Workshop Chicago

Fall Salon Venue Spotlight: Workshop Chicago by Katie Kenney

For our fall salon we gathered at Workshop Chicago, a co-working space in the River West neighborhood, which proved to be the perfect setting to complement our conversation focused on passion projects. With stunning views of the skyline and a cotton-candy colored sunset, we couldn’t have asked for a better evening or space to host some of Chicago’s most creative women entrepreneurs.  We recently sat down with Ben Skoda, Director of Workshop, community-building expert and all-around great guy, to learn more about what Workshop’s all about.Fotor01021222333 So first thing's first, can you explain what co-working is and why it is beneficial?

We often talk about the advantages of sharing at Workshop. Co-working is simply the practice of sharing for grown-ups. Many of us have been taught to work hard to achieve things on our own, but I think our society is built to benefit from and support a stronger sharing infrastructure.

When you offer some of what you have to a community of like-minded people, you start to see the benefits come back to you from others who do the same. You can call it karma or the golden rule or whatever, but the principle does really play out in real life. Not only do you end up receiving tangible benefits from those around you, but you get to learn, connect, and experience humanity on a whole new level than a lot of us are accustomed to.

It’s hard to articulate, but it’s really beautiful to see it happen consistently at Workshop.

20140924_forth-76What types of people tend to utilize Workshop? Is it open to everyone?

We encourage anyone who is drawn to our space and community to apply for membership. Our goal has always been to attract the best people, regardless of their role or industry.  We think that’s the best way to build a community based on sharing anyway. We’ve ended up with a really unique, eclectic mix of people representing a variety of creative, business, and nonprofit endeavors and an array of skillsets. It’s fun to watch the interactions.

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Co-working can be beneficial to workers in many industries and positions, but we consistently see the success stories of people who freelance, or have recently launched a new entrepreneurial venture. They typically have limited time and resources, which inhibits ability to secure their own office space. Many of them need to move their work out of their home or the local coffee shop, and they see the benefits of connecting with other people in an environment that fosters connections of all types.

Co-working seems to promote collaboration and conversation. Are there any moments of co-working that have occurred at Workshop that you are particularly proud of?

One of my favorite things to do is to introduce people and slowly back out of the conversation. It’s such a treat to see people who have connected at Workshop collaborating. We’ve seen several instances of freelancers being hired through Workshop connections.

But to answer your questions specifically, there was one instance of a collaboration leading to a conversation that led to a friend landing her dream job. To summarize, she and a friend visited Workshop because they wanted to use our space for an event they were collaborating on, and I loved what they were doing so much I invited them to join a conversational meet-up I was hosting a few weeks later. In that conversation, she shared with us her “ideal job.” A couple of weeks later, a Workshop member asked me if I knew anyone who might be a good fit for a job opening she saw, and it was literally the other girl’s dream job. She interviewed and got hired.

That’s just one fun example of the exact type of connection we want to facilitate here.collage1What inspired you to start Workshop Chicago?

In short, I recognized the value of space in the development of a community. I wanted to gather all of the like-minded, thoughtful people I knew in Chicago, and hopefully connect them to other great people. One of the biggest challenges of building community in the digital age is to literally gather people in the same room. I figured that the easiest way to counteract that was to find us a room.

That’s such a good point about the need for a physical space to foster connections in our digital age. And the physical space you've created is wonderful! How did you create an environment conducive to many different types of work that also encourages collaboration?

Well thanks. We had a wonderful team collaborating on the space. It was strategic in that we knew we wanted to facilitate different work configurations, as well as a variety of meetings and events.20140924_forth-99We started with the canvas of a beautiful, industrial space and assembled a team that included an interior architect, a designer, a couple of talented builders, and a few experienced organizers and hosts. The result is a collaboration that has allowed us to host dozens of co-workers in a way that encourages conversation and collaboration, along with many creative gatherings–everything from small concerts to yoga, workshops, lectures, book signings, dance parties, and a lot in-between.

20140924_forth-53You've hosted a variety of events and opened your doors to many groups in Chicago including our very own Natalie Pavela's Yoga+ event - how do you decide which events to host? 

We’ve had the good fortune of so many creative people reaching out to us. That was always the goal—to create a space that inspires others to use it as their platform. Our business model allows us to find an appropriate balance of revenue-generating space rentals and collaborative or co-branded gatherings that offer something valuable to our community and perpetuate the message we’re sharing with the world.

Photo by Carolina Mariana

So we approach some people with ideas for creative gatherings, and sometimes people approach us. Either way, it’s been incredible to look back at what has happened here and dream of what’s still to come.

Photo by Carolina Mariana

What has been your personal favorite event you've hosted?

