Hot Idea for Small Biz: “HotDesks”

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As technology advances, its impact on the business world has been felt in the ways people work and the spaces in which they work. The term Hot Desks initially referred to spaces in corporate work environments where employees would share the same desks on alternating work schedules. The term evolved, referring to open think-tank spaces at high tech companies, where “computer geeks” and other creative thinkers would hang out in large open rooms with communal tables and comfortable seating to brainstorm and bounce ideas off one another.

This new work-space concept evolved once again into urban co-working spaces for independent self-employed people to have a place for sharing ideas, networking and getting out of the social and mental isolation of home offices–without the distractions and limitations of the café scene.

Some of the pioneer versions include San Francisco’s loft living/work space The Hat Factory and Citizen Space. One can now find co-working spaces of all sorts in any large city around the world, especially London and across Europe. For-profit companies such as DaVinci and Link, have hundreds of these “virtual offices” around the country, including DC, Baltimore and Annapolis.

Mike Thielke, executive director of the non-profit Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center (ESEC) in Easton has brought this new creative concept to the Eastern Shore, but at an affordable rate for small businesses and entrepreneurs, along with the addition of various educational and support services geared to the start-up entrepreneur.

The co-working concept is just one of many new ideas Thielke has brought to the Eastern Shore business community. (ESEC) is a nonprofit organization working to “help entrepreneurs venture ahead through incubator programs and initiatives and to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that results in personal wealth creation, which in turn adds to the growth of community resources and services.”

ESEC targets its resources to help business owners and entrepreneurs succeed by creating greater access to capital through loan programs and monetary awards for its annual business plan competition, offering programs that develop entrepreneurial skills and knowledge, and hosting an annual entrepreneur conference.

ESEC’s “HotDesks” co-working space is located in the Tri-County Office Complex just off Rt. 50 near Wor-Wic Community College in Salisbury, and is one of several such spaces Thielke envisions for the Eastern Shore. He hopes to find donated space in Easton and Chestertown as well.

The Salisbury HotDesks space features a large room with tables and desks, an enormous white board for brainstorming, high-speed wifi, a kitchenette providing coffee and snacks, three conference rooms, use of a printer/copier/scanner, and receipt of mail or package deliveries.
Says Thielke, “Co-working, at its core is about reciprocity – the giving and exchanging of information. It’s the most collaborative, encouraging, authentic type of networking that you can engage your business in.”

Thielke considers his HotDesks environment to be more than just a co-working space; it’s also a business incubator. Business incubators are programs designed to support the successful development of start-up and early stage entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services. According to Wikipedia, successful completion of a business incubation program increases the likelihood that a startup will stay in business for the long term; some studies found 87% of incubator “graduates” stayed in business, in contrast to 44% of all start up companies.

“Business support events are structured in such a way that you can come in and get a modest amount of work done, get your burning business questions answered, learn about a new tool that can streamline your business, make a new friend who could potentially become a project partner or introduce you to a client, and most importantly – have a genuine, engaged conversation with other local entrepreneurs and share about your business.   It’s a casual environment, worlds away from walking into a giant room filled with people you don’t know, and trying to explain what you do in an elevator speech.”

“Just come over, grab some coffee, open up your laptop, get some work done and make some new friends who are doing all sorts of interesting things in their businesses.”

Membership options range from $50 for one day-a-week membership to $150 per month for full-time, seven-day-a-week membership, or $25 for a one-time drop-in visit. Members use magnetic card access to the space, and can be there day or night, 24-hours-a-day.

Danny Flexner is a Salisbury graphic artist, web designer and game developer for his own company Radiant Impulse (with partner Mike Astarb).  Several months ago, he became a member of Hot Desks, after finding out about it from a fellow computer tech.

“This facility is a wonderful opportunity to meet other people who you can collaborate with, a good place for a collision of ideas, a way to meet those who can oftentimes give input and valuable insight with problem projects.”

Flexner also finds it a great networking place to find additional clients. “Sometimes there’s a situation where there are other developers working on something and they need graphics from me.”

He also finds the environment conducive to new thoughts and ideas.

“The large space is wonderful, one of my favorite things is the giant whiteboard for mind mapping, brainstorming, or fleshing out ideas. There aren’t a lot of places for ambitious entrepreneurs or someone with ideas who doesn’t know what to do with them. When I’m there I can really focus on my work without distractions, day or night. “

Flexner says that the more people become members, the better the environment is for everyone. “It’s the people who really make the space worthwhile.

Jeremy Heslop is the owner of the computer technology business OmniTech and the chair of the Tech Members Group of the Wicomico Chamber of Commerce. For nine years, he’s run his business from a home office in Eden, but recently joined HotDesks this past summer.

Heslop often finds it distracting to work at home with young kids who want attention, even with a separate office space. “And cafes are way too distracting and limited in the work space.”

At HotDesks, he has found the ideal environment, a place free of distractions yet a place he can find camaraderie, support and a free exchange of ideas as well as business connections and referrals.

“I especially appreciate the private separate room for making and receiving phone calls, so it’s not distracting even when others are there. It makes for a better experience for getting the work done than going to a cafe or home. And as you get to know people, there are more business opportunities. It’s a great place, and will only get better as there are more participants.”

There are plans for future events to be hosted at the site, which may be open to the public, such as the recent workshop on 3D printing for those interested in learning more about 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing and networking with experts in the field.

“We are also talking about simple events like Meetups, to more elaborate events like Business Startup Weekends or a NASA Space Apps Challenge,” adds Thielke. All HotDesks members are eligible to attend scheduled events or activities at HotDesks locations free of charge in the event there is a fee for the public.

Go to HotDesks.org for more info.

–Elizabeth Alexander

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