Focus on NJ Coworking: At Cowerks, a Strong Community Vibe Fosters Tech Entrepreneurship at the Jersey Shore

[This is the second in a series of profiles of New Jersey coworking spaces.]

If there is one word that describes Cowerks, a coworking space in Asbury Park, it’s “community.”

Cowerks represents a community of tech professionals who interact with the community at large, helping to make Asbury Park both a livable city and a place where the tech ecosystem can thrive.

Cowerks — one of the first coworking spaces designed for tech entrpreneurs in New Jersey — gives tech and web professionals a supportive environment where they can find like-minded people. Some 80% of the facility’s membership work in the tech industry. Other members have included day traders, videographers, a music attorney, a waste management professional, and more.

When members aren’t working, they can enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of Cowerks and Asbury Park.

Photo: Cowerks is located in the LakeHouse Music Building in Asbury Park. Photo Credit: John Critelli
Cowerks is located in the LakeHouse Music Building in Asbury Park. | John Critelli

Cowerks is about half a mile from the beach, so members can surf, swim, or simply enjoy the boardwalk just minutes from their workplace. The city’s vibrant music scene is also deeply tied to Cowerks, which is located in the Lakehouse Music Building— a facility on Lake Avenue that also houses recording studios, rehearsal rooms, a music store, a cafe, and a photography studio.

Photo: Communal area and some offices at Cowerks. Photo Credit: John Critelli
Communal area and some offices at Cowerks. | John Critelli

Upon entering the coworking space located on the building’s third floor, you see a large, open communal area decorated with artwork and T-shirts bearing the Cowerks logo. Here members work alongside each other at tables lining the walls or occupying the center of the room.

Photo: Where the work gets done Photo Credit: John Critelli
Where the work gets done | John Critelli

The south wall has doors leading to a 340-square-foot balcony with views of neighboring Wesley Lake and the town of Ocean Grove. Four private offices are attached to the common area, and there is a conference room across the hall that is available to any members who want to rent it.

Photo: The view from the balcony at Cowerks Photo Credit: John Critelli
The view from the balcony at Cowerks | John Critelli

The Lakehouse Music Building is certainly a suitable location for Cowerks’ founders, Danny Croak and Bret Morgan, as both men have extensive experience in building communities around music.

In fact, Croak was involved in producing two large New Jersey music festivals:the Skate and Surf Festival and the Bamboozle. Morgan used to own a punk rock club called “Bloomfield Ave. Cafe & Stage.” Together they cofounded Bands on a Budget, a successful company started in 2007 that enables musicians to design merchandise like stickers and apparel to promote their acts.

Croak and Morgan continue to be involved in the local music community, hosting live music at Cowerks during Asbury Park’s monthly First Saturday. This is a citywide celebration on the first Saturday of every month during which local businesses host events and art exhibits. Cowerks features local visual artists in addition to live music.

“Everything that interests me involves building communities,” said Morgan, who also cofounded Asbury Agile; NJ Spark Summit; a local farmer’s and artisan’s market called “Asbury Fresh”; and the Jersey Shore Tech Meetup, which routinely takes place at Cowerks.

Photo: This Jersey Shore Tech Meetup was one of many held in the common room at Cowerks. Photo Credit: Bret Morgan
This Jersey Shore Tech Meetup was one of many held in the common room at Cowerks. | Bret Morgan

The facility has hosted many other events, including Hacking Asbury and the Jersey Shore Entrepreneurs and Investors Meetup. Cowerks can also be rented after 6:00 p.m. or on weekends for private events like bridal showers, corporate functions, and hackathons.

Additionally, the coworking space hosts a variety of workshops and classes like “Growing Your Brand Through Social Media,” “Successful Selling Techniques for Etsy,” and “Email Marketing with MailChimp.” There are also workshops and classes on web design, big data, search engine optimization, and other subjects. Anyone interested in teaching a workshop or class can apply through the Cowerks website.

Photo: A class at Cowerks Photo Credit: Bret Morgan
A class at Cowerks | Bret Morgan

Members are quick to point out the facility’s tendency to bring people together. “It’s not just about a space to work, it’s about community,” said Sean T. Walsh, an entrepreneur who visits Cowerks roughly five to 10 days per month. Walsh cofounded Crowd Communications Group, LLC, a full-service development and design company.

The social environment also appeals to Craig Phares, founder of the web development and design company Six Overground LLC. Phares has a private office at Cowerks, but routinely visits the common area to socialize. He said that he often sees members forming friendships with each other, and many people hang out after finishing their work on Fridays.

Phares also said that he collaborates with Croak and Morgan on certain projects. In fact, many Cowerks members collaborate on projects and subcontract their work to each other. But Asbury Park wasn’t always a good place for members of the tech community to interact with each other. The city endured decades of social and economic decline until the early 2000s.

However, Asbury Park has been recovering since then, and was a suitable location for Cowerks when the business opened, in 2010. The original location wasn’t in the Lakehouse Music Building, but in a facility located on Mattison Avenue. Croak and Morgan moved Cowerks to its current location in April 2013, having decided to remain in the city.

“Asbury Park is a really great town,” said Morgan, who believes the city’s revival was inevitable because of an abundance of “beachfront property that’s been neglected for 35 years.” Fortunately, he added, Asbury Park has “finally hit that tipping point” where too much money has already been invested for the situation to reverse.

The city’s revival has made it a vacation destination during the summer, attracting out-of-state professionals to Cowerks. Many of those professionals are from New York City, which is less than an hour and a half away by car. Morgan said Asbury Park’s proximity to New York has also attracted investments from that city, aiding the local economy even further. He cited support from the local and state governments as additional factors boosting the growth of Asbury Park’s tech community.

That community may keep expanding, but Cowerks, offering tech professionals a warm, welcoming atmosphere less than a mile from the beach, will always stand out as one of the original — and best — gathering places in the area.

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