That’s a tough one. I’ll give you two: One was the Creative Mornings Happy Hour with author Dallas Clayton. It was a magical night of content and connecting, and so cool to collaborate with that team.20140924_forth-81

Another favorite was an event we hosted called Failure:Lab, where storytellers are invited to share a 10-minute story of a failure in their life, and songwriters share some of their most heart-warming and hopeful songs. The Failure:Lab team has hosted these events all over Michigan, and this was the first in Chicago—but hopefully not the last.

It was such a pleasure to be part of a gathering that was based on sharing from the heart, celebrating raw humanity, and connecting through vulnerability. We want Workshop to shed light on the human elements of work and life, and humanity was on display that night. Wow.

Photo by Carolina Mariana

I love Dallas Clayton! And Failure Lab sounds like such an authentic event. I’m assuming starting Workshop hasn’t been all smooth sailing and has likely involved some setbacks or even failures along the way. What would you say has been the most challenging part about starting Workshop and how have you overcome?

Every new thing has plenty of challenges, but our biggest is ensuring that our business model allows us to sustain consistent revenue generating. We’re both a service-based and a mission-based company, and I tend to focus more on the “mission” side. But I’m constantly reminded that we won’t be around to support the mission if we can’t pay the bills.

So the challenge is to be flexible and have patience with a new business in a new industry, and to let the community and customer inform your best streams of revenue. We’re still adjusting our model to reflect what people seem to want from us the most, and at the same time we’re always working to offer the best experience for those who have already invested in our services.20140924_forth-58Can you share one of your favorite moments that has occurred at Workshop?

This may sound odd, but one of the best moments was when I got on a plane with my wife and spent some time in Europe over the summer. I say that because Workshop thrived in my absence, which proved that we had established something that people were starting to understand. It was no longer just this crazy idea I had, it was actually a strategic concept that had growth potential. That was a great moment.

20140924_forth-119And lastly, looking ahead, what are your plans for the future? Is there anything you want to accomplish in 2015?

There’s so much we want to see happen in 2015! We have a vision for facilitating even more types of gatherings and work sessions. We’d love for people to see Workshop as a hub for a certain type of connection, and become the best/first option for facilitating specific event types.

Also, we’ve had some folks reach out to get our insights on creating space and community-focused branding. We’d love to get better at sharing that, and to be able to offer something more concrete to help other brands connect to people. It certainly fits within our mission and focus.

Additionally, we want to grow in our collaborative content production. We want to utilize our skilled, creative friends at Workshop to help us produce innovative, thoughtful content simply because it would make the world a better, more human place.

Ultimately, we want Workshop’s footprint to be one that celebrates the challenges and triumphs of people and togetherness.

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With exposed brick, lots of natural light, quintessential views of the Chicago skyline and a supportive community filling the space, we think Workshop just may be the coolest place to co-work in Chicago. Check out Workshop’s website and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter to learn more. Thanks, Ben, for sharing your space with us!

Photos by Forth co-founder Kelly Allison and Carolina Mariana, where noted.

Yoga+ Comes to Chicago by Julie Schumacher

There are people who seem to be able to eek the most out of minutes, hours, days. Our intern Natalie is one of them. She's got a legit job. A social and travel calendar that makes this mid-thirties lady swoon, an internship with us that requires all her organizational wizardry, and a community-building mindset that means I've watched her bump into people she knows every time we've been together. And, she's got a slew of adorable sisters. See?Yoga Plus Chicago 7 Yoga+ is an innovative, make-the-most-of-it collaboration between Natalie and her sister Andrea. A vinyasa-style yoga class is offered along with a hands-on workshop in something fabulous (the list they showed me? Amazing). And, their first workshop is being offered at one of my favorite places, Workshop, on June 21st with Larkspur, a beloved Chicago flower shop. Let's get to know Yoga+.

A Progressive Yoga Class Takes Shape

Andrea got her teaching certification while living in New York City. When she moved back to Chicago last August, a travel schedule for work make it tough to get plugged into a local studio right away. She looked to Natalie to gather friends for a bi-weekly Sunday afternoon apartment yoga class. If you've met Natalie, you won't be surprised to know she can rally the troops. Rotating between participants' apartments, it was a great way to grow in a yoga practice in an informal setting that encouraged asking questions and trying out new postures.

At some point this past winter the Ladies Pavela dreamt about taking these yoga classes out of the apartment and into other fun spaces around the city. Eager to learn and grow, they thought they’d try their hand at hosting yoga + educational and interactive workshops with some favorite Chicago businesses and subject matter experts.

Can yoga impact our ability to learn or try new things? Is there something magically zen about yoga that opens people up to a new experience? Anrdrea: Absolutely – the thing I love about the physical practice of yoga is that it provides a safe space to do just that – try new things, fall over, and ultimately learn how your mind and body respond in the presence of challenges, fear, frustration, progress and success! My personal yoga practice promotes a sense of empowerment, positivity, and receptiveness to new opportunities.

