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Destler Dodge

Business in America is undergoing a new revolution. Unsurprisingly, advances in technology and communications by social media have skyrocketed trade within the global economy.

However, it is not just accessibility to international commerce that has changed, but attitudes on how businesses interact with each other, giving rise to the “sharing ecomony” and related concepts like coworking. 

The world is in the infancy of the new sharing economy.Innovators in sharing economics, "The People Who Share," define it as a socio-economic ecosystem built around the sharing of human, physical and intellectual resources. Contrary to the cutthroat entrepreneurism of the early 1900s where success required the destruction of the competition, businesses today collaborate to benefit from each other’s mutual success. Multiple companies, from small startups to large corporations, have embraced the power of collaboration. Forbes magazine even featured a gallery of sharing economy pioneers, including AirBnB, Uber and Snapgoods. 

What the Harvard Business Review is coining as collaborative consumption are “systems of organized sharing, bartering, lending, trading, renting, gifting and swapping.” Examples are presented in Netflix, LetGo and Yelp, which are all well-established businesses that use collaborative consumption business models.

Collaborative workspaces, or “coworking,” branch from this concept and have quickly begun to boom in the sharing economy culture. Coworking is the use of office space for people who are self-employed or work individually in order to share equipment, ideas and knowledge. Many metropolitan cities, including Rochester, have integrated collaborative workspace environments into their local economies. Coworking has already grown by 2.2 million square feet in New York City alone and has doubled in size in Washington D.C., according to National Real Estate Investor Magazine

“The coworking trend isn’t just a flash in the pan, as employees have learned that telecommuting is too isolating, they want to be around people, to feel like they’re part of something, a bigger purpose,” continued the piece.

RIT pProfessor of branding and marketing, Barry Strauber, is an owner of the small business RISING and co-founder/member of Carlson Cowork, a collaborative workspace in downtown Rochester. Strauber stresses that this is not your run-of-the-mill “coffee shop” environment that many young entrepreneurs are accustomed to. Unlike other rental workspaces, Carlson Cowork's mission is to build a community that focuses on providing networks of support, collaboration and learning. Members of Carlson Cowork do not simply handle their business and go; theybut are there to provide and receive support from the community. This way, members become each other’s resources to expand their business. 

“We’re all in this together to make money and be successful,” Strauber said. 

“We’re all in this together to make money and be successful,” Strauber said. 

Carlson Cowork’s facility is basically 16,000 square feet of awesomeness. It harbors over 65 different small business members from industries includingranging from professional development, real estate, advertising, graphic design and even film production. Companies must first be accepted into the community through an application process before they can rent space. Once accepted, they pay an affordable monthly membership fee and enjoy a reserved working space as well as all the other benefits a coworking environment may bring about.

Aaron Powell was a 2012 graduate of RIT’s 3D Digital Graphics (later renamed 3D Digital Design) program and has a startup animation and effects studio called Luna Digital, Ltd. In May 2015, Powell’s business was forced to relocate on very short notice. One small connection from a friend led him to Carlson Cowork and the rest is history. Powell describes the energy of Carlson Cowork as something he has “never seen before in the city,” and attributes much of its success to the great people within the community, not just the business being a collaborative workspace in and of itself.

“I don't believe ‘collaborative workspaces’ actually exist, because it really has nothing to do with the physical location. Find the right people, the right community, though, and the sky is the limit,” Powell said.

“I don't believe ‘collaborative workspaces’ actually exist, because it really has nothing to do with the physical location. Find the right people, the right community, though, and the sky is the limit,” Powell said.

The diverse array of trades at Carlson Cowork is a definite benefit if a small business wishes to expand its enterprise. As Strauber put it, sharing a space with 65 other companies is an automatic uplift to any company because of the networking opportunities. Since Carlson Cowork is group support-oriented, the possibilities to collaborate, receive advice and learn new skills is vital for start- ups trying to gain footing within their industries. Powell recalls his collaborating experiences with other creative, like-minded businesses at Carlson Cowork had kept his operating costs down as well as expanded his ability to serve clients.

“Instead of hiring a full-time video editor for a particular project, we can instead collaborate with another company that happens to do video editing really well and provide an outstanding service that gets the job done,” Powell said. “It's an arrangement that benefits everyone involved.”

Unbeknownst to new entrepreneurs, the business landscape is changing quickly in the city. After the collapse of Kodak and Xerox, the hopes for expanding commerce died with the manufacturing plants. However, the once fiscally weak economy of downtown Rochester is beginning to blossom again. It is dependent on the new thinkers, new businesses and new leaders to aid in its construction. The spring of the sharing economy is exactly what emerging small businesses need to build connections in lieu of experience in order to bring prosperity back. Culture is changing so businesses need to change with it.

“I truly believe the economy will continue to shift toward small businesses and remote workers," Powell said. "Because of this, communities will definitely continue to grow and bloom around those businesses because it’s proven that collaboration beats out siloed competition any day."