Listen: Origin Story – Works Progress
Coworking spaces are an increasingly popular option for small businesses, freelancers and entrepreneurs, and north Seattle businesses don’t have to look far to join a great coworking community. Works Progress is a coworking space located in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood, owned and operated by Marnee Chua since 2012.
Marnee Chua found the inspiration to open Works Progress through her own needs as a working mother. With a background in environmental science and conservation, Marnee moved with her husband and family to Seattle while working remotely for the University of California Merced. Finding it difficult to work from home in a small apartment while caring for her young son, Marnee began looking into coworking spaces and quickly discovered that most options were located downtown, too far from home to be practical for her. “So I started really looking, what would it take to open one more north? And I was especially interested in working on one that would have childcare on site.”
Marnee met a business partner with a similar vision, and the two worked hard to find a space that would allow for a combination coworking space and childcare center. They chose the location on North 85th Street with the goal of incorporating childcare in the future, but eventually had to abandon that idea.
While an in-house childcare option never materialized at Works Progress, the business is still family-friendly and flexible. Members are welcome to bring their children in as long as it doesn’t cause disruption. Marnee also helped convene the group who started The Inc, a non-profit offering coworking and childcare in Greenlake, where she often refers people who have childcare needs.
Today, Marnee focuses on the triple bottom line with Works Progress—prioritizing the business’s social and environmental responsibility as well as financial success. “I think that coworking spaces in general can play a huge role in community,” Marnee says. “Coworking spaces bring people together that live in the neighborhood…[who] didn’t know they could work together, and they have an opportunity to build that community locally.”
Beyond building community with their membership, Marnee gives back by opening the space to non-profits and other community groups. “We take in maybe one or two non–profits a year that we can give free meeting space for their boards. We host tons of events that are open to the community.”
Some of those open events include business development and mentorship for Marnee’s fellow small business owners. “SCORE does their office hours twice a month here, and so that way people from the north end, it’s much easier for them than to get downtown.”
One of the Office of Economic Development’s very own Small Business Advocates, AJ Cari, also holds regular office hours at Works Progress. AJ has a long-standing relationship with the business—Marnee first met him when he was conducting outreach with the businesses impacted by the 2016 Greenwood explosion (right around the corner from Works Progress). “I met AJ since he’s been out in the community. Now, I have someone to call if somethings goes wrong,” she says.
Marnee appreciates AJ’s ability to connect her to resources and people in the community that she may otherwise have never known about, and his know-how in navigating bureaucracy. “There’s so many different things in running a business—whether you’re doing taxes or whatever it is, you’ve got so many layers within the City, and then you have three or four or five different agencies in the State that you have to deal with, and you’re supposed to manage it even if you’re doing everything yourself. It’s a real headache” she explains. “It’s good to be able to have a resource where you can call and ask where to go for this next step.”
If you’re thinking of opening your own business, Marnee recommends taking advantage of resources like OED’s team of Small Business Advocates—especially before taking big steps like signing a lease. “There are so many ways that the lease can be set against the business. Especially brand new businesses, they’ll sign a lease that is not good for them,” she says. OED has a commercial lease checklist available online to help small businesses negotiate favorable leases, and businesses can contact us anytime for one-on-one assistance.
Marnee is excited for the next step in Works Progress’s journey: the business is exploring how to become a member-owned cooperative. “Members are excited about it as a way of having a little more investment in the space and say in what happens. I think the biggest interest that everyone has is for the long-term succession plan of the business itself, because it is a nice community, it’s something that people want to stay at as long as they can,” she explains. If and when Works Progress switches to a co-op model, Marnee believes it will be the first member-owned coworking space in the United States (as far as she’s been able to find from online research).
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