Adam Bergman has been a real estate investor for about 10 years. He found the process of buying and selling homes outdated, so he started a company to modernize it.
Bergman began to work on a financial technology smartphone application – one that would streamline the process of becoming pre-approved for a loan. There was just one problem: he isn’t what he considers a “tech guy.” After venturing outside the state for assistance, he turned to The 701, a downtown Grand Forks co-working space for entrepreneurs, freelancers and collaborators.
“I started off by working with a company out of South Carolina, that I was outsourcing this to,” said Bergman. “While that was going on, I became aware of The 701 and got a membership here hoping that this would allow me to network and meet people that were in this world.”
He enjoys working in a collaborative environment, which he says is in contrast to his previous experiences.
“‘I’ve worked in businesses before where you're in a silo while you're working, you're working on your own,” said Bergman. “I enjoy the fact that people in other industries are trying to achieve goals similar to mine, and the resources that we use definitely cross over with one another.”
The 701 opened in early 2017, and is operated by the local nonprofit Evolve Grand Forks, which boosts the local business and entrepreneurship. The group’s website offers workers a wide range of options, from a day pass to their own dedicated desk, plus options to reserve meeting spaces.
"Whether you work for your own startup company or an established corporation, the way you work is changing, period,” said Brandon Baumbach, who heads Evolve Grand Forks’ board. “If you want to pursue that start-up and you need to hire someone in the tech space, or some other, you don't need to go to Seattle to do it. You can do it right here in Grand Forks."
The 701’s mission is especially notable in light of Grand Forks’ struggles to grow its workforce. The city’s civilian labor force, as of October, roughly matches levels the city saw in 2012, 2005 and even before 1997, according to federal data. UND economist David Flynn said in December that the city is “running to stand still.”
According to Baumbach, there are more than 70 current paid memberships at The 701, a number of which are via corporate deals with UND and the city of Grand Forks. The operation has been supported by six figures’ worth of grants and sponsorships, from the local economic development corporation, the Knight Foundation and more.
Baumbach calls them “sponsors and grantors.” Among them:
- Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, which provided $25,000 in 2016.
- The Knight Foundation, which provided $115,000 between 2016, 2017, and 2018.
- Bremer Bank, which provided $12,000 in 2016.
- JLG Architects, which provided $5,000 in 2016.
- Wells Fargo, which provided $2,000 in 2016.
- Midco, which provides fiber internet (approximately a $2,400 value annually).
- US Bank, which provided $2,500 in 2018.
- Myra Foundation, which provided $2,000 in 2019.
The 701 came out approximately $50,000 ahead in 2018, but Baumbach expects a $10,000 deficit when 2019 numbers are closed, despite a growth in coworkers.
“It is a model we are still figuring out ourselves,” he said. “Our organization relies on community support and I think those numbers show that. … It truly takes a village to grow a culture of entrepreneurship.”
And while The 701 is expecting a deficit during the 2019 calendar year, Baumbach said he’s optimistic about the future.
“We do have a strong future ahead with this model of operating a social entrepreneurial nonprofit, especially as now (three years in) we are seeing companies grow from within and move out into the marketplace,” Baumbach wrote in an email.
And proponents of The 701 see the place as a key way to boost the local economy. Not only does it aim to make the process of starting a business easier – with office space, internet wifi and amenities – but it lets the spouse of someone hired into Grand Forks maybe keep a remote working job.
That’s a potentially important edge for Grand Forks’ employee appeal as coworking spaces like The 701 grow increasingly popular. And, as businesses increasingly rely on “gig work,” or independent contractors, spaces for self-employed workers like The 701 are increasingly poised to meet a demand. According to a report from the ADP Research Institute, the nationwide share of gig workers grew 15% between 2010 and 2019.
Meanwhile, The 701 is a petri dish of sorts for innovative and potentially impactful businesses.
For example, Josh Riedy launched his company in Grand Forks, grew it in Grand Forks, and still operates it here. But Riedy’s business – Airtonomy, a drone tech startup – found its footing at “The 701,” where entrepreneurs are meeting, collaborating and finding their way forward.
“When you start a business, you seek out a sense of community, and that was what The 701 provided, is a sense of community and belonging,” Riedy said. “It's kind of the tip of the spear, as far as being an entrepreneur in Grand Forks and the services that go along with that.”
Keith Lund, CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, sees good things in The 701’s future.
“Having spaces at which people can have access to critical business infrastructure, but be able to work at their highest and best value, is a trend that's growing and will likely continue,” said Lund, who was an early board member for Evolve Grand Forks. “...Technology is a great equalizer. You can do anything from anywhere today.”