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Ruffwear President Will Blount wants to do more for the outdoor industry besides create dog gear. Blount is making the Oregon-based company a hub for innovation for others in the industry by creating a shared working space. Blount shares more about what sparked this decision and what he hopes the space achieves:
Q: Tell me about the co-working space. What’s the motivation for it?
This co-working space is really a dream of ours. We consider it an incubator space targeted towards those who share our values around the outdoors. We’re going to be remodeling our present building, and nearly 25 percent of the space will be common areas where organic interactions can take place. We’re envisioning flexible options for work – whether it’s rolling up your sleeves at a desk, scheduling a private room for a big meeting, tinkering in the sewing room with samples, or heading down with your laptop to the cafe space.
Ruffwear will be a founding member of the co-working space. We’re at a point where we need more workspace, but we see incorporating the co-working space as an opportunity to do more than just a building remodel. Workplaces are evolving, and two decades ago Ruffwear was that entrepreneurial startup. The co-working space is a chance to expose Ruffwear pack members to new ideas, bring overhead down for small businesses and freelancers, share what we’ve learned with up-and-coming companies, cultivate creativity and build a community.
We also believe the time is right for such a project. Ruffwear is located in Bend, Oregon, in the center of amazing mountains, deserts and rivers, which have helped draw talent to the region and grow the outdoor industry here. Today, Bend is home to the first outdoor industry-focused accelerator in the U.S., Bend Outdoor Worx; and a funding conference, Venture Out, exclusively for outdoor companies; as well as the Oregon Outdoor Alliance and a just-starting-up outdoor product design program at the Bend branch of Oregon State University, OSU-Cascades. It’s really a time of excitement and opportunity.
Q: What type of start-ups do you anticipate sharing space with?
We see the space as home to like-minded businesses, independents, startups and freelancers who will be able to network, share experiences and use only what they need in space and resources. The vision extends to inclusion of outdoor-oriented professionals ranging from creatives to conservation nonprofit organizations. There could also be product development and some light assembly happening here.
Q: What has been the reaction from other companies?
We’ve definitely received interest from small local companies who like the idea of flexible space and a collaborative atmosphere. Interestingly, U.S. Census Bureau data recently found that the greater Bend area now has the highest percentage of telecommuters in the workforce in the nation, surpassing Boulder. We believe there will be outdoor-oriented professionals among that pool who want this kind of space for connection and stimulation.
Q: How do you hope it benefits Ruffwear?
One of our long-term goals is to elevate team member performance. While Ruffwear is an international company now, we started over two decades ago as one fellow working in his garage on a great idea for a collapsible, waterproof dog bowl. We believe in a culture of innovation, and we hope the interactions in the space—the organic sharing of experiences and collision of ideas that proximity fosters—will benefit both Ruffwear and others.
Q: What do you want the vibe of the space to be?
We don’t have a name yet for the co-working space, but we do have our vision and tagline for it: Unleashing Creativity Through Community. We want this to be a community, not just office space.
Through educational talks, noon-hour mountain bike rides (Bend’s trail network is right outside our back door) or beers with friends at day’s end, we believe networking, sharing resources and conveying experiences make for engaging days—and this engagement makes all of us better at what we do best.
We’ll have a meeting space that we’ve already committed to offering up for use for organizations like Camber Outdoors. And we’re incorporating elements into the building that reflect our values: There will be lots of glass and natural light to create a feel of openness and transparency, and we’ll be using sustainable materials wherever possible to reflect our commitment to conservation. Together, we believe this community will help grow the outdoor industry in Central Oregon.