"This space is a "plus" for employment and for company creation in Agen and to re-dynamize the city center. It mobilizes dozens of volunteers who are personally committed to its development, for example by providing a table from home, or by renovating a piece of furniture picked up in a garage sale. I am providing my business and IT skills to equip the premises as well as possible."
Canti'net is a nonprofit created in April 2013 by three freelance women workers to implement a "coworking" project in the Lot-et-Garonne district.
What did you say? Coworking?
Coworking is spreading, in France and internationally. The idea is to enable freelance workers to break their isolation and to find a space for socializing, in a "third place" and via a network of coworkers. It corresponds to the upheaval in working practices provoked by the information and communication technologies and by the economic crisis that prompts many people to create their own jobs. A coworking space is above all a place for exchanges, meetings and experimentation, and an intense locus for mixing due to the multiplicity of profiles and careers of the users.
Regional and European financing arrangements are available for creating such places that stimulate local business activity and avoid back-and-forth travel, a source of pollution and stress. Many management models exist today, from "franchising", which functions as a conventional business, to "community", which demands strong engagement of the users, and including "cooperative" which associates leaders and coworkers in the projects, the life and the governance of the place.
Working at La Fontaine
Canti'net has picked the "cooperative" model and installed its coworking space, "La Fontaine" in downtown Agen. The idea is to contribute to a new organization of work and employment in a rural territory that is powerfully impacted by unemployment and impoverishment, by dynamizing "small" initiatives economically. It wants to assist the sustainable development of the territory by avoiding time-consuming and polluting travel and the isolation of work "at home" by improving the quality of life at work and by helping reconcile business and pleasure. The nonprofit encourages business development projects and collaboration between coworkers. The social dimension is important, as well as networking through entertaining and event-related activities. These resources enable the coworkers to develop their activity, by sharing skills and by working differently. This new way to work generates new knowledge and skills sharing services which enhance local economic development, and a new collaborative economy model.
Coworking is everyone's business
The typology of the coworkers is essentially that of the freelance or self-employed auto-entrepreneur (graphist, web designer, journalist, consultant, trainer, etc.). But "La Fontaine" also wants to accommodate salaried teleworkers suffering from isolation and seeking greater visibility. Besides, some consultants, agents and counselors occasionally need a private space to receive a prospect or a client. And the shared conference room could attract corporations or employers' associations for professional interviews with their staff, sales force or customers, or for product launches.
Canti'net seeks economic viability of the space and financial equilibrium (public/private/cash flow) by progressively reducing the public stake by 2016/2017. A development manager job has been created and the nonprofit anticipates a target of 200 uses (half-days in open space or leasing of offices or conference room) per month by end 2014.
Coworking in Agen, why not!
Besides the financial advances of its founders, Canti'net has obtained financing from the European Social Fund, that covers its first months of activity, and the backing of the Regional Council of Aquitaine, the City of Agen and the General Council of the Lot- et-Garonne, who are joined by the Veolia Foundation to furnish the space and to equip it with IT hardware.