Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

The Only Thing Less Stable Than Working at a Start-Up: Working at a Start-Up Co-Working Space

The city of Mountain View, Calif., is threatening to shut down Hacker Dojo, a co-working and events space for coders, because it isn’t up to code.

Hacker Dojo already halted a planned expansion and discontinued some events after the city complained it attracted too many people, the Mountain View Voice reported last week. The organization, which is a nonprofit run by volunteers, says it doesn’t have the money to make various required improvements, such as handicapped-accessible bathrooms.

While Hacker Dojo may end up keeping the doors open — its managers tell me the Mountain View city attorney has now scheduled a hearing in March — it is far from the first local shared start-up workspace to encounter instability.

The most prominent example was the eviction of renters at San Francisco’s Pier 38 in September, which included the start-up workspaces Dogpatch Labs (part of Polaris Ventures) and SOMAcentral among other tenants.

Like Hacker Dojo, Pier 38 was a cheap, funky workspace that wasn’t up to code. The Port of San Francisco shut it down, citing fire-code violations and unsafe conditions. Dogpatch Labs relocated to Palo Alto, with many of its resident companies relocating to other workspaces in San Francisco. SOMAcentral absorbed resident start-ups into its other three locations in the city.

Meanwhile, another SOMAcentral location also had a bit of instability. There was a chance last year that its sublease from DLA Piper at 153 Townsend St. in San Francisco wasn’t going to be renewed, leading many tenants to move out. But a renewal was signed at the end of October.

Before that, Kicklabs, a nearby incubator at 250 Brannan St. that had a cool space with a multistory slide, moved out after its building was sold. It’s now located within RocketSpace, a few more blocks away on Fremont Street.

Just one more example, though a slightly different one: The Summit cafe on Valencia Street in the Mission District — one of the few late-night public workspaces in the city — is shutting down.

The good news for patrons is that the cafe is set to reopen in the same location with a new brand and vendor later this week, with minimal disruption in service, according to i/o Ventures head Paul Bragiel.

Bragiel said the change is due to unspecified problems between i/o Ventures — which owns the building and operates its tech incubator adjacent to the cafe — and the cafe management.

There’s a relatively simple explanation for why these leases keep falling through and permit issues keep popping up. As rents go through the roof in San Francisco’s South of Market (SOMA) area, Palo Alto, and other spots popular with start-ups, communal workspaces become attractive, even if they come with compromises. “Many of those workspaces are found under unique conditions and terms — which means they won’t last forever,” noted Dogpatch Labs manager Ryan Spoon, who is a principal at Polaris Ventures.

By the way, AllThingsD also works out of a co-working spot in SOMA. We’ve been at the Sandbox Suites for the last few months, and haven’t been kicked out yet.

(Photo credits: Hacker Dojo snapshot by Flickr user ~dgies; view from Pier 38 offices by me — I used to work there, too!)

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