Converge NJ, the coworking space in Union, N.J., will close its doors as of October 15. The three-year-old venture is pulling the plug for a number of reasons, among them that people have simply lost interest, founder Steve Guberman said in a post on the Converge home page. The coworking space, open for 14 months, had not yet become sustainable, he added.
Converge was the brainchild of Guberman and Mike Green, who works for Guberman at his day job as creative director of the Denville, N.J., graphic design agency Fifth Room Creative. Prior to opening Converge, the founders had sought guidance from Alex Hillman of Independents Hall LLC, also known as Indy Hall, a coworking space in Philadelphia. Hillman had suggested that before Guberman start a coworking space, he should first build a community of like-minded individuals who understood that they could be more productive by coming out of isolation to work in a group environment. The duo set about developing that core community with some success, Guberman recalls. The coworking organization also built a relationship with Kean University, “and soon thereafter Converge opened its doors as the first coworking space in N.J. and the first in the country to have a partnership with a university.”
The site’s closing poses a problem for many N.J. tech communities. “We tried to immerse ourselves in the tech community and give it a place to live,” Guberman told NJTechWeekly.com in an interview. The Mobile Applications Developers of New Jersey, NJ Social Media and the New Jersey Linux User Group had been meeting at Converge and must now find a new home. Guberman said several hackathons had taken place there as well. Converge had offered the space to these groups at little or no cost, as long as their missions were in line with the entrepreneurial nature of coworking. During the brief life of the space, its members included interior designers, web and software developers and a couple of small entrepreneurial startups. The founders were joined by Roger Salazar, who ran the space for the past 10 months.
Looking back, Guberman said that Converge’s failure happened on multiple levels. The original community that built Converge dispersed when some members took jobs or moved away. The university campus location, while rich in people, ideas and inspiration, didn’t have enough parking and was hard to find. Because the university provided only five parking spaces, visitors had to walk a long way to get to the building, which will now revert to classroom use. Guberman and Kean came to the joint conclusion that because there was no strong, thriving community wanting to use the space, it should close.
Guberman also wondered if the suburbs are the right place for coworking. He believes there are only a few strong communities, such as Montclair and Hoboken,that can support the coworking concept. “Here in N.J., especially in suburban and even rural parts of the state, people work from home because they don’t want to travel. They don’t want to fight traffic, pay for parking, and so on. In urban spaces like New York City, it’s no big deal to hop on a train and in 15 minutes be where you want to with no need for parking, tolls or traffic. It’s first nature in a city to want to be around people and not feel isolated. Not so much in suburbia.” Guberman feels that if coworking is to thrive in N.J., there needs to be some sort of adaptation to accommodate how suburbanites would use it.
Other coworking spaces in N.J. include the recently opened Mission Fifty (Hoboken), Launchpad Creatives (Woodbridge) and Cowerks (Asbury Park). Guberman is optimistic about the possibilities for success at each of these spaces. Mission Fifty is located in more of an urban setting, with a strong community, and he believes “they will keep great things here in New Jersey as opposed to people going across the river to New York to some of the other coworking spaces there.” Cowerks is “doing really great,” he added. “The tech community at the Jersey Shore is pretty hot right now.” Launchpad Creatives has a great small community, according to Guberman. “They are also a fraction of the size we were,” he noted.