Island finally finds its footing on the co-working path

Meet your makers: Networking with like-minded professionals is a big draw for co-working spaces like LaunchPad Huntington.
By PHIL RUGILE //

Helping new companies get started has become a big part of the “Startup Economy.”

Investopedia defines a startup as “a company that is in the first stage of its operations,” often bankrolled by their entrepreneurial founders, who are attempting to capitalize on a new product or service.

It’s no easy task. Until you’ve experienced the terror of being an entrepreneur – of struggling to convince your target market of your product or service’s value, of getting some early-stage funding, of lying awake at night wondering how you’ll meet payroll, of staring down a promising but uncommitted sales pipeline – it’s hard to imagine.

To better support this community, along came workspaces designed specifically for these brave souls – “co-working” centers providing a collaborative environment along with services and mentoring designed to improve entrepreneurs’ chances for success.

Long Island didn’t jump into this new model quite the same way other regions have (check out 1871 in Chicago, San Francisco’s 500 Startups or the Jumpstart Foundry, which manages 63 portfolio companies across 18 states). But there have been some serious attempts.

Those of a certain age might remember the Great River Office Park run by LISTnet. More recently, there’s been the reinvented Morrelly Homeland Security Center. Alas, both had difficulties scaling, unable to attract a big enough base of tenants to fill their very large spaces.

Phil Rugile: Co-working on it.

In the past five years, however, we’ve seen a more realistic effort to create spaces that can support the burgeoning startup ecosystem. Though smaller in scale, the impact has been more enduring – Launchpad Long Island planted its roots in Mineola, followed by co-working facilities in Huntington, Westbury and Great Neck, while LISTnet jumped back into the space with its Digital Ballpark.

A chic approach is shaping up in the Hamptons, with The Spur, while Bridgeworks has launched in Long Beach, along with its co-working booking platform Drop Desk. And that doesn’t even mention a handful of purpose-built spaces around the Island, catering to food and beverage startups.

Though most of these spaces don’t conform to the strict traditions of a “business accelerator” or “incubator” – essentially, receiving startup-support services in exchange for a piece of the company – they are attracting smart and often seasoned entrepreneurs who need to get out of their homes (or the local Starbucks) and to work side-by-side with kindred spirits.

They offer informal services in the form of networking events and advice, asking nothing in return but a low monthly rent and the opportunity to say, “I knew them when.”

Long Island is a 200-mile stretch of real estate with more than 2 million people. Density of entrepreneurs isn’t our strong suit, as it is in urban areas (one reason WeWork has become the latest unicorn). Our chance to really help this ecosystem rests with small, mission-driven workspaces spread out across the region.

The model picked up steam in 2018 thanks to expansions at Stony Brook and Hofstra universities, where student and commercial incubators continue to thrive. One trend sure to pick up in 2019 is the internal corporate incubator, which allows employees to develop new product ideas.

And keep an eye on TechStars in education, an in-development program providing high schools with a miniaturized version of TechStars’ amazing national incubator model.

Our economy has always depended on small business. Supporting a 21st century startup ecosystem fits Long Island’s economic model perfectly.

Phil Rugile is the director of Launchpad Huntington and a consultant on corporate innovation and workforce-development programs. Reach him at phil@launchpadhuntington.com.