Many small businesses in Arizona are feeling the pinch during these tough economic times. Among the hardest hit are the independent and self-employed professionals of North Phoenix.
In every industry from web design and graphic arts to freelance accounting and architecture, the struggle to keep their heads above water is constant. Fortunately, local entrepreneur Mike Montalvo has a solution.
What if there were a place for freelancers to meet and exchange ideas? What if they could network with like-minded individuals in a positive environment? What if they could offer suggestions and provide constructive criticism to one another?
These are the ideals at the root of the "coworking" movement, where freelancers and independents enjoy the synergy that is created when they come together in a collaborative working environment. Fostering this collaborative work environment is the goal of Mr. Montalvo's newest venture, appropriately dubbed "CollabLab."
Located in North Phoenix in the Deer Valley Airpark, CollabLab opened its doors earlier this year. Mr. Montalvo was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the lab and about the growing trend of "co-working."
NPB: What inspired you to start CollabLab?
MM: I had heard of coworking a few years ago when it was just starting up and thought it was a neat atmosphere, but it wasn't until recently that I took a second look at how the coworking movement had progressed and grown in recent years.
As a self-employed professional, I discovered that working alone can really stifle one's creativity. I really felt the need to connect with others in my line of work and the thought of having other creative tech types around was definitely a factor. I already had some office space for my company that was being underutilized, so the decision to go forward was easy.
NPB: What types of creative / freelance professionals would one expect to run into at CollabLab?
MM: For the most part, the majority of coworkers are freelance web designers and/or developers, but I feel that's simply because the coworking movement is spread via the web and the coworking environment is a natural fit for web freelancers that can take their work anywhere they want as long as they have their laptop and an Internet connection.
We welcome anyone that wants to use the space, regardless of the industry they are in. We encourage people from outside the IT world to check us out. The more diversified the users are, the better it is for everyone.
NPB: How can the CollabLab help other freelance, independent, and self-employed people in the area?
MM: When the unemployment rate goes up, so does the number of people that decide to become self employed. These newly self employed people may not have the network of contacts or infrastructure for a home office. CollabLab provides an environment where they can get work done as well as meet people to grow their network. If they need to meet a client, meeting at CollabLab will be much more professional looking to the client than meeting at their home with the dogs running around.
Additionally, we want to be a hub for people that want to collaborate. If a self-employed CPA has an idea for a useful website, they can post a message up on our site, or on the board here, that they are looking for a web developer for a new idea. We want to connect the idea people with the people that have the ability to execute the idea.
NPB: Why did you choose North Phoenix? Why not somewhere downtown?
MM: I live in the North Valley and I don't enjoy having to drive to the other side of town for anything "cool." We are trying to bring some fresh new ideas to this side of town.
NPB: What amenities, features, and equipment do you have available to users?
MM: Aside from the obvious desks and chairs, we offer broadband WiFi, a color laser printer, two 4'x6' whiteboards, and a private room for client meetings or presentations. We also have soldering and electronic test equipment that customers can use. In an effort to build up the community in the North Valley, we are offering all this for free for the time being.
NPB: What does the future hold for CollabLab?
MM: While I have an idea of what I'd like to see CollabLab become, ultimately it's the users that will decide. We always have an open channel of communication with our users so that we are in touch with their needs. Our primary goal is to make it not only a place they want to work, but a place where there is camaraderie among the users, even if they are working on different projects or in completely different industries.
NPB: Mike, thanks so much for answering our questions. We wish you all the best and we encourage our readers to stop by CollabLab in the Deer Valley Airpark to check it out.
MM: Thank you!