Four years ago, after reading about the excitement surrounding the country's "coworking" trend of shared office space, Bakersfield businessman Phil Rudnick decided to go check it out first-hand.
The visit didn't go so well.
"It was, in my mind, not impressive," he said.
But people's minds, like societal workplace preferences, change over time. Despite his initial skepticism, Rudnick has decided to open a coworking space called Upstart Village LLC inside a 6.5-acre campus he owns in southwest Bakersfield.
The 11,000-square-foot space, opened in March next to San Joaquin Valley College, has room for as many as 150 individual work stations, not including specialized spaces such as a lounge and a "Pitch Pen" for tenant meetings with potential investors.
Equipped with a high-speed wifi connection and a series of spaces outfitted specifically for computer coders, freelancers and small-business startups, Upstart Village is part office, part business incubator, part hangout.
Its only tenants to date, a women's business center and an organization that puts aspiring entrepreneurs in touch with retired executive advisors, aim to help people achieve their dreams of owning a profitable enterprise.
The place is one of very few coworking environments in Bakersfield. Although the trend has taken off mightily elsewhere, particularly in coastal cities, no more than a couple of local landlords offer similar open-design, casual layouts where tenants come and go at all hours, sharing conference rooms and kitchen facilities in exchange for a few hundreds dollars per month in rent.
That's about to change with the arrival, expected early next year, of a large cowork proposed by Fresno-based tech catalyst Bitwise Industries. The company, building on its success in Fresno, plans to offer rentable coworking space, coding classes and software development services.
Rudnick said he hopes the environment he's still designing — a keyless entry system is in the works, as is an overall interior renovation — will inject fun into what young entrepreneurs might otherwise consider a dismal workaday world.
"We're hoping to create an environment here where, instead of work being a negative, it's a positive experience, he said.
"It's a collaborative, flexible work space for creatives, freelancers, entrepreneurs, telecommuters, coders and digital nomads that have a lot of work to play," he said, borrowing the phrase "work to play" from his nephew, the late lawyer Valiant Rudnick Stull.
"This is a revolution in the way people will work and will want to work in the future," he said.
Toward that goal, Upstart Village, operated by former Cal State Bakersfield Chief of Staff Evelyn Young Spath, will host weekly social events and have a shared cafe where tenants can grab an upscale caffeinated beverage.
Among the building's amenities is an outdoor "inspiration garden" and a large events room in the rear.
"It's a wonderful space, 11,000 square feet, and we can do a lot with it," Spath said.
Norma Dunn, deputy director of the Women's Business Center that occupies part of Upstart, sees the space as beneficial to new businesses. She said entrepreneurs will be able to get access to valuable resources just by walking over to her office.
"I think it's going to be comfortable, and not only that, with individuals coming here to work on their businesses … we're here as a resource for them," Dunn said.
Rental prices range from an introductory price of $199 for eight days of use per month to $419 per month for unlimited access without assigned seating. A designated desk with a two-drawer filing cabinet costs $619 per month and a shared office seating four people costs $919 per month.
‘WHAT COWORKING IS’
Rudnick has offered free rent at Upstart to a group of Bakersfield Regional Occupational Center graduates who recently took first place in a statewide entrepreneurship competition.
Two of the students, 19-year-old Isaac Candolita and 18-year-old Ivan Casillas, were on-hand Wednesday during a tour he and Spath gave of the facility. Both said they were looking forward to moving into a space they figure will allow them to focus on their own business ideas.
"We can have our thoughts and ideas all to ourselves," Candolita said.
"That's what coworking is," Casillas added.