Partnering with Your Local Small Business Development Center: an Overview for Coworking Space Operators

In the past week, I’ve watched a dozen or so people come into NextSpace Santa Cruz to meet with Keith Holtaway, business advisor for the local Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

Keith is a celebrated local businessman, an award-winning consultant and mentor, and a longtime member of the NextSpace community, Keith has a desk here where he meets with SBDC clients all week long. He’s available to offer advice and business mentorship to members and the local community, at large. I’ve personally met with Keith three times in the last year or so as I’ve grown my business.

coworking and sbdc

Coworking and the SBDC

Partnering with the local SBDC is a no-brainer for coworking spaces. It benefits spaces, members, the local community and the SBDC. 

“The SBDC fits within the culture of coworking, which is communities that are here not just to better themselves, but to better their neighbor,” says Brandon Napoli, director of the Santa Cruz SBDC. “The SBDC is a cornerstone of that foundation. We help business owners become more entrepreneurial. That’s really what the SBDC is aiming for.”

Napoli stresses that having a network of other entrepreneurs, service providers and supporters is essential to creating a thriving business.

“There’s a need to be part of a village as a business owner,” he adds, “not just a frontiers person, when it comes to creating your own business.”


In-house Strategy and Success

Through partnerships with the SBDC, coworking spaces have a stream of local professionals and business owners coming into the space, members have in-house business mentorship, the extended community has access to (oftentimes free) business consulting and professional workspace, and the SBDC positions itself in the heart of the professional ecosystem.

Partnering with a coworking space also gives the SBDC a place to have events, and to stay current with local business trends, challenges and opportunities.

Cloud VO Partner NextSpace Coworking Santa Cruz Partners with SBDC

“Partnership with a coworking space puts the SBDC advisor/mentor in the middle of the target market in a way that allows for trust to develop between potential clients and the advisor over a period of time,” says Holtaway. “It also allows for the SBDC to understand emerging businesses before they become more mainstream. In other words, the SBDC is on the ground floor of new stuff that is getting ready to launch.”

NextSpace Santa Cruz Senior Community Manager Maya Delano stresses that the vision for a coworking space and the SBDC is aligned: to help people succeed in work and life. She describes SBDC partnership as enabling spaces to serve as business incubators without being incubators.

“All these SBDC resources are housed under our roof,” she says. “We have informational materials in the space and we mention that we have an on-site SBDC advisor during tours.”

Delano adds that the partnership brings a fresh audience of business owners—and prospective business owners—into the space and introduces new people to the idea of flexible workspace.

“This benefits members at all stages of running a business, from needing basic business mentorship, to launching a startup, to getting a loan and beyond.”

Win Win Win

Since providing business advice to members is not a service generally offered in coworking spaces, SBDC partnerships allow a space to differentiate and provide a valuable community service at little cost to them. A partnership may be as simple as an open coworking membership, or it may include a dedicated desk, meeting room hours, or office space.

Services offered by an SBDC depends on the location, but they usually have a wide range of offerings, including technical services and access to a team of advisors who, as Holtaway explains, “can take care of almost any business need.”

“Such a service would be very expensive to engage for both the coworking space and the member,” he says. “For smaller coworking spaces, it would be a feature that would allow them to compete with larger coworking spaces that have a large marketing budget. There are also approximately 1,200 SBDC centers throughout the U.S. so finding one would not be difficult. Since SBDCs operate on a tight operations budget, offering low or no cost space would be very attractive to them, as well.”

Small Business Development Centers across the United States

Creating an SBDC Partnership

For coworking space operators interested in partnering with the local SBDC, Napoli advises having a clear understanding of how the needs of the coworking space align with the goals of the SBDC.

“If the need of the coworking space is to bring in new blood, host more events, fill office space, and increase retention of members,” he says, “align that with the focus of the SBDC, and with who the SBDC is serving and willing to serve.”

Napoli stresses that it’s vitally important for SBDCs to understand the local business environment and stay relevant to local business owners. 

“An SBDC that’s focused on the future of work is an SBDC that knows the trends of the workplace,” he says. “An SBDC needs to move from the corner office in its host institution into becoming a cornerstone of the ecosystem serving business owners.”

Coworking and Small Business Development Center Partnership for Members

What partnerships have you formed within your local business community that align with your coworking space? We’d love to hear from you.


