[This is the first in a series of profiles of New Jersey coworking spaces.]
Good coworking spaces fuel the tech ecosystem by providing a way for tech startups and individuals to work side by side and get their creative juices flowing through interactions with fellow coworkers.
In New Jersey, many coworking spaces are also used by non-tech companies, allowing tech startup entrepreneurs access to new ideas and insights through coworkers from other industries.
Greg Dell’Aquila, president and cofounder of Mission 50 Workspaces, one such coworking space, said, “We have established a place where brilliant minds get productive and stay inspired, often collaborating and building innovative products and services.”
The creative vibe at Mission 50 is evident as soon as you walk through the door. The Hoboken space is more than just a collection of offices, desks, conference tables, communal areas and Internet connections. Like any good coworking environment, this place is greater than the sum of its parts when coworkers interact with one another.
Coworking spaces can provide a number of advantages for professionals. They offer fewer distractions than public places such as coffee shops, and they provide more social interaction than a home office or a traditional private rented office.
Many people find that coworking offers another benefit over traditional private offices: affordability. That’s because entrepreneurs who rent private offices often have to spend money on leases that are too long, or they pay for more space than they initially need.
Moreover, many who rent traditional private offices must shell out money for phone lines and shared services like receptionists. Dell’Aquila thinks such services are becoming increasingly unnecessary as professionals conduct more business from their laptops. “Giving people a productive work environment with Internet, coffee and printing services — that’s my focus,” he said.
Dell’Aquila’s focus stems in part from a long history of overseeing work environments. He spent years serving as president of JDA Group, a Hoboken development firm founded by his father in the early 1980s.
Dell’Aquila negotiated more than 1,000 lease transactions during his time at JDA. Before starting Mission 50, he had already converted a large office suite to 50 smaller traditional private offices. But he was surprised when he got a call from a prospective renter named Michael Pierce in 2010 and couldn’t provide what Pierce had been looking for.
Pierce described a desired work environment that resembled what Mission 50 would eventually become — a space offering several open tables for people to work at, a shared kitchen and areas in which to interact with other workers.
Dell’Aquila couldn’t provide that environment, so he set out to create it. He partnered with Pierce and Aaron Price, founder of NJ Tech Meetup, to start Mission 50. Soon Dell’Aquila, Pierce and Price were visiting coworking spaces in New York to collect ideas. Those ideas helped form many of the features Mission 50 included when it opened in September 2011.
“We basically tried to cherry-pick what we thought was going to work best, and that’s why we came up with this layout,” Dell’Aquila said.
Mission 50 is located in the penthouse of Hoboken Business Center, which was built by JDA. After exiting the elevator, members find a clean, well-lit environment with several common work areas.
Seats and small tables line the left wall, letting workers enjoy natural sunlight from nearby windows. On the right is a kitchenette, followed by large, open common areas and tables available for independent or cooperative work.
The common work areas are separated by 11 private offices, so members can move to a quieter common area if they’re surrounded by more activity than they desire. Carpeting, ceiling tiles and white-noise machines dampen the sound. That means people can quietly work for hours when they feel productive and take a break to eat or socialize when they need to relax.
Members can also take advantage of the “phone booths” installed near the back of Mission 50 — small, walled-off areas designed to let members take calls in a quiet space. A conference room next to the phone booths can be rented by the hour, which lets members hold meetings in a professional environment.
Many other amenities make the facility useful for professionals. Storage cabinets, lockers, mailboxes and reserved parking spaces are all available for monthly fees. Dell’Aquila provides multiple Internet, power and USB connections from drop-down wires that hang from the ceiling, should members forget to bring their cables.
Dell’Aquila said he has made Internet access his top priority. He uses a combination of Verizon FiOS, Cablevision and Broadview Networks to ensure that members never lose access to the Web. Additionally, he bought a commercial-grade battery backup to keep the Internet connection running in case of a blackout.
That occurred when Superstorm Sandy hit in autumn 2012. After the storm, Dell’Aquila obtained an electrical generator and did everything he could to restore power and Internet access to the facility. Soon thereafter, a diverse set of professionals flocked to Mission 50 to get their work done.
Mission 50 hosts a variety of workers, even on a normal day. The coworking space now attracts some 250 members regularly, and with 65 seats available, dozens of those members may use the facility at any given time. Most live in Hudson County, and some 30 percent are employees of larger companies.
Maria D’Aries is one such employee. A remote enterprise account executive for California-based Glassdoor, D’Aries needed a space to work in in New Jersey that wasn’t her apartment. “I think the most beneficial thing is having a place where I can come and focus,” she said of Mission 50.
The coworking space allows her to meet with business associates. “I have my office space [that] I can go to, where I can have meetings and where I can hold conversations in a professional manner,” D’Aries said. To the list of benefits she’d mentioned she added having met other Mission 50 members, including Matt Hornbuckle.
Hornbuckle cofounded Stantt, which custom-designs men’s button-down shirts. He said his business had received a lot of support at Mission 50 because other members “are very generous with setting up introductions.”
It’s an especially helpful feature, because Mission 50 comprises an eclectic group of workers, even for a coworking space. Dell’Aquila estimates that only some 40 percent of Mission 50 members work in the tech industry. The rest are professionals from other fields, which lets techies make connections that would otherwise be hard to secure. Those connections may be made during a typical workday or through member-organized events at Hoboken Business Center.
Hornbuckle noted that though there’s a lot of knowledge out there, it’s often difficult to access it without direct contact with professionals.
Professional advice helped Hornbuckle develop Stantt into a company that’s just starting production on its shirts. Many other companies have grown significantly since arriving at Mission 50. For example, Fabricating.com, an online manufacturing marketplace, grew from two employees to 10 during its time at the coworking space.
Dell’Aquila wants to keep Mission 50 growing as well. He said he intends to open a new space in early 2015 that will include aspects of business incubators and accelerators. His plan reflects the continued growth of coworking in the Garden State and the kind of innovation that calls New Jersey home.