FAIRBANKS — The work life of a freelancer or small-business owner is often spent working in a spare bedroom turned office or bouncing from one coffee shop to another.
Jennifer Eskridge and John Stowman lived that life for years, working out of so many Fairbanks coffee shops that they built a list of places with the best wi-fi and best menus.
When they happened across the co-working office spaces popping up throughout the country, the duo saw it could be a perfect fit for Fairbanks.
Last year, Eskridge and Stowman launched The Hub co-working space in downtown Fairbanks, offering the essentials of an office and professional work environment to a diverse membership of self-employed people, freelancers, entrepreneurs and people who just needed to get out of the office for a bit.
“It’s a place for people who don’t have a traditional office or don’t want one,” Eskridge said. “It provides everything you need in an office ... and allows people to shape the way they work.”
Co-working spaces have become popular throughout the country for bringing people who work for different companies or projects into a shared office space, becoming a prime venue for networking and collaboration.
The Hub is located in the downtown storefront that was once home to the Elbow Room. It’s equipped with the essentials — internet, printers, fax machines, scanners, dry-erase boards and coffee — that you’d find in an office, but with greater flexibility for the members to shape the space to suit their needs.
The Hub is much more than a workfspace, too. It has become a popular First Friday destination in coordination with Heart Stream Yoga’s studio, an anchor business for the space, and has hosted a variety of community events including small business development workshops and a homeschool prom.
The Hub has a look similar to a coffee shop, with an assortment of tables and couches in the main room. The back office where Eskridge and Stowman work has an entire wall devoted to a dry-erase board with couches for brainstorming and a table tennis table that can serve as a conference table or for a game of pingpong. When classes aren’t being held in the Heart Stream Yoga studio, members can use the space to work out, find some quiet or practice pitches in front of the full-length mirrors.
Eskridge and Stowman, who also are the co-founders of Fairbikes, have a deep passion for helping other small businesses find their footing. During the past year, the Hub has hosted a number of small-business workshops, offered mentoring and seen nearly a dozen ventures launched out of the space.
Stowman said that’s the benefit of having a space with a broad array of co-workers from different backgrounds, including writers, programmers and salespeople.
“It’s a place where you can explore things in a very comfortable, affordable and accessible fashion,” he said. “Because we have a lot of programmers here, I routinely bounce ideas off them and they have expertise in software that I do not. It’s incredibly valuable for me to have co-workers around and you get this cross pollination that’s very useful.”
A strong sense of community has taken root at The Hub and it’s ushering in a new business model for the space.
The Hub is introducing a pay-what-you-want model for its co-workers. Eskridge said the concept made sense after seeing how people were using the space. She said some of the co-workers ended up feeling like they were getting more out of the space than they were paying.
“There’s some suggestions in there, but that’s what they are,” she said. “We found that people ended up in a situation where they were worried about taking advantage of us. ... We found that one of our co-workers put out a cup to gather donations for coffee.”
Instead of signing up for a specific plan for stops they may or may not use, Eskridge said the pay-what-you-want model is more flexible, especially for people who are trying it out for the first time. She said the way it works is an invoice is sent at the end of the month. She said the suggested rate is about $10 per day.
“This way, with the pay what you want, it may not be appropriate for you to do what one of the plans is because you might not use it that much or you’re not sure how it fits your needs, but we find that people are inclined to pay what is fair,” she said.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.