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How Co-Working Spaces and Incubators Differ



This article was originally published in the Tribune-Star on August 27, 2017 .

Recently I had the opportunity to join in on an Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) Listening Session in Sullivan. The information shared by regional residents was valuable and fostered the idea for this article today. It appears there is a tremendous amount of confusion regarding the differences between a co-working space and an incubator. Often the terms are used interchangeably, but there are tremendous elements that set the two apart in their services provided to the business owners and community at large. However, I do recognize the missions of co-workspaces and incubators tend to overlap.

It may be easier to understand the differences between the two paradigms by recognizing the elements and assets they share. For example, they both prepare companies for growth by providing resources, guidance and mentorship but in slightly different methods and through various stages of the business development cycle.

Listed below is a brief overview highlighting some basic differences so you may understand how each operate. Terre Haute has a co-working space and the benefits are different from an incubator. Each has a place in a community and/or region based on assets available, support, resources and funding mechanisms.

  1. One item to review is the cost framework. Incubators offer space at no charge for start-up companies. This is a place where you begin to establish and build your company at no charge initially. Now, please keep in mind there are no free meals at any point, and investment will be required. Co-workspace has framework established where you rent space by the hour, week or month. In addition, you are able to obtain complimentary Wi-Fi, mail services, and services such as conference space. You are able to network with like-minded entrepreneurs and events. This is a different blueprint than a traditional incubator where companies operate out of an office space. There is little networking and much more individualistic behavior with perspective to the companies.
  2. Commitment and time are the next aspect. Incubators typically require one to six months of commitment from business owners. Co-workspaces are much more flexible and you may rent space as you need. For example, if you need space for a week, you then rent space for a week.
  3. Support systems are more structured with incubators. Incubators have mentors, workshops, and resource providers either on-site or available upon request. Co-workspaces, however, are much more fluid and rely on networking events and relationships to meet the needs of their clients.
  4. Success is part of the model for incubators; they bring in their network to help businesses be more successful. Where as in a co-workspace, it is up to the business owners to do their own networking. It is not a commitment of the co-workspace to take care of it for you. There is no ambassador.

As you have read, there are significant differences between incubators and co-workspaces. With so many communities having vacant buildings and opportunities to support businesses, you can determine which model is the best for your community or region.

Launch Terre Haute was founded several years ago locally and has continued to grow in its services and clientele offered locally and regionally. Prior to investing in a business ecosystem in your community be sure to review your community needs, assets and demands of your business owners and residents.

Heather Strohm is a community development regional educator for the Southwest Region of Purdue University Extension who regularly contributes a Business Cents column for the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at

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