Oklahoma City's freelance community is growing, and its members are looking for more interaction with each other and with their clients " something not easily accomplished if you work from home. That was the inspiration behind the Oklahoma City Coworking Technology Collaborative, or OKCCoCo, scheduled to open this month.
"I've been working out of my home for the last year, and found that it's pretty difficult to build professional relationships, because there's no place to meet with clients," said co-founder Derrick Parkhurst, who does freelance software development through his company, Thirty Sixth Span Internet Technologies.
The concept has already caught on in technology-focused cities like San Francisco and Austin, Texas, Parkhurst said.
Co-founder Chad Henderson freelanced for many years before recently going to work for OPUBCO. He said while there are groups within the freelance community where people know each other, there's still an overall disconnect. The collaborative will provide a focal point and make it easier for them to find work or seek advice and assistance, something Henderson said he would have benefited from when he was freelancing.
"It would have been nice to have people around who understood what I was doing," he said. "So if I had a question or something I was struggling with, I could get some input from somebody else."
Parkhurst started attending some of the technology-based user groups in the area, most of which meet monthly, and felt that the metro area just needed more.
"There's a lot of discussion in those groups, but wouldn't it be great to have additional opportunities to network?" he said.
That led to OpenBeta, a community-based conference geared toward the technology community. Around 120 people attended the first OpenBeta, in November 2008. From that success, Parkhurst and others involved realized the city's technology community was ready to grow, and the existing groups and events didn't provide enough opportunity for collaboration and exploration.
"When you're looking at innovating, it takes more than one person sort of out on their own; it's usually a collaboration of people," Parkhurst said. "This event was something (that) kicked off this idea that we should be doing events, we should building a community, we should be doing it on kind of a larger scale than what the city's been doing before."
That was the inspiration for OKCCoCo, which held an open house on Jan. 17 with around 100 people attending.
Many freelancers work from home but can sometimes be overwhelmed by the distractions, including family, pets and household chores. And many local freelancers, said Henderson, are looking for more interaction after spending so much time working alone at home. Freelancers frequently turn to working in coffee shops because of this, and a facility like OKCCoCo could provide them this interaction while helping them maintain their productivity, he said.
"I think people definitely are craving that companionship," Henderson said. "Even when you're just around somebody, if you're not talking to them, you're just working, just being around people has an effect on you, and freelancers especially really don't get that as much."
OKCCoCo will host networking and social events throughout the year, and is also home to a startup incubator, Free Radical Startups. Henderson and Parkhurst also want to build mentorship networks and are planning a services provider directory. They hope a "Hire Local, Design Local, Develop Local" campaign will encourage small businesses to choose local technology services providers, rather than opting for national companies that Parkhurst said don't provide the same value or level of personalization.
"It makes much more sense to hire local people so that you sustain our local economy, especially in this hard time," Parkhurst said.
OKCCoCo has so far focused on the technology community, but Parkhurst said anyone in a creative field would do well there.
The collaborative, located in Midtown at N.W. Seventh Street and Hudson Avenue, features both an open, flexible floor plan and dedicated office space for small businesses. Several companies have already signed on.
Parkhurst compares the rates to a gym membership, in which you pay more or less depending on how much you use the space. OKCCoCo's rates start at around $30 a month. "Lea Terry