Forge, Cowork Memphis bring entrepreneurs, freelancers and artisans together for collaboration

Communal workspaces like Forge on Broad Avenue and Cowork Memphis in Cooper Young bring together creators and entrepreneurs to work individually, while also encouraging random collaboration. This new work environment model pools resources and ideas and could mean new innovation for the city.
At one end of the Broad Avenue Arts District, brothers Kellan and Davin Bartosch of Wiseacre Brewing Company are filling kegs with craft beer. At the west end of the district, near the intersection of Broad and Hollywood, an artisan might soon be fashioning an emptied keg into a chair. Or maybe a table. Or a lamp.

A keg lamp might be a farfetched idea, but then again, ideas is the idea behind the maker space Forge.

Elizabeth Lemmonds recently signed a lease at 2493 Broad, the 12,000-sq. ft. building that will soon be crafted into separate stations for woodworking, welding, 3-D printing, software development and anything else that an idea person might come up with. Yet it will be more than just a tool shed with concrete floors, soaring ceiling and exposed brick.

“I think that there’s a lot of innovation and creativity in Memphis,” Lemmonds says. “I think there have been opportunities to connect dots that we haven’t yet seen realized and I’m hoping very much, by having everyone under one roof, that this will happen.”

Sharing Ideas through Sharing Space
What happens when you have an engineer working side-by-side with an artist? The possibilities are what excite Lemmonds, whose background evolved from curriculum design and training to marketing and communications. She has worked in the past with local arts organization Lantana, the New Memphis Institute and, most recently, as chief brand officer for Startco.

“I was completely inspired by these big, bold ideas and determination to make things happen,” she said. “Not only is my real passion those who are creating things, but also recognizing, as exciting as the cloud is, and as much of a technophile as I am, that this is still a tangible world and I think it’s truly in Memphis’ DNA to be very entrepreneurial, ingenious and disciplined. But I very much think that the next big thing that could come out of Memphis is going to come out of a space like this.”

This world is increasingly cyber-reliant and social media is omnipresent. But the fact may be that face-to-face human interaction is still the best means to communicate, that talking to the person next to you at the coffee shop or while standing in line at the hardware store about the project you’re working on, may be the best way to solve problems and improve on ideas.

The fact is, too, that people without traditional workspace increasingly need a place to use their technology. This is the idea behind Cowork Memphis at 902 S. Cooper St. in the Cooper-Young neighborhood. The nontraditional office space opened in January and has been adding members ever since.

More than a Coffee Break
A “coffee shop on steroids” is how Katie Maxwell, director of community development, puts it. A quick tour through the 10,000 sq. ft. space illustrates her description. There are work stations for laptops, conference rooms for meetings and presentations, comfortable sofas and chairs for reading or relaxing, private rooms for quiet phone calls, offices, a ping-pong table and two kitchens. And there is coffee.

While it offers a space away from home and Starbuck’s for the freelance writer or designer, the traveling salesman or entrepreneur, it also offers the opportunity to turn to the person next to you for advice, for the possibility of troubleshooting an idea.

“I want it to be more than just a cool place to come and work,” Maxwell says. “An ideal success story, I think, for a coworking space, is you have all of these random people but they are like-minded … they’re out there trying to better themselves and they get to know each other here because they’re all working in the same place.”

Cowork Memphis offers three benefits to the community: memberships, rental space for events and educational programming for members. The first such event for members was a monthly Fireside Chat with the global startup community and partner Startup Grind, featuring entrepreneur Kat Gordon of Muddy’s Bakeshop as guest speaker. Another is a night of networking and “disruptive thinking” with House of Genius. Meeting rooms with conference tables, large-screen televisions and white boards are also available for rent by the public with discounted pricing for members.

Forge, too, plans to offer meeting space and regular events to improve upon their community and services offered to members. A gallery in the front of the building may be devoted to showcasing the art, designs and innovations of members. The first resident artist at Forge will be sculptor Eli Gold, whose work, “Beacon,” can be seen at the Crosstown redevelopment site. With future installations from Gold coming to the Broad Avenue Arts District, his presence at Forge is a natural.

The location of Forge within the arts district is a natural in itself with its central location and ease of access to the city as a whole. Across the street from the iconic water tower and proposed amphitheater, Forge hopes to build off of the momentum already in place, and to make its presence known at the upcoming Broad Ave. Art Walk on April 11.

“It had the kind of energy we were looking for,” Lemmonds says. “The more I learned about Broad, the more I think this is absolutely perfect.”

Part of the Neighborhood
Cowork Memphis has received enthusiastic response from its neighbors and plans to work more with area restaurants to cater in food for events. “This is more about building a community, and that’s Midtown for me,” Maxwell says.

Both businesses offer tiered memberships with access to certain areas, events and available times based on monthly dues amounts. For Cowork Memphis, those range from $100 to $625, with day passes and 10-packs available as well. Lemmonds is still working out the membership costs for Forge.

If Cowork Memphis is the soft-spoken library of collaboration space, then Forge will be the playground for dreamers to get their hands dirty in a workshop setting. Available equipment will not only include basic woodworking and metal shop tools, but also desktop manufacturing such as 3D printers, laser cutter and engraver, CNC machine and vinyl plotters. Input on the necessary tools needed to create will come from the members themselves, and Lemmonds hopes that what the space ultimately grows into will be an organic process.

“This is a more holistic model that’s really designed to put these tools and resources in the hands of hobbyists and amateurs or those who are curious, as well as those who are really ready to scale up, but also put them under a roof together so that the opportunity for interdisciplinary innovation, or collaborative innovation, is more possible.”

Lemmonds found inspiration for Forge last year on a trip to San Francisco and that city’s TechShop, a national “community-based workshop and prototyping studio on a mission to democratize access to the tools of innovation,” according to its website.

Memphis, she says, with its history of entrepreneurism and its more recent willingness to come together to solve problems and grow communities, is ready for just such a concept. While there are many places to bandy about ideas – local coffee shops, restaurants, city parks or a craft brewery’s taproom – communal workspaces like Forge and Cowork Memphis are a way to bring together like-minded people and another notch in the belt of innovation for the city.

“I’m very excited to see as a goal that the next big thing could certainly come out of Memphis, and we want it to come out of Memphis,” says Lemmonds. “We don’t want that idea to move away to San Francisco.”

Read more articles by Richard J. Alley.

A freelance writer since 2008, Richard’s work has appeared in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Magazine, Oxford American, The Memphis Flyer, River Times Magazine, Rhodes Magazine, The Commercial Appeal, and MBQ magazine among others, and in syndication through the Associated Press and Scripps Howard News Service. He is the editor of Development News for High Ground. Contact Richard.
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