Pasadena has fast become a hub of innovation, technology and entrepreneurship, in part by attracting companies that offer new ways of working.
With institutions such as Caltech and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and a long history of engineering firms, the opening of the IDS Playhouse Plaza building in the heart of the historic Playhouse District raised the city’s profile even higher. The building’s prominent tenants include Alibaba, a huge Chinese e-commerce company that’s like Google and eBay wrapped into one, and EpicSpaces Co-Working, the latest offering in an emerging trend of independent workers who are leaving the cubicle to work in nontraditional office space.
EpicSpaces leased 9,500 square feet in the building, the first office development in Pasadena since 2005, and is looking to lease another 12,000 square feet. According to its website, the company offers a “campus-like, hi-tech workplace environment catering to creative professionals, freelancers, independent consultants, contractors, sales people, accountants, attorneys, entrepreneurs, business men/women, start-ups, artists, writers, travelers, students, telecommuters and everyone in between.”
“We have a selection of private offices, dedicated work stations and collaborative work stations,” said Jose Gonzalez, marketing manager for EpicSpaces. “We’re trying to push what’s called ‘creative intersections,’ where professionals can bounce ideas off each other and help each other out.”
The company offers other perks as well, including discounts to restaurants and other businesses in the area. Every Friday the space will host a happy hour for its members, where guest speakers will talk about marketing, how to create small businesses and other relevant topics.
Common events are a major benefit to co-working spaces, according to Jeremy Dann, USC Marshall School of Business professor of entrepreneurship and innovation. Dann also sits on the advisory board of Cross Campus, another co-working space based in Old Pasadena.
“Events are an important part of this,” said Dann. “Oftentimes people get out there and work (at a co-working space) with the excuse that there’s a great creative event there that night. They run it as a quiet space during the day and then they have to learn how to put on a networking event. It’s interesting how they play both ends of the community building, on the tech side but also on the event side.”
As a result, co-working office space is becoming increasingly popular and changing the way people think about work.
“With telecommuting there are more and more people who work remotely,” said Andy Wilson, founder of Innovate Pasadena and newly appointed District 7 City Councilman. The IDS Playhouse Plaza building is in Wilson’s district.
“We’re no longer constrained as much by the geography of where people live versus where they work. Working from a home office is certainly a way to get your job done, but there’s a socialization aspect of being involved in (a co-working space). Especially if you’re in a creative application, there’s something to be said about being in a vibrant community of other people who are independent operators working remotely.”
According to a report by software company Intuit, by 2020 more than 40 percent of the workforce in the United States (or 60 million people) will be freelancers and independent contractors, another reason that nontraditional office space is gaining in popularity.
“It’s a growing trend,” said Gonzalez. “A lot of people are working from home and they’re quickly learning that there are too many distractions. You have to take out the dog and take care of your kids, and it takes away from what you’re working on. We provide a place where people can come and do what they have to do and not have any distractions.”
This week EpicSpaces celebrated its grand opening. Last week the company held an open house event featuring speakers such as Wilson, Mayor Terry Tornek, US-China Clean Tech Center President and Executive Director Feng An and state Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys).
Eric Duyshart, economic development director for the city of Pasadena, said it’s no accident that the city has become a hub of innovation, technology and entrepreneurship, but rather the result of the city making it an important priority.
“When you look at what makes our economy different [from] other places around the country, it really is our engineering and technology businesses and our academic environment that other cities would love to replicate but they can’t,” he said.
Over the last few years, the city has actively pursued co-working office space providers, offering to sponsor some events and other benefits.
“Ironically, three years ago when we launched Innovate Pasadena, there were no co-working spaces,” said Wilson. “There was some second floor, somewhere off Colorado, not particularly vibrant and imaginative office space, not on a par with what you would expect with co-working today. So we initiated a collaborative outreach process in conjunction with the city’s Economic Development Department to recruit co-working companies.”
Paul Little, president and CEO of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, said the addition of co-working office space in the Playhouse District will be a great economic asset.
“Attracting companies such as Alibaba and adding co-working space will help draw established tech companies and provide important support for tech entrepreneurs,” he said. “Co-working spaces are important because they provide relatively low-cost space but also an opportunity to collaborate and support fellow entrepreneurs.”
With hundreds of new workers poised to frequent restaurants, shops and other businesses in the area, Wilson also foresees the economic potential of the new development.
“It’s going to be a real shot in the arm for that area,” he said. “It’s really part of a longer-term trajectory that we’ve seen around the Playhouse District that started with the Laemmle [movie theater] and picked up speed with Tender Greens, Roy’s and Urth Caffé. So I think we’ll see that the Playhouse District is a shining example of what a district can look like, and I commend the district and the landlords there for putting the pieces together for a true success story.”
With the impending addition of yet another co-working company called Blankspaces, Playhouse District Association Director of Economic Development Brian Wallace said the Playhouse District will be a hub for co-working and innovation.
“The Playhouse District is perfectly positioned to generate a lot of new ideas, new energy and new people who will be discovering this great location,” he said.
Wallace explained the increasing trend of co-working space in the Playhouse District Association’s newsletter, Property Pulse. “People like to be around other people, especially if you’re into collaborating, generating new ideas and innovating,” he wrote. “So if you thought everyone would eventually be working from a beach somewhere, you probably missed the memo. Office space is evolving to respond to the growth of entrepreneurialism. Fostering a sense of community for entrepreneurs, mobile professionals and others is exactly what co-working office spaces are intended to facilitate – bringing individuals together in a collaborative environment where ideas and innovation rule the day.”
“I look at this as another piece of the puzzle,” Wilson said, “further establishing Pasadena as an incredible, vibrant technology, innovation and design hub.”