I benefitted from yoga teacher trainings largely because of the community cultivated in the process. The community was tight knit after all the the time spent learning, discussing, laughing, & eating after our daily physical yoga practice. Through this workshop series, my hope is to recreate that environment.

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What are you looking for when you plan workshops? Natalie: It’s important for us to create events and select workshop partners that resonate with our core mission. We value the following: 1) introduction to new and unique skills, 2) connecting with and learning about local Chicago businesses, 3) building community, and 4) promote well being.

When keeping these things central, we seek out partners that are also community focused and enjoy connecting firsthand with the consumer - encouraging questions and providing a face to the business. We want our workshops to be interactive and fun, and look for personalities and companies with a product, service, or skillset that we are eager to learn more about. Overtime it will be interesting to see what types of workshops resonate most strongly with our core audience.

Are the yoga classes inspired by the workshops? Andrea: Yes! The sequences and focus of each class will be inspired by an aspect of the workshop, partner, or space. For example, our floral arrangement class may focus on postures that challenge your balance, encourage rooting into a foundation to rise, and inspire creative expression, while our pasta making class may have a focus on postures that stimulate metabolism and promote nurturing self-care.

Some aspects will definitely remain the same from workshop to workshop – all will be 60 minutes in duration with an emphasis on alignment, the breath, and hands-on adjustments. All classes will conclude with a refreshing infused washcloth to cool down before transitioning into our educational workshop portion of the event. It is impossible to know the background and expectations of each of your students that walk in the door. The best thing I believe I can do is to teach what resonates with me in my own personal style and encourage each individual to make the practice their own. For Yoga+ event classes, I will focus on the basics, offer options to accommodate varying levels, and work to clearly guide my students through safe transitions and alignment. (note: Andrea also offers private classes custom tailored to students' experience and goals.)

What makes a great venue? Natalie: I’m always dazzled by a space with loads of natural light, neutral colors, natural elements, sparse decorations and a blank slate, but an open open floor plan is a must. The space needs to allow enough room for each of our participants to comfortably spread out during the yoga class. Transitional spaces are also key as we move from the open floor for yoga to bringing in tables and seating for the workshop portion of each event.

Ideally, we’d love it if our workshop partner to have enough space to host the event within their shop (i.e. we’re using Sepia’s private dining space for the pasta making demo), but when that’s not an option, we enjoy bringing on an additional cool venue partner, as is the case with Workshop Chicago for our upcoming Floral arrangement class with Larkspur.

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What’s the benefit for local businesses who collaborate with Yoga+? Natalie: We’re tapping into a diverse group of Chicago yogis who are eager to connect with their community, learn about local businesses, and gain a new skill. We highlight our workshop partners in our ‘Behind the Brand’ blog series, and promote the event and partner through social media prior to, during, and after the event.

Our goal is to connect Chicagoans with some of the coolest businesses/places in our city and give a face to the brand, which hopefully encourages future patronage.

Let's talk dream workshops. Andrea & Natalie: There are SO many workshops we want to put on and we're very interested to discover what our participants and followers want to learn about as well! We like to think seasonally, and would love to utilize outdoor spaces while the weather’s nice (rooftop, park, etc.), and incorporate workshops that can be useful for gift giving or party hosting during the winter the holiday season. We’re already talking about taking Yoga+ on the road, hosting one-time workshops in other awesome cities where we already have friends that are local experts - Seattle, Dallas, Santa Monica, Denver, San Francisco, and more!

I begged for a sneak peek at their dream list. Here are just a few of the options they showed me:

Forth Spoiler Alert: Our fall salon will focus on passion projects. How do you two do it all and fit it all in? Andrea: It’s all in the name – passion! If it’s something you love or are excited about, it is easy to make time for it. I find it rewarding to put time and energy into growing something outside of work and  my social life; developing entrepreneurial skills and cultivating the community we want our workshop participants to benefit from. Advice: celebrate small wins, set realistic expectations, and work hard to develop positive, collaborative working relationships.

Natalie: I second Andrea, we are both passionate about yoga, leading a healthy + active lifestyle, exploring Chicago and connecting with our community. This passion project feels like an extension of something I’d already be doing, so it doesn’t always feel like work! I love having Yoga+ as a platform that allows us to grab the attention of awesome Chicago businesses we’d already be frequenting, opening up a path for conversation around event partnership and collaboration. I love fostering communities and hope we can tap into something special by bringing together individuals with similar interests for unique and special weekend events. I studied entrepreneurship in college and am feeling alive in this opportunity to fully execute my entrepreneurial muscles! Having my sister as a business partner is such a fun new extension of our existing relationship - we’re learning as we go, and it’s been wonderful to see how truly unique we are (even as sisters), as our different skill sets compliment each other well in this partnership.

Bust out your yoga mats and get ready to smell the flowers. Tickets to their first event, an awesome floral workshop with Larkspur, are available now. Na.ma.ste

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Fabulous photography courtesy of Carolina Mariana.