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This co-work space more about culture than just being an office space

Shane Austin created Okanagan CoLab in 2011.
March 07, 2019 - 6:30 AM

KELOWNA - Sharing workspace is a concept that seems to be taking off around the world but the Okanagan CoLab was well ahead of the curve when it opened its doors in 2011 with a concept that goes far beyond renting out space.

“Physical office space can be found anywhere,” founder and “Serendipity Architect” Shane Austin told “Any company can call itself a co-working space and anybody can share offices. But you can’t bring together this type of culture with a strong purpose.”

Austin moved to Kelowna from Edmonton in 2009 and soon started “connecting” with like-minded people, such as remote software developers and designers.

They started OKDG (Okanagan Developers Group) and began hosting events on “cool new technology” and different projects in cafes, drawing 40 to 60 people.

“We thought, ‘how cool would it be to work together in the same space all the time’,” Austin said. “We had these discussions in local cafes and pubs and we thought, ‘we’re going to look at how do we open and outfit a shared space for people like us’?”

Six of them joined forces as members in the original CoLab at 1405 St. Paul St. The idea involved more than just renting out office space. It included building a community of like-minded people.

The "high tech" calendar at the brightly coloured Okanagan CoLab.

Membership has grown to about 150 and includes entrepreneurs, start-ups, artists and individuals who normally work from home.

“The cost of working from home or working from a coffee shop is great,” Austin said. “You’re losing productivity. Your momentum is slowing. There’s a lot of static that gets created. You’re distracted constantly and, it’s been proven, to be isolated for too long is like imprisonment. People lose their creativity, their ambitions.

“Imagine having a home office, versus occasionally spending time in a co-working space. There’s the camaraderie, the lightness of it. Not talking about work but just being a person in a space around other folks who are going through similar challenges.”

The entry fee can be as low as $30 for one day a month and an hour of board room space. Or it can go all the way to full-time studio space with up to 10 employees.

With that, comes the opportunity to be part of a community and participate in the 15 to 20 workshops offered each month, ranging from meditation and yoga to “business model generation” and how to market your start-up.

“I think a lot of our members appreciate that we don’t just focus on business,” Austin said. ‘We also focus on people.”

A couple of years ago, he was looking at the possibility of expanding his original space about the same time Accelerate Kelowna was looking are relocating from offices next to CoLab to the Innovation Centre.

But CoLab didn’t have the membership to support such an expansion.

“Our membership was mostly individuals and very small companies so the prospect of taking over this space included working with bigger teams like start-ups companies,” Austin said. “I did a lot of legwork to see how many companies in the community were looking for team space and we would be a good match for them in terms of culture.”

When CoLab expanded to 13,000 square feet in April 2017 it had 80 per cent of the space booked.

One of two open work spaces at Okanagan CoLab.
One of two open work spaces at Okanagan CoLab.

According to a Globe and Mail article last year, the number of co-work spaces in the world is expected to more than double by 2022.

The 150 membership level at Okanagan CoLab could easily grow, but Austin doesn’t focus on numbers.

“My metric is: what is the number of quality connections supporting this development of culture?” he said. “If we stay at 150 people, I’ll be completely happy because we have an incredible culture here.”

While he’s not likely to turn anyone away, he does interview potential members.

“If all they want is an office space, they’re probably not going to be a fit for us,” he said. “We just want to interview and get a sense of alignment.”

Even if there is growth, he doesn’t see any immediate need for more square footage.

“We’re focussing on growth that doesn’t relate to physical space,” he said. “So, services, programming, expanding the array of events. Potentially coaching and mentorship for start-ups and entrepreneurs.”

There are other work sharing spaces in Kelowna that offer dedicated desks but fees are in the area of $250 to $450 per month and are more geared to full-time workers.

CoLab welcomes those just starting out who value having some time working alongside others who can share a laugh or help solve a problem.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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