About CloudVO

CloudVO is the umbrella brand of Cloud Officing Corp., headquartered in San Francisco, California. CloudVO’s mission is to provide comprehensive virtual office, coworking and meeting room solutions to professionals under a Workplace-as-a-Service™ model. CloudVO grants preferential access to day offices, coworking space, and professional meeting rooms in 700 locations worldwide for distributed workers on a subscription or a pay-per-use basis.


How to Curate Community in a Space with Private Offices: 15 Tips for Shared Workspace Operators

In open coworking spaces, casual networking and connections take place throughout out the day. People sit near each other, they ask each other questions, they share resources, they visit over coffee. By being in the same space, community-building happens naturally.

But what about shared workspaces that have a lot of private offices? How do you curate community when a majority of members are working alone, or with their team, in an office separated from the common space?

Here are 15 tips for curating community in a workspace with private offices, including several pro tips from Lori Campbell, community manager of Pacific Workplaces, our partner location in Sunnyvale, California. Campbell manages 15,000 square feet and 51 full-time offices in her space and is still a community builder extraordinaire.

1. Introduce New Workspace Members
When a new member joins your workspace, whether as a coworking member or an office member, introduce them to existing members. By breaking the ice for new members, you accelerate their transition into the community and help them start building their network of friends and professional connections.

“Members feed off the other members’ personalities,” says Campbell. “When we have a new coworking member, virtual office member, or office member, I introduce them around, and tell our existing members to make them feel at home. That’s an icebreaker.”

2. Make Sure the Community Manager is Accessible
In her Sunnyvale space, Campbell sits in the open area so, as she explains, “members can’t help but see me.” She’s able to greet members and guests, make connections between people and start group conversations.
“I describe our environment as electric,”  says Campbell. “Once I make the introductions between people, it takes off from there.”

Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Coworking Space Community Manager Extraordinare
Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Coworking Space Community Manager Lori is accessible to members and always welcoming (clearly!)

3. Celebrate the Seasons and Holidays
Seasonal and holiday events are a great excuse to get members out of their office and into the common space. Campbell advises celebrating major holidays, as well as inviting members to suggest holiday or cultural events and celebrations.

Celebrations in Sunnyvale include St. Patrick’s Day, the winter holiday season and the 4th of July, as well as Cinco de Mayo, Mardi Gras, and international celebrations.

Pacific Workplaces Coworking Space Sunnyvale Community Member Event International Holiday Mixer
Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Coworking Space International Holiday Event

Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Shared Workspaces 4th of July Member Event
Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale 4th of July Member Event

4. Host Impromptu Events
One of Campbell’s best tips is to host impromptu socials. She and her Pacific Workplaces team have hosted wine tastings with cheese and grapes, lunch socials and community breakfasts, where they cook eggs and bacon for everyone.  “Everyone comes out of their offices to join in those, Campbell says with a laugh.

Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Shared Workspace Wine Tasting Member Event
Wine Tasting Member Event at Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Coworking Space

5. Be Creative with Event Ideas and Let the Community Help
“I call my mind Disneyland,” Campbell says. “I think of the craziest things to do and our coworking members and office members are onboard with my madness.” She advises letting members suggest events for the community and explains that one of the most fun community-building things they’ve done was a mannequin challenge, which was suggested by a member. Plans are in the works for a 1970s disco party, another idea suggested by a member.

Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Coworking Space At The Beach Event
Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Coworking Space ‘At The Beach’ Event

Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Coworking Space Game Night Member Event
Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale ‘Game Night’ Member Event

6. Create a Member Wall in Your Workspace
A member wall in your coworking space lets people see who their fellow members are and what they do. Member walls can also be informal networking tools so when a member needs a service or product, they can see, at-a-glance, if there’s an office member or coworking member who might be able to help them.

7. Know Your Community and the Culture of Your Workspace
Every shared workspace is different, and every workspace community is different. Some spaces are informal and casual, while others are more traditional business spaces. Workspace staff should have a good understanding of the community in your space and its unique culture. This way, events, communications and connections are relevant to members and aligned with the culture of the space.

The Sunnyvale Pacific Workplace has a lot of mature, established businesses, including attorneys, financial planners and CPAs, as well as startup members in the coworking area. For her community, Campbell has found that members prefer surprise socials and traditional holiday socials to regular networking events, such as weekly happy hour.

“The socials give them something to look forward to without burning them out,” she says.

Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Coworking Space High Tea Member Event
Coworking members of Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale enjoy ‘High Tea.’

