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Coworking community: How a two-year-old Port Coquitlam business started during COVID-19 — and thrived

Many were stuck at home during the pandemic, but Fountainhead Networking provided a safe space for business and media professionals to keep serving local residents.

It just made sense.

When Mike Arboit, his wife, Erin Scarlett, and mother-in-law, Roberta Scarlett, realized there was no "niche" working space for Tri-Cities business professionals, they wanted to do something about it.

And the rest was history after they came across — and purchased — a 7,000 sq-ft. open office space on the second floor of a Port Coquitlam building (204-3242 Westwood St.) in early 2020, right before COVID-19 forced businesses to either shut down or alter its safety protocols.

Fast forward two years last Friday (Sept. 16), the Fountainhead Network Coworking and Media Space celebrated its pandemic survival and how it continued to offer a safe facility for media and independent entrepreneurs to get work done.

Arboit explained hundreds of people from across different industries in the region have utilized Fountainhead's open office area with desks 55 inches apart, media studios, workshop classrooms and board rooms.

But the one common trait among all of them is their willingness to serve the community.

"There's other co-working spaces, but I would almost call them more like office leasing. Coworking was a lot to do with being like a community," he said in an interview with the Tri-City News.

Arboit, who grew up in Coquitlam, explained he was confined to his basement or commuted to downtown Vancouver to do his job after completing school for music production.

"We wanted to build a community....people that kind of work together. Whether it be just trade offs, or just a lot of startups, a lot of people don't have the money to go and spend ridiculous amounts of money on marketing or stuff. A lot of other co-working spaces don't have our family vibe, too. We didn't see anything like this anywhere. We wanted something locally so people didn't have to go downtown for everything anymore."

Just as business was about to take-off, which included obtaining a membership with the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce, COVID-19 began to spread across Metro Vancouver and most of B.C.

The start was slow, according to Arboit, as the facility's cafeteria/arcade/music space was under-utilized when events and gatherings were put on hold or required certain restrictions.

He added he and Scarlett wanted to offer an option for community members to host meetings, panels and celebrations — much like their two-year anniversary party on Friday — but that opportunity went out the window during the pandemic.

As a result, the two had to put their faith in the community and the word of others to make their space known, which is still spacious to maintain safe distances and still develop a positive working environment for all.

"If you can beat the last two years, I think you're bound to definitely succeed after it. That's kind of what our whole feeling towards this has been," Arboit added.

"It's been super stressful, a lot of sacrifices, but the confidence in the business model, and just the business itself, kind of carried us through knowing that like, whenever this thing might end, it's still not completely done. But it's like, whenever it ends, we know we can succeed."

So what's next for Fountainhead?

More events and possible expansion, of course, but Arboit said he and Scarlett are set on one goal for the time-being.

And that's continuing to provide a hotspot workspace for the community, regardless of culture, background or political ideology.

"Just a space where a community can come together, voice whatever they want to voice; it's very open [and] that way, we really keen on just people working together. It's our biggest thing. We need them to work together," he said.

"There's been a lot of hostility in the world the last couple of years. We've seen here [that] it's been a place where a lot of people can kind of put that behind them and not even think about it and just get along with people. There's people with multiple different backgrounds here....they get along. It's been very uplifting."

Fountainhead Network currently has more than 150 full-time members, as of this publication (Sept. 19), and is open 24/7.

It hosted a soft opening in June 2020 with help Coworking BC Community Collective.

For more information, you can visit the Port Coquitlam media space's website