Architects plan a new roost for Whitehorse’s entrepreneurs

Budding entrepreneurs in Whitehorse may soon have a new place to work, brainstorm, and connect.

Budding entrepreneurs in Whitehorse may soon have a new place to work, brainstorm, and connect.

A crowd of people gathered in a bare, unfinished room on the upper level of Horwood’s Mall on the evening of June 24 to learn about a plan to turn the space into a coworking hub. Among them were graphic designers, web developers, and freelancers looking for an affordable place to set up shop in a city where real estate so often comes at a premium.

Antonio Zedda, an architect who owns the mall with his business partner, Jack Kobayashi, said Whitehorse needs a creative space where entrepreneurs can share ideas and support each other.

“We’re trying to focus specifically on people who are actually starting up something,” he said. “People who have an idea that they want to develop and they can’t afford much more than a work station at this time, but they would benefit from having others around them that are maybe working on similar ideas.”

Zedda said the design of the coworking space will depend on his clients’ needs, but he’s expecting that many entrepreneurs will be looking for short-term rentals – a place to work while they launch their business or idea.

He also wants to keep the place affordable, and plans to charge just enough to cover his costs.

“We’re not interested in making a profit here,” he said. “We’re not seeing this as a money-making venture.”

Coworking spaces have cropped up across Canada in recent years. They offer amenities one would expect to find in any office space – wireless Internet, coffee, photocopiers. But they cater to freelancers who work odd hours on a temporary basis, and often on a shoestring budget.

Zedda said there’s been a real change in work culture over the last 20 years.

“People are much more mobile, they’re much less committed to physical space,” he said. “They have different lifestyles where they’re not working eight hours a day, and so they want to be able to work in a space or have a space that’s flexible like their lifestyle.”

There are other reasons why a coworking space might be a good fit for Whitehorse.

Jaret Slipp, one of the guests at Wednesday’s launch party, works as a contractor in leadership education. He said he and his wife often work from home, but since they live in a cabin on the outskirts of town, that’s not ideal.

“We don’t have great Internet where we are, and it’s expensive to get really high-speed Internet,” he said. “And we don’t have a place to meet.”

He said he often ends up coming into town to work from coffee shops, but that can be distracting. He believes a coworking space could be the perfect solution. “I think it fits for any city, but I think Whitehorse needs it,” he said.

Sarah Frey, who plans to go back to school in the fall, hopes to use the space for studying. She said the library and coffee shops close early in Whitehorse, and she doesn’t have a place to work from home.

“So this solves a lot of my problems in terms of finding a stable place that has kind of that productive energy,” she said.

But coworking isn’t just about a desk and high-speed Internet, according to Charlyne Fothergill, who attended Wednesday’s event. She helped start a coworking space in Vancouver, and now works with a program that trains junior web developers. She hopes some of her freelance students will take advantage of this space.

“There’s just such a benefit to get out of your basement, get into a community that is collaborative,” she said. “Coworking’s not just about having access to cheap office space or a better photocopier than you have at home. It is about connecting people who are collaborative by nature.”

By the end of Wednesday’s launch party, at least nine people were willing to commit to renting room in the coworking space, Zedda said. That would be more than enough to launch the project.

He said the next step is to put together a formal business plan for the space.

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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