Makerspaces, business incubators and co-working spaces are popular alternatives to traditional office spaces and manufacturing facilities. They can offer tremendous savings on overhead and equipment costs and the cross-pollination and collaboration that they enable can result in strong networks and partnerships, too.
With many great options, how do you know which may be right for your business? Here, we take a look at the similarities and differences between them. Knowing what each has to offer can help you make the best decision for your business’s phase, needs, budget and goals.
Similarities between makerspaces, incubators and co-working spaces
The concept of shared workspaces grew out of the “hackerspaces” that emerged about 25 years ago. There, entrepreneurs, industry disruptors and tinkerers alike shared facilities, equipment, hardware and software – and, as importantly, ideas – while looking for ways to push the boundaries of new technologies.
Today, that collegial and innovative energy is still at the root of these alternative business spaces. Makerspaces, incubators and co-working spaces are all based in the notion of sharing: materials, tools, expenses and anything else that can help position ideas, interests and businesses for success.
Sometimes, shared workspaces simply make it easier and more affordable to launch. Often, too, they enable independent entrepreneurs to partner and create enterprises that are more successful together than separately.
Differences between makerspaces, incubators and co-working spaces
The terms makerspace, incubator and co-working space are often used interchangeably. While that’s fine in general conversation, when it comes to selecting a potential workspace where you’ll develop, launch or grow your business, the differences can actually be significant.
To help you get a better sense of them, what follows are ideas about who and what you’d typically find in each, as well as where they may be located.
While the “makerspace” term isn’t limited to the production of tangible items, it’s most often associated that way, as well as to facilities that provide the space to learn related skills, like programming, welding, industrial sewing, 3D printing or wiring. Makerspaces run the gamut from converted classrooms at public schools and libraries to large-scale industrial cooperatives in which businesses may share tools and production equipment.
Often, these spaces don’t charge rent – instead, they offer memberships, fees for time or service and other options that keep them very affordable. Makerspaces are ideal for businesses that don’t need full-time or exclusive use of equipment. For many people, they’re also an environmentally thoughtful approach to business, because makerspaces can reduce duplication of equipment and materials.
While makerspaces can be used at any point, they’re a terrific option for startups or early-stage growth. These setups make it possible for people who fabricate products as hobbies or side hustles to test the waters of running a business, before committing to the time and expense of operating an independent facility.
You’ll find great examples at makerspace.nyc, with facilities in Brooklyn and Staten Island. Versions of these exist in cities and towns across the country, too, and they’re especially affordable and accessible in areas that are undergoing economic revitalization and historic-building reuse efforts.
Incubators that target businesses with technology at their core – such as software developers, for example, or in related fields, like life sciences – have been growing for about two decades.
Within these incubators, businesses typically have their own workspaces. Much of the “sharing” comes from available support in the form of mentors, high-level educational opportunities and networking, including with potential funders and investors. Their facilities may also include some shared prototyping capabilities.
Given the potential for high-impact and highly profitable businesses resulting from them, many industrial-development organizations create business incubators with the goal of fostering the next technology-driven success stories. Rent, overhead and other typical fees are often waived in exchange for a percentage of the business.
Businesses here range from innovative startups that need mentoring and financial support to get off the ground to mid-stage businesses that are at key growth points and benefit from the infusion of ideas, guidance and potential investment.
More recently, incubators focused on supporting food-based businesses have become popular, too. Like makerspaces, these shared facilities offer food entrepreneurs the opportunity to create, produce and scale-up their goods in a licensed facility and with commercial-grade equipment at a low cost.
Food-incubator entrepreneurs are often in the startup or early phases of business and to support them, these incubators often provide classes, mentoring and access to resources for startup and expansion funding.
Co-working spaces are a great option for professionals who benefit from the use of office space and who don’t need specialized equipment – writers, graphic designers and public-relations professionals are examples of the types of business owners who often use them. They’re also ideal for “solopreneurs” who crave the camaraderie of office life.
Within a coworking space, you may find individual offices (or clusters for a business) with shared support services and amenities, like shared administrative assistants and facilities that could include kitchens, restrooms, conference rooms or fitness areas.
Depending on the location, office design and amenities available, rents for co-working spaces can run from very affordable to close-to-on-par with independent office spaces, although you’ll almost always get more amenities for your rent through a co-working space than without.
Here, too, the enterprise stages are as diverse as the types of businesses. They may be corporate travelers or solopreneurs who rent space by the hour or day, or independent professionals who use them for as long as they operate their businesses.
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