The following is an excerpt from a conversation Jodie Lapchick and I had with Patrick Roche, Founder and Director of ThinkTank Co-working. Patrick explains what ThinkTank is, and the concept and beliefs behind co-working.
What is ThinkTank and what is a co-working space?
We started here in Portland about three years ago on Exchange Street, which was the first location. I then expanded to Congress Street and took over about a 6,000 square foot space there right on the ground floor of Congress across from the Maine College of Art. That’s kind of the flagship at this point. In the last month, I opened one in Yarmouth in the Yarmouth Village.
Co-working is essentially shared office environment for freelancing individuals, small businesses and start-ups, and it is an opportunity for people who would otherwise be working from home or from isolated offices out in the world or at coffee shops…
Or paying too much.
Or paying too much. They are affordable, flexible office spaces built for people to be able to converge in one place. Right now I would say the majority of our membership, which is probably at 100 members at our three spaces, and probably about 60 businesses represented. A lot are in the web development realm with a lot of creative start-ups doing development and code, but we also have nonprofits, architects and freelance writers. There are a good variety of people who ultimately establish relationships with each other and are now working together, collaborating, and passing work off to each other, creating a cooperative environment organically.
So looking back three years when you first opened the space, co-working was a thing, but it was still sort of new. What made you gamble on opening up your own space? You did a good deal of work on that space as I recall.
Yeah, I have got a contracting background so I built it up pretty much myself. It was kind of a wing and a prayer, but I like to think I have my finger on the pulse of how people work and interact. I like people, I like feeding off their ideas and enthusiasm, and when I moved to Portland three years ago, there really wasn’t a place to work in the evenings. It really quickly became apparent that there was a large demand, and that there were a lot of creatives out there who could make use of an affordable, flexible work space. In the end, I am kind of a dilettante and want to surround myself with creative people and maybe I could make a living off of making that happen.
So who does co-working work for and who does it not work for?
There are certainly people it doesn’t work for, and those folks don’t tend to approach us for space. There are a lot of people who are like, “I really feel isolated and alone and I need a broader sense of community and camaraderie.” There are other people who are developing mobile apps or are working on some kind of software or platform, but they understand it. I have learned a lot thinking at ThinkTank and I am surrounded by really brilliant people doing really incredible things. There is a big developer community emerging out of ThinkTank in particular. I want to keep it diversified, but that is where it is at now.
I think what is important is finding the balance of the communal vibe and the opportunity for professionals to take themselves seriously, hunker down, and get work done. It spurs them on, especially if they are working collaboratively. It is a great way to work. I am trying to think about what it is about the hive-mind we are trying to tap into, and there is this idea about “emergence,” where there is this kind of gestalt about coming together and building something larger through group thinking… They are kind of piggy bagging off of each other and egging each other on and any new development accelerates the process of learning. I was talking with someone who said, “It is kind of like exploring a cave. As each person makes their discovery, they’re coming back in and reporting in and you have that much more information which amounts to one total exploration.”
It is a really interesting phenomena that is emerging, and I am really thrilled to be a part of it and to have created a space in which people are flourishing. It is a new thing and it is happening all over the world right now. Last year there were something like 780 co-working spaces world-wide, and now there are 1,400. It is almost like exponential growth.