after the exchange’s board of directors voted to move to electronic trading. Many reminders of the space’s past remain, including the open outcry trading pit where commodities like wheat, corn and soybeans were traded for more than 100 years.

The coworking space has attracted a lot of technology professionals, web designers, programmers and people in marketing.

Some companies are making use of the CoCo space, too. W3i, a fast-growing mobile app developer based in St. Cloud, is a member. The company often uses the space to recruit new employers who live in the Twin Cities.

By September, Ball expects CoCo to have around 150 members at the Minneapolis location. The first CoCo location opened in St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood in January 2010. Members have access to both locations.

Membership is broken into three categories: individual, groups and corporate. Fees vary depending on how much time workers use the space and the level of services paid for. For an individual, part-time members pay $50 a month for occasional visits. A full-time member with a dedicated desk pays $350 a month.

The CoCo space has basic office essentials like wi-fi, printers and tech support and special perks — pastries from Aster Café, lunch items from the Republic, access to the Minneapolis Grain Exchange health club, a weekly videocast by The UpTake’s Chuck Olsen and live podcasts by Minnov8 — a group devoted to local web innovation.

CoCo also hosts several social events and educational programs. It has a new Smart Bar — a Wednesday afternoon social hour and opportunity to hear from area “smarties.”

Upcoming speakers include content strategist/copywriter Eric Colleary on Aug. 31 and GIS guru Paul Wickman on Sept. 7.

Wickman, a CoCo member, said professional networking and making new friends are a couple of the major benefits of coworking. “[There’s] the social benefit of working at a traditional office without any of the office politics,” he said.

CoCo also has a new coworking librarian. Meg Knodl, a senior librarian for the Hennepin County Library system, helps members with research on Wednesdays at both Minneapolis and St. Paul locations.

Ball is on the hunt for an “instigator in residence” to join the CoCo team, too. The idea is to draw someone with a unique point of view and profession to help members spark new ideas and think in different ways.

The instigator has to observe the Woody Allen rule, too, one of the guiding principles at CoCo: “Ninety percent of life is just showing up.”

CoCo Minneapolis
What: A collaborative working environment.
Where: Minneapolis Grain Exchange building, fourth floor, 400 S. 4th St.
Website: cocomsp.com

A party for another coworking space
Another new co-working spot called WorkAround in the North Loop is celebrating its grand opening Sept. 14.

WorkAround, 210 N. 2nd St., suite 101, founded by John Burns and Buffie Blesi, provides business coaching for its members. Blesi, a long-time business coach, is the president of KnowledgeSphere Inc. and a franchisee for AdviCoach.

The event runs 4–7 p.m. Finnegans and Natedogs will be there, too. To get a free beer and hot dog, bring a non-perishable food item for the Emergency Foot Shelf Network or a cash donation for Finnegans Community fund.