Jaclyn Montoya, right, works for Revel Interactive from one of the full-time desk spaces at Green Spaces, a co-working hub in the RiNo Art District near downtown Denver. (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post)

Co-working spaces expand into niche markets, and marijuana is one of them

When Craig Baute opened Creative Density in 2011, there was only one other co-working space in Denver.

Now, by his count, the city has eight, and at least four more plan to open by the end of the year, he said. The latest, Modworks, opened its doors on the 16th Street Mall earlier this month.

Co-working spaces, which rent freelancers and startups desks in shared offices in lieu of traditional suites, have been mostly tech bastions since they first sprouted up in 2006.

But in Denver, as the market has grown, so has its scope. More than other cities, co-working spaces here have sought out niche audiences, groups that spread beyond tech to industries like law and marijuana.

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There’s LawBank, which caters to attorneys. There’s Green Labs, which opened in May to target pot-industry startups. And there’s Green Spaces, which is entirely solar-powered and plans to require that its clients be green-certified.

“We’re starting to niche ourselves,” said Baute, who sits on the board of Coshare, a national co-working association. “Denver evolved that way.”

In a crowded marketplace, though, businesses now need to distinguish themselves, said David Pike, co-founder of Green Labs. Being a co-working space isn’t in itself enough to attract members.

“There’s a lot of competition out there for co-working spaces,” Pike said. “You kind of evolve into other industries.”

And for members, owners say their spaces still offer collaboration and community like others do; they’re just more narrowly focused.

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“The commonality helps us to collaborate in a different manner,” said Jay Kamlet, co-founder of LawBank. “Whenever you’re bringing together folks that are similar-minded, focused on a particular niche … you’re always going to benefit from someone else’s knowledge.”

That isn’t common elsewhere in the country, said Jerome Chang, who owns BlankSpaces in Los Angeles and sits on Coshare’s board.

And nationally, broad-based businesses are more likely to drive the industry’s growth, Chang said, because they’re easier to scale up.

Co-working’s growth is slowing globally. A survey conducted by an industry publication in late 2013 found that 40 percent of co-working spaces were less than a year old, down from 51 percent the year before. Fewer existing spaces said they were planning expansions — 60 percent, down from 65.

Co-working spaces don’t usually make much money, Baute said. Together, he said, Denver’s spaces make about $600,000 a year from the roughly 300 people who use them. He estimates there are 100 open spots.

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Denver has kept ahead of the curve in co-working nationally, Baute said, but just because more locations are opening doesn’t mean they’re a sure bet to last. One space tried a pay-by-the-hour model before closing last year, he said. The city’s first, The Hive, closed last month when its building was sold.

“Only time will tell how successful they are at it,” Chang said of the niche model.

Thad Moore: 303-954-1902, tsmoore@denverpost.com or twitter.com/thadmoore

This story was first published on DenverPost.com