By Katie Mills Giorgio
IOWA CITY — Sheila Samuelson first heard about co-working back in 2007.
She was living in San Francisco at the time, where she was a member of a co-working space on the city’s popular Mission Street. So when she moved back to Iowa City in 2010 to start her company, Bright Green Strategy, Ms. Samuelson desired a similar work environment.
“There were things about working from a home office that I loved, like being able to work in my pajamas and slippers,” she said. “But honestly, this got old pretty quickly and I realized I needed the energy of being around other people. I missed the conversations that naturally happen when you’re in an office, and being able to bounce ideas off other people.”
She missed co-working in San Francisco and thought perhaps she could find other people in Iowa City that might be interested in collaborative workspace.
As it turns out she was right. Ms. Samuelson met Busy Coworking co-founder Jordan Running, a web developer also working independently in Iowa City. The two had been running into each other at various entrepreneurial and creative events around Iowa City.
“At one point we struck up a conversation about co-working and I mentioned I was fairly serious about getting something started in Iowa City,” Ms. Samuelson said. “Jordan e-mailed me the next day and said he’d be happy to help in any way.”
Busy Coworking is located on the third floor at 218 E. Washington St.in the heart of downtown Iowa City. The space offers a variety of membership options—from daily passes to monthly unlimited user access—for independent workers, starts-ups and those telecommuting for their jobs–at a reasonable cost including amenities necessary for working productively.
While both Ms. Samuelson and Mr. Running had the passion to start a co-working space, they faced challenges in making the idea a reality, including finding the right space to utilize. They started the process in spring of 2011.
“We looked for more than six months before we found the space above Chait Galleries,” Ms. Samuelson said. “Benjamin Chait had prime space that was being used as storage and was willing to work with us in a way that others weren’t. As a serial entrepreneur himself, he was eager to see the space used to support other businesses just starting out.”
With the mission to foster very small businesses and independent workers by giving them connections, community and work space downtown, Ms. Samuelson and Mr. Running approached the city ofIowa Cityfor support for their endeavor. They were awarded a $14,000 forgivable loan to help with upfront expenses like furnishings and operating costs for the first few months.
Getting Busy Coworking off the ground was like taking on another full-time job, Ms. Samuelson said.
“Sorting through all of the details of a lease, insurance, funding, and furnishing the space took much longer than I expected,” she said.
It has also not been a profitable venture, which is not the intent, Ms. Samuelson said.
“For the hundreds of hours we’ve each put in to opening and running Busy, neither Jordan nor I have made a dime,” she said. “Co-working is not a very profitable venture, and we specifically came into this with the mindset of keeping desk spaces as affordable as possible.”
Now that Busy is open for business, Ms. Samuelson can focus whole-heartedly on the company she founded and is excited to see grow. Bright Green Strategy seeks to help businesses and organizations save green by going green. Ms. Samuelson helps her clients address their social and environmental impacts through a comprehensive strategy for sustainability. She works as a consultant to assess and address areas such as energy use, water use, waste reduction and community involvement.
“I love having the freedom and flexibility to design my work day, and choose which projects that I work on,” Ms. Samuelson said. “I love helping companies reduce their impacts and be recognized for the good work they’re doing.”
She said having access to Busy Coworking has completely shifted her own work environment for the better.
“Before Busy, I would venture out of my home office every afternoon, and sit in a cafe until I felt like I had ‘used up’ the amount of time I should spend there,” she said. “I didn’t know the people working next to me, even though many of them I saw there every day. So, I was working around other people and getting the benefit of the energy downtown, but still didn’t have a community or a place where I could settle in and get comfortable.”
“At Busy, I not only see familiar faces, but I can also chat with the other coworkers here,” Ms. Samuelsson added. “I see connections forming between our coworkers who have common work or interests, who didn’t know each other before.”
For example, three of the six people currently co-working at Busy are Stanford graduates. Three of the six are also telecommuting from jobs in other states.
“These people each have shared experiences that would go undiscovered if they were working from their home office or a café,” Ms. Samuelson said.
Both Ms. Samuelson and Mr. Running couldn’t be more pleased with the outcomes of Busy after being open for just a few weeks.
“Now that Busy is open, we’re trying to build a self-sustaining community where members are encouraged to create the sense of community they want to have, and also take responsibility for ensuring that the space runs smoothly,” Ms. Samuelson said. “Our member guidelines include asking people to pitch in to do things like welcome people that stop in, remove a full trash bag or simply replace printer paper. This helps make up for the fact that our space is unstaffed, and Jordan and I can’t always be in the office.”
But rest assured you’ll find Ms. Samuelsson and Mr. Running at Busy often.
“I enjoy so many things about spending time at Busy,” Ms. Samuelson said. “There’s the new people coming into the space; making connections between members; being able to settle in and be productive for several hours; and being right in the heart of downtown Iowa City, where a cup of coffee or lunch is just steps from my desk.”
For more information on Busy Coworking, visit www.busycoworking.com.