By Mike Lawrence
April 21. 2015 6:57PM
NEW BEDFORD — Excitement is growing at Groundwork, the collaborative co-working space that’s expanding in the Quest Center just north of downtown. Long-awaited renovations are nearly under way and a new partnership allows members to utilize Workbar spaces in Boston.
“This is going to start in a matter of days,” Derek Santos, executive director of the New Bedford Economic Council (EDC), said Tuesday of renovations that will transform several high-ceilinged, spacious rooms into Groundwork’s long-term home late this summer.
The renovations will be funded by a $150,000 grant that Groundwork and the EDC received last winter from MassDevelopment, a quasi-governmental agency that works at federal, state and local levels to spur economic growth.
“New Bedford was the first in the state to receive co-working space funds,” Santos said.
MassDevelopment also is involved in New Bedford through its ownership of the downtown site of the former Keystone Building, where an eight-story, mixed-use building is planned as part of a $46 million redevelopment project.
Santos said Groundwork is growing through a partnership between the city, the EDC and the business’ co-founders, Dena Haden and Sarah Athanas.
“We’re absolutely geared up about this project,” Santos said, describing a space where innovators and entrepreneurs can gather to work and share ideas in a dynamic, open environment.
Haden and Athanas, both Cape Cod natives, started Groundwork with that goal in mind. After a slow build-up that required plenty of groundwork, the vision is moving closer to reality. An online fundraising campaign drew more than $7,500 from 65 supporters.
Haden said Tuesday that there are 12 full-time monthly members, with occasional drop-ins. Groundwork has lowered its monthly rates since last fall, from $150 to $80, in an effort to spur membership ahead of the anticipated opening of the much larger space downstairs.
Dartmouth resident Teresina Francis, 33, worked on her laptop Tuesday morning in Groundworks’ temporary space. Francis said she works from home two days a week and came to Groundwork to find a work area that had less distractions.
“It’s a very inviting space,” she said, citing free coffee and fast Wi-Fi. “There’s so much light.”
Groundwork offers a free day to people using the space for the first time.
Haden and Athanas also host events. From noon to 1 p.m. Thursday, Groundwork will host a “Streetwise MBA” presentation by Jackie Raposo, manager of the New Bedford branch of Interise, a Boston-based business accelerator. Raposo’s office is just down the hall from Groundwork.
The city-owned building also houses the economic development council, the New Directions workforce organization, the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center, the Greater New Bedford Industrial Foundation and more, putting numerous small business needs under one roof.
Next Tuesday, the EDC will host its spring meeting in Groundwork’s future space downstairs, Santos said. Slated to speak is David Parker of business accelerator EforAll, which offers resources for entrepreneurs and expanded into SouthCoast last winter.
Collaborative working spaces are a growing trend in urban centers such as Boston. Workbar has expanded into multiple locations and partnerships.
“The Groundwork and Workbar partnership in New Bedford demonstrates our commitment to innovation as a driver for future economic growth,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said Tuesday. “The city was able to act quickly to provide the home for this new co-working space.”
Follow Mike Lawrence on Twitter @MikeLawrenceSCT.
By Mike Lawrence