I’m sitting at a long, narrow desk, its glossy black surface empty except for my laptop. The word processing program is open to a blank page, cursor blinking expectantly. In front of me is a wall of glass, framing a view of the Fraser River, serene and majestic beside the hustle and bustle of the market, docks, and railroad tracks. Around me are a handful of other people, quietly busy at their own desks. It’s the writing space I’ve always wanted: free from clutter and distractions, calm yet stimulating, with a great view. And it’s mine anytime I need it, for the bargain price of $5 an hour.
The Early Days Of The Network Hub
When Jay Catalan was looking for workspace for his own start-up, he never dreamed that he would be sharing it with so many other entrepreneurs and freelancers, pioneering the practice of co-working in Vancouver. Born in the Philippines and raised in Vancouver, Catalan ran a website development business together with John and Minna Van, fellow students at the University of British Columbia (UBC).
What’s interesting and exciting is, even if we are working on our own projects, we are still able to bounce ideas off each other
In the summer of 2006, Minna Van got a tip from a friend about an old building in Gastown. Catalan recalls seeing it for the first time; they had to get up to the third floor of the building, and the stairs were almost non-existent.
“We did everything ourselves: the cleaning, the painting,” explains Catalan about the dire state of their new office. “I heard of a good deal on flooring in Abbotsford, so I drove out there to get it.”
The Network Hub opened its doors in August 2006. Today, no indication of that earlier chaos remains. You walk up two flights of grey, carpeted stairs and into a large, bright space that feels more like someone’s living room or loft studio than a reception area.
The People Who Occupy The Space
The space now operates at full capacity and is used by a variety of professionals from different fields.
“We have people who do gaming, communications, software, marketing, accounting,” Catalan reports. “What’s interesting and exciting is, even if we are working on our own projects, we are still able to bounce ideas off each other.”
Andy Kuiper is a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Analyst, and has been a member of The Network Hub for over a year.
“I was working out of my home when someone told me about The Network Hub,” Kuiper says. “I really liked the idea of being able to work independently in a shared space.”
DJ Emiko, another member, values The Network Hub because of its freedom from distractions.
“I have an office and studio at home, and it’s so easy to spend hours and hours listening to music and compiling playlists. But once in a while I do need to pay the bills,” she says with a laugh. “So I come in once a week to attend to the administrative side of my business.”
How Does The Network Hub Stand Apart From The Rest?
The Network Hub is now the longest-surviving co-working space in Vancouver. In addition to providing work and meeting space, it hosts events such as last year’s Hack-A-Thon. The event challenged members of the hacker community to develop new software over a 48-hour period. The space also hosts activities organized by Tulayan, a group dedicated to making Filipino arts and culture more accessible to young Filipino-Canadians, of which Catalan is a co-founder.
In the fall of 2011, The Network Hub reached the next stage of expansion when it came to New Westminster at the invitation of Mayor Wayne Wright, as part of his bid to revitalize British Columbia’s former capital city. An offer from developer Mark Shieh to open up shop at the newly revamped River Market clinched the deal.
Shieh is the founder and director of Take Root, a company specializing in urban development and property management projects such as the redevelopment of the New Westminster River Market. He believes real estate ventures can—and should—be an instrument for positive social change rather than just profit.
Catalan says that Shieh’s philosophy meshes well with The Hub’s emphasis on community building and lifelong learning.
On my way in to work at The Hub at River Market, I walk up the stairs and cross the pedestrian bridge over Front Street. The river flows before me; the world’s tallest tin soldier stands guard. At the second-floor entrance I pause, where the words “Be hungry, be curious” are etched across the doors. For today’s creative freelancers and entrepreneurs, it’s a good motto to have. It’s a good place to be.