Focus on NJ Coworking: Newark's =SPACE Helps Community Achieve Big Things


Photo: The =SPACE coworking facility is in the heart of Newark. Photo Credit: John Critelli
The =SPACE coworking facility is in the heart of Newark. | John Critelli

Newark’s =SPACE coworking facility gives everyone a chance to become part of the growing entrepreneurial scene in the Brick City.

“It’s a place that anyone can come in — whether you’re an intermediate or beginner — and learn what startup and entrepreneur culture looks like, and learn about the resources that this city has, which are immense,” said one of its founders, who simply goes by the name of “Medina.”

The facility’s founders devote a lot of their time to helping and interacting with the Newark community,  but they also trust that the city is a good place to run a profitable business.

In fact, =SPACE isn’t the only business they run out of the Maxblau Building, at 89 Market Street. They also operate MEDINA = CITI, a visual and multimedia design firm.

The design firm was founded by three partners—CEO Sean Hairston, Chief Operating Officer Rafael Roman, and Medina, the creative director. His name, which inspired the name of the company, is the Arabic word  for “city.”

“MEDINA = CITI wanted to be not just the best design agency and strategies agency, we also wanted to be a part of the community and help the community,” Medina said. He added that =SPACE “does nothing but that.”

Photo: Lounge area at =SPACE. Photo Credit: John Critelli
Lounge area at =SPACE. | John Critelli

Upon entering =SPACE, you find yourself in a bright, well-decorated environment. Bold colors and a bohemian vibe mix with a clean, airy aesthetic to form a space that’s conducive to creative thinking.

Photo: A cozy conference area at Equal Space Photo Credit: John Critelli
A cozy conference area at Equal Space | John Critelli

Walking farther into the space takes you past a cozy conference area and shared coworking tables. Beyond these are comfortable couches where entrepreneurs can work or relax. But the far end of the facility is where =SPACE boasts its most distinguishing layout features—a cafe-style dining area and a play zone, complete with toys.

Photo: The dining area, called "Socialisto" provides a wide variety of free coffees and teas. Photo Credit: John Critelli
The dining area, called "Socialisto" provides a wide variety of free coffees and teas. | John Critelli

The dining area, called “Socialisto,” provides a wide variety of free coffees and teas that Medina referred to as “beyond premium.”

The play zone is referred to as “the green” because its floor is covered in AstroTurf. Here members can practice their putting, enjoy a game of ring toss, have a water pistol shootout, or simply soak in natural sunlight from the windows.

Photo: Putting green and play area at Equal Space. Photo Credit: John Critelli
Putting green and play area at Equal Space. | John Critelli

But =SPACE’s biggest draw seems to be its founders, who work diligently to foster an exchange of ideas and connections. “I’ve never come here and not been introduced to a person, a project, a brand, or an experience,” said writer and entrepreneur Tehsuan Glover, who owns the lifestyle website Gentleman Culture. He is also part owner of the news website The Newark Times and media platform Newark Renaissance.

Glover isn’t the only one to praise the founders’ helpful natures. “They give a personal touch. You’re not just a client,” said workforce consultant Dorothy Handfield. She said that she had met the founders years ago and joined them at =SPACE because they are passionate about working with people and “holding your hand and making sure things are okay.”

The founders also help entrepreneurs by hosting a number of friendly, supportive events. These include “Entrepreneurs Anonymous,” a support group in which people can vent their business-related problems and find solutions. “Everybody helps each other,” said Roman, “so it’s becoming kind of like this little support system.”

Some events, like culture-building activities and a “House of Cards” screening, just give entrepreneurs a chance to relax and clear their heads.

Photo: A BrickCity Tech Meetup at =SPACE. Photo Credit: =SPACE via Twitter
A BrickCity Tech Meetup at =SPACE. | =SPACE via Twitter

The coworking space has also hosted groups like Brick City Tech Meetup , Newark Makers Meetup, Lean Startup Machine, and  Google’s Women Techmakers North Jersey. It  has also hosted numerous educational workshops, both independently and with partners, such as Rising Tide Capital. Plans are already underway to host more educational programs, in collaboration with schools like New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), which sponsored the Women-In-Novation event that took place at =SPACE in March.

The founders explained that learning at =SPACE may be less intimidating to some people than setting foot on a college campus. The educational programs are also aimed at growing Newark’s economy. “To help somebody economically strengthens your community,” Hairston said.

Techies will find their peers at almost any event, because about 75% of  =SPACE’s members work in the tech industry or in closely related fields. And the founders work with digital media all the time at MEDINA = CITI, where much of their business involves Web design. They formed that company in 2009, after Medina approached his best friend, Rafael Roman, and said he wanted to start a business.

Medina said that, once they had started MEDINA = CITI, “we had office space and we had equipment, and we had everything ready. And all of the sudden a lot of entrepreneurs would be in our space,” using the Wi-Fi, taking calls, or having meetings.

“Our space was full, and it was such a vibrant energy,” Medina noted. So, on MEDINA = CITI’s fifth anniversary, the founders decided to launch an official coworking space.

They eventually moved MEDINA = CITI to its current location on Market Street, and opened =SPACE there. While they intend to keep the Market Street location, they are also working on an additional 8,000-square-foot facility, which is slated to open this fall. The new location will reside in a 105-year-old mansion in Newark’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Medina said that, ideally, they’d like to “cultivate other tech platforms, other culture platforms, and create New Jersey’s first tech and culture hub. So the vision is bigger than just our initial catalyst project.” Although it’s too early to tell, the founders speculated that this vision may someday include Makerhoods, an urban-planning and economic-development strategy that enables makers of goods, who may be home-based, to enter the retail market.

They also plan on turning Socialisto into a full-blown cafe with a storefront.

In the meantime, however, =SPACE continues to go above and beyond in helping its members excel. “A reporter from Newark Bound came in and she told me that she just walks in and she feels bigger,” said Hairston. “That’s what I want anyone and everybody to feel like when they walk in here.”

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