(Photo by Max Hoagland)
Looks like WeWork stayed on schedule. Today the coworking giant opened its first Philly location, in Northern Liberties.
Inside the restored Schmidt’s brewery building, raised in 1920, WeWork now has a 30,000 square feet of coworking space. The company, which has 90 locations in 28 cities across the U.S. and Europe, has already secured 50 percent occupancy, it reports, housing 40 companies from Philadelphia.
The Piazza-based space comes with all the perks we’ve come to expect from a coworking space: free bike storage and parking, a pet-friendly environment and locally sourced beer and coffee. Offices are available in sizes that range from one to 16 desks.
There are outdoor and indoor event spaces, with plans to open them up to the neighboring NoLibs community to increase civic engagement.
Although WeWork’s Creator magazine recently put Philly in the debatable category of “little-known city,” the company’s play for Philly’s already bustling coworking market isn’t subtle. This fall, WeWork be cutting the ribbon at two Center City locations: one at 1430 Walnut and one at 1601 Market.
But how does WeWork plan to avoid being seen as an outsider swooping in on a city with an active startup scene? As she gave Technical.ly a preview of the facility, Kelly Burgart — WeWork’s City Lead for Philadelphia — said its approach entails much more than putting up a mural of Rocky.
“It starts with hiring the right people that can find their way with the local community,” she said of the mostly local personnel, which is projected to reach 20 people by year’s end.
Burgart, a Boston College grad, points to the design of the building, which has maintained many original elements like fixtures and wall textures, as a way to highlight Philly.
“We also brew La Colombe Coffee across all our U.S. locations and will locally source the beer as well,” she said.
Joining a crowded coworking scene means a dual challenge for WeWork: having to blend in, but also fighting to stand out. The recent arrival of WeWork in Brooklyn was a contributing factor to one old-school coworking space’s recent closure.
One competitive edge, Burgart said, is the network’s global presence. “We’re treading lightly on what already exists here, but we can also help people in Philly grow within our space and give them access to build their companies in other locations,” she said.
WeWork resident companies will have credit toward access to coworking spaces within the network through an in-house app. “It’s sort of like LinkedIn meets Facebook,” said Burgart.
The tech community, a staple of Philly’s coworking spaces, has already marked its presence at the NoLibs location.
One of the building’s inaugural tenants is New Hope-based social network MeetMe, which will set up a 14-person office at WeWork. The company’s engineering staff will be the first to join the office, followed by more hires over the coming months.
In a move to specifically reach out to the Philly tech scene, WeWork plans to bring in movers and shakers from the area in order to “establish a dialogue” over the coming months. The long-term goal: bringing as much of the tech community as possible into WeWork’s space.
“Hopefully the tech community will be within our walls,” Burgart said.
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