Coworking spaces are continuing to expand in Philadelphia due to such folks as Johnny Bilotta.
Bilotta started working out of Indy Hall in 2007 when it was the only Philadelphia space of its kind. Bilotta was a freelance designer at the time. And sharing space with a quirky pool of independent contractors and entrepreneurs surrounded him with potential clients every day.
“It felt very much like a crew of people on a ship stranded in space that all had to work together to make it work,” Bilotta said.
Now 42 and the head of product design and development for the software firm myClin, Bilotta still works out of Indy Hall, even as coworking spaces have mushroomed along Market Street and beyond.
There are 16 other coworking providers offering at least 26 spaces in the city, according to the latest year-end report from commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. And that number is expected to grow to 21 coworking companies in 2018, the firm said.
“A few years ago, no one thought that this would be a trend, one that would survive,” said Vincent Planque, a senior researcher at Cushman & Wakefield. “But look at [New York City-based] WeWork, what they’ve done. This is the main trend: Coworking is here to stay and will continue to grow.”
Coworking space, which currently accounts for 1.3 percent of the firm’s 40.8 million-square-feet of Philadelphia inventory, is expected to grow to 1.8 percent in 2018, he said.
These spaces traditionally appealed to start-ups and freelancers looking to collaborate with others. But some are now attracting larger and well established enterprises such as IBM, Amazon and Microsoft, said Planque. Coworking spaces can be great for employers seeking flexible, cheaper offices that also appeal to millennials.
Technology, such as laptops and smartphones, is driving the trend, said Planque. He offered Cushman & Wakefield as an example; brokers often need just a cell phone, a laptop, and an internet connection to work, making traditional office space less necessary than in the past.
WeWork, which has 2,500 members in Philadelphia and 200,000 members worldwide, has opened four new spaces in Philadelphia since 2016.
The newest location, at 1900 Market St., is a working wonderland with comfortable decor, games, and even free beer in common areas, with glass walls, tight hallways and wood floors in the office sections. The goal is to inspire communication and collaboration, said Eliza Serocki, community manager for 1900 Market St.
Other big players in the Philadelphia coworking space are MakeOffices — one of the nation’s largest coworking operators — along with Benjamin’s Desk, which recently merged with Washington, D.C.-based 1776.
These spaces often appeal to different groups. Fifteen percent of WeWork’s members are enterprise companies, and 60 percent are one- to four-person setups.
Indy Hall, meanwhile, appeals mostly to freelancers seeking a creative space. Its founder, Alex Hillman, 34, likens the word coworking to restaurants.
“McDonald’s has their customers, but they aren’t in competition with a Marc Vetri or Steven Starr, who aren’t in competition with your favorite neighborhood restaurants, either,” he said.
And like WeWork, Indy Hall is growing, adding another space to its location at 399 Market St.
It was the sense of community that kept Bilotta around.
“The reason I stuck around was because it was the closest thing to an ideal work environment that I had found until then,” Bilotta said. “It was filled with people that didn’t know what impossible meant. Everybody always asked ‘Why can’t we? Let’s figure it out.’ You don’t find that in a lot of the working communities.”