The Making Of An Innovation Collaborative

The next evolution of coworking and startup-driven innovation


The Rise of Coworking

Innovation happens when people and ideas collide with execution. To create an innovation collaborative is to create an environment that allows for this collision and enables teams to effectively experiment with markets and customers.

The coworking movement was the first wave of an innovation collaborative. Startup founders and digital nomads needed committed space to work within small budgets away from their homes. Freelancers and other talent thrived in these shared environments. Over time the number of coworking spaces grew rapidly. We spoke with Liz Elam, owner of Link Coworking and founder of the Global Coworking Unconference Conference (GCUC), about the evolution of coworking spaces.

'It’s been absolutely amazing because when I entered the market there were only a few hundred coworking spaces in the world. Now it’s growing so fast, and we don’t think our numbers are totally valid, but the number of spaces is probably over 10,000 in the world. The growth has been phenomenal.'

Coworking’s Added Value

What began as a way for individuals to share space led to valuable collisions with other creative individuals. As the benefits and value of coworking grew, so did its evolution.

Code schools and skill academies helped increase the flow of talent to these spaces. Startup teams had a place to grow beyond two people in a garage in a flexible team space without long-term leases and setup expenses.

The better coworking facilities layered on additional services and community members to infuse even more value into their spaces. The best coworking sites have the entire startup stack represented — founders, service providers, talent and investors. They offer a path for an individual or startup to get engaged and move up. People can grow and move up the stack or across the stack depending on the stage and needs of their company and teams.

Because there are so many flavors of spaces today, teams have the luxury of choosing the one that will move them along their unique path to growth. Liz spoke about the importance of being picky when choosing a space:

'A lot of spaces offer a first day for free so you can check it out before you sign on the dotted line. If somebody doesn’t fit or clearly aren’t jiving in the space you can help them find the right space. If you come to Link Coworking and you say ‘I want to get connected to VC’s, I want Demo Days and hackathons’ I’m going to send you somewhere else. That’s not our vibe, that’s not our energy. There are a few other spaces near us that have those things. There’s different spaces with different flavors and different attitudes and different programming.'

Coworking’s evolution now includes key ingredients in the larger innovation community making it a perfect lighthouse to attract and develop the broader startup and innovation community initiatives.

The Next Evolution

What’s missing and where we see coworking moving is the inclusion of corporate innovation teams. For most communities, corporations are only now beginning to take a look at the benefits and power of being a part of a coworking ecosystem.

The rise of startup communities and the subsequent desire by corporations to tap into the new innovations being generated has given rise to the next wave. We believe this next addition to the stack will complete the loop and accelerate its community members, offering further benefits and opportunities.

This next addition will move a space beyond coworking to become a complete innovation collaborative — a deliberate mixing of startups, corporations, and expertise in a space designed to enable collisions and collaboration with a diverse community of innovators and executors.

The Three Components of an Innovation Collaborative


Shared workspace is a new idea for corporate teams who own their desks back at the office, but it’s one they’re learning to accept and embrace. An Innovation Collaborative will cater to startups and corporate teams alike, without creating an environment that alienates any particular group.

The next wave of coworking could include a full line of first class amenities. Yves Bahar, a designer for Puma and General Electric among others, is funding his coworking space design initiative called Canopy. Canopy isn’t competing to be the largest space, rather the highest quality. They’re charging for it, too — prices range from $600 to $4,000 per month.

It’s important that the operators of the coworking know how to manage their members to help the space reach its full potential.


The influx of talent from corporations and the rise of a workforce that prefers to work on the move will continue to fill spaces with unique talent. Accessing the right talent and building a network of like-minded thinkers has always been an issue for organizations of any size.

The success of innovation collaborative will prove the viability of the idea that people are happy to share their skills in return for new knowledge or help solving their own problems. New models for skill sharing and startup-driven innovation will likely emerge from the constant collaboration of highly valued skills.


The collision of ideas helps entrepreneurs figure out how they’ll navigate the innovation landscape. Building relationships with networks of talent in spaces optimized for collaboration helps teams define growth goals, validate ideas, find new partners or take some of the uncertainty out of the innovation process. An innovation collaborative is the common ground that teams will use to rapidly accelerate innovations.

Be Nice to Corporate America

Corporations are joining these spaces but their teams are coming from much different environments and may need to be taught how to integrate. As Liz put it, 'It’s interesting because we have to train people how to act when they come from a corporation. They need to learn that it’s OK to talk to other people. They need to learn that they are in a shared environment and can’t own the space but instead need to integrate into it.'

Startup-driven innovation is often manifested in a corporate accelerator or incubator. Startups apply to help corporate innovation teams in return for access to some out-of-reach recourses. Now, startups should keep an eye out for corporations coming to them. In an Innovation Collaborative, startups are the ones with the recourses (skills to innovate quickly) that corporate teams will hope to gain access to.

Listen to more about the evolution of coworking spaces and how you as a digital nomad or corporate innovator can find the best environment for your growth goals.



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