Coworking spaces, such as WeWork, are better known for bros and beer than for diversity, intellectual inquiry, and social good. That’s a real problem, in the eyes of John Borthwick, founder and CEO of betaworks, an early-stage investment firm known for incubating companies like Giphy and Chartbeat. So Borthwick is opening a network of collaboration spaces, dubbed Studios, with the intention of intermingling tech-oriented academics, creatives, and entrepreneurs.
“There’s a screaming need for this,” he says. “This is about bringing together people across disciplines. Technology is changing every aspect of society, but a lot of technology is still being built in what I would describe as a one-dimensional way.” With Studios, set to open its first location this spring in New York’s Meatpacking District, he hopes to encourage member “builders” to humanize and contextualize their work.
In practice, Studios will function less like a coworking office and more like a social club-cum-salon. Most notably, there will be no desks in the first Studio, and only a handful of private meeting rooms. Activity will instead be oriented around a flexible lounge outfitted with meeting booths and other casual seating. On-site concierges (and software) will introduce members with shared interests.
“It’s a space you come to for a meeting, to connect with other builders, to attend an event and learn about frontier technology,” Borthwick says.
He has installed Daphne Kwon, previously the CFO of companies including Goop and Oxygen Media, at the helm of the Studios business. One of Kwon’s first tasks will be to select Studios’s 10,000 founding members. “At a coworking space, it’s [anyone] who buys a desk,” she says. Studios, in contrast, will seek out builders “who are focused on the technology community, on building better products, on the humanization of technology.”
Members will pay $2,400 per year, or $225 per month. Already, Kwon is thinking beyond New York to other markets. “We intend to create this national network of builders, leveling up and making each other stronger,” she says. “The larger ambition is [to do the same] globally.”
After establishing Studios in New York, she plans to explore locations in non-coastal U.S. cities where technology hubs are growing. Some have startup centers, like Chicago’s 1871, but many are underserved.
In New York, at least, Studios will have competition of sorts—right down the block. Soho House operates a Meatpacking District location, in addition to 17 other clubs. Annual membership, with access to all 18 Soho House locations, costs $3,200.