Coworking space aims to grow technology sector
In a downtown Bakersfield office building, computer screens engrossed a dozen bona fide techies one recent Friday. Occasionally someone paused and asked a neighbor a question, but for the most part the only sound was the clicking of keyboards, or a chair scooting so its occupant could grab a cookie from a table.
The men and women working so intently were not classmates or co-workers, at least not in the traditional sense. All were employees of separate companies or self-employed contractors, but they chose — indeed, paid — to work in the communal space for the super fast Internet connection and the community.
The 420-square-foot space directly above Dagny’s coffee house opened last month after a chance encounter on the Internet. A woman who was traveling to Bakersfield for work last year went online to ask whether there was a coworking location in town. Two local men responded, no, but there should be.
Scott Burton, 41, and Tabari Brannon, 33, weren’t content to leave it at that. They exchanged phone numbers and started asking around. Burton, a longtime telecommuter who did programming and software development work, had extensive contacts in Bakersfield’s small but growing technology scene. Brannon, a hospital chaplain, knew people, too, through side work as a freelance web and graphic designer.
Everyone they spoke with loved the idea, including application developer Devin Mershon, 30, who prefers Mesh to working at home in Rosedale.
“It’s gorgeous here. I have a desk with a view and a coffee shop downstairs. I’m walking distance from all the downtown restaurants. What’s not to like?” said Mershon.
There is a whole menu of rental fees, from $199 a month for a permanent desk to an hourly rate of $1.50.
Web designer Gina Strickland, 28, of Bakersfield, drops in when she tires of working at home in isolation. “It’s a nice break from that, the community here,” she said. “We often discuss what we’re working on. If you’re having a problem with some code, there’s somebody to troubleshoot it with. I learn something new almost every time I come in.”
The camaraderie is worth every penny Mershon pays for his permanent desk, he said. “Being surrounded by intelligent, like-minded people, that’s phenomenal,” Mershon said. “Even if you’re working a 9-to-5 job, you don’t get that, necessarily. You don’t get to pick your co-workers.”
MESH co-owner Brannon, who is an aspiring entrepreneur, said he’d like to see the relationships built at Mesh nurture home-grown businesses. “That’s one thing Bakersfield’s entrepreneurship community was lacking, a consistent meeting place where we would network,” he said.
Partner Burton supports that because he wants the local economy to diversify beyond its heavy reliance on oil and agriculture.
“It would be nice if there was someplace for people who want to stay in Bakersfield to go instead of having to leave town as soon as they get their computer science degrees,” he said. “We’re brand new, but we’re already getting some critical mass. Sometimes projects just walk in the door because people know there’s a room full of expertise here.”
And this is just the beginning. Mesh is in the process of putting together coding classes for adults and children. “It will be really simple, basic stuff,” he said. “We want to create opportunities to do technology here in Bakersfield. We want everyone to learn.”
MESH cowork is located at 2005 Eye St., above Dagny’s.
For information, call (661) 769-MESH or log onto meshcowork.com.