WILLMAR — When Betsy Bonnema founded Workup in 2015 on the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar, what she was trying to achieve was a brand new concept in greater Minnesota — a co-working space for those who work independently to use and network from.
“Co-working was not a thing in Willmar. It was barely a thing in Minneapolis when we started,” Bonnema said. Now, three years later, both the co-working trend and Workup is growing as more and more see the benefits of being members of such spaces. There are 34 co-working spaces in Minnesota today, eight of them outside of the metro area, Bonnema said. “It has continued to grow because of the change in the way people work,” Bonnema said. With the ever-increasing reach of high-speed internet and the spread of technology, working from home or even hundreds of miles away from a physical location is becoming more and more common. However, workers sometimes need access to an office setting, or perhaps just want to be around fellow workers. “You need contact with the outside world,” Bonnema said. “The opportunity to collaborate is what we are trying to create for people.”
Workup is located in a renovated cottage on the MinnWest campus. The building retains its 1900s charm while bringing in a modern and fun design for the spaces. Spread throughout are nooks and crannies for people to set up work. There are also meeting rooms and areas for people to gather, complete with comfortable couches, a kitchen and coffee bar. “It makes it a cool place to hang out and work,” said Jayme Sczublewski, community manager at Workup. Currently, Workup has 40 full-time members ranging from software developers to a variety of engineers and consultants and even a yoga instructor. “We have the coolest, diverse mix of people,” Sczublewski said. Workup is also available for non-members who just need a space to work for a few hours, a day or a week. “We are all about supporting this entrepreneurial culture and that requires flexibility,” Bonnema said.
Workup also provides many events and educational opportunities, a major part of Workup’s mission and philosophy. One of the organization’s top workshops is Startup — for both new and established businesses — to learn more about running a successful business with a focus on marketing, branding and planning. “It was a need we clearly saw,” Bonnema said. Thirty-seven companies have gone through the intensive, 15-hour workshop. It also gives business owners and entrepreneurs a chance to sit down with and learn from one another. “Everyone is facing the same struggles. They realize they are not alone and that can be very powerful,” Sczublewski said. Bonnema believes that interaction is the real prize of Startup. “The most valuable thing is getting the feedback from each other,” Bonnema said. “There is so many amazing connections.”
Workup continues to grow and revenue is increasing as more people join the co-working organization. While it is not in the black financially — expenses are around $8,000 with revenue at $6,000 — Bonnema said it is only a matter of time. Pieces like a new website, additional educational opportunities, more events and spreading the word through the community will all help Workup’s continued growth. “We have made huge strides. We really know how to go forward to meet our financial goals,” Bonnema said.
The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, a founding member of Workup, agrees with Bonnema. At its July 26 meeting, following a presentation by Bonnema, the Joint Powers Board decided to continue being a member of Workup for $5,400. This is despite the recommendation of the EDC’s Joint Operations Board, which is a split vote earlier in July voted to reduce the level of support.” I think it is a benefit we have in this organization here. It is not an easy thing to do,” EDC Director Aaron Backman said. “I don’t think it would reflect well on the organization if we were not involved in this.”
With the continued support of its members, the addition of new people and the ongoing community outreach, Bonnema and Sczublewski are excited about the future. They want everyone to enjoy coming to Workup, to love the space and to love the work they do there. “That is what we are all about. That is what drives us,” Sczublewski said. “People say its refreshing, inspiring and brings people energy.”
West Central Tribune, Shelby Lindrud, August 4 2018.