8. Celebrate the Diversity in Your Workspace
Shared workspaces, including those with a lot of private offices, cater to a diverse array of professionals and personality types. Make sure all your members, regardless of what they do, where they’re from, who they are, and whether they’re introverted or extroverted, feel welcome in your space.

“We go the whole nine yards with celebrations,” says Campbell. For example, the team decorated the entire common area for the community’s Cinco de Mayo social. “It seems over the top, but members love it.”

For one social, a member prepared dosa, which is an Indian pancake that’s rolled like a taco. For an upcoming Culture of Celebration day in the space, Campbell encourages members to walk in another person’s shoes by wearing traditional clothing from a culture different from one’s own.

Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Shared Workspace Dosa Event
Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale coworker and Community Coordinator Lauren making dosas.

Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Shared Workspace Cinco de Mayo Member Event
Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Shared Workspace Cinco de Mayo Event.

9. Greet Members, Clients and Guests
When the workspace staff greets office members, coworking members, clients and guests, they set a tone of welcoming and belonging. Campbell says she focuses on making sure whoever is in the space feels comfortable, relaxed and welcome.

“Whoever walks in the door,” says Campbell, “is greeted with a smile and asked if they want coffee.”

10. Get Members Invested in the Safety and Wellness of the Space
Creating community in a shared workspace means that members look out for one another and they care about the space. This is a benefit to members and the community as a whole. As one Pacific Workplaces team member explained, “We don’t need a security guard because we have 300 security guards.”

11. Communicate with Office Members and Coworking Members
Communication is key to building community. This communication can be via email, in-person conversations, flyers in the space, whiteboard notices, etc.

“We have constant reminders about things,” says Campbell. “When members walk in the door, we remind them that we have a social coming up and we encourage them to take out their phone and put it on their calendar so they don’t forget. We do have some introverted members who are very shy, and we have some coworking members who work from midnight to 7 a.m., so we make a point of letting them know we have a social coming up and asking them to join us.”

12. Engage New Members
Existing office members of a shared workspace likely already know how and when to connect with people in the space. New members may need a little guidance. If there’s an event or other community gathering in the space Campbell makes a point of reminding new and established members, in-person, that something’s taking place. NextSpace Santa Cruz, a coworking space powered by Pacific Workplaces, has a chime that community managers ring whenever there’s an event, speaker or happy hour in the space. This way, everyone, including new members, is made aware of any gatherings or events.

13. Community-building at Lunchtime
People are busy, and members of shared workspaces, whether private office members or coworking members, are busy and focused on their own businesses. But everyone has to eat, so lunchtime is a good time to invite members of the community to connect. This way, members who can’t stay in the space for an evening event can still network and connect with fellow members.

Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Coworking Space Soup Day Member Event
Soup Day Event during the lunch hour at Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Coworking Space

14. Encourage Informal Networking Conversations
Informal group conversations can lead to network connections, referrals and closer connections between community members. Campbell advises simply engaging people in a conversation in the common area. These conversations often grow into what she describes as “informal round table discussions.”

“I’ll just keep the dialogue going,” Campbell says. “That’s how most of our discussion and networking happens.”

15. Create a Comfortable Environment
If your workspace is comfortable and inviting, office members and coworking members will want to spend time in it. Greet people, make human connections and introduce community members. The community manager sets the tone in a shared workspace and they are key to cultivating community—especially in spaces with a high concentration of private offices. There’s no reason office members can’t be as engaged in a workspace community as coworking members are.

“Create a professional environment,” says Campbell, “but make sure it has a cohesive feeling where everybody is nice and everybody is saying hello.”

Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Coworking Space Member Community
Pacific Workplaces Sunnyvale Community Manager Lori, and Community Coordinator Lauren (both wearing reindeer ears), set the tone for a vibrant and welcoming member community.

Learn how to join the CloudVO family of 650 shared workspaces around the globe at www.CloudVO.com. Partnering is free and easy!


About CloudVO

CloudVO  is the umbrella brand of Cloud Officing Corp, headquartered in San Francisco, California. CloudVO’s mission is to provide comprehensive virtual office, coworking and meeting room solutions to professionals under a Workplace-as-a-Service™ model. CloudVO operates the   CloudMeetingRooms.com     and   CloudVirtualOffice.com    e-commerce sites and grants preferential access to day offices, coworking space, and professional meeting rooms in 700 locations worldwide for distributed workers on a subscription or a pay-per-use basis.