The Gist

TechBrewery provides a business incubator in a shared-desk space environment to a community of local technologists, entrepreneurs, and startups.



Dug Song had already piloted several successful startups and wanted to help other tech entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground. He thought Ann Arbor needed an innovative and supportive community space in which tech startups could thrive. Teaming up with Northern Brewery owner Doug Smith, the two worked together with the aim of creating TechBrewery, a hub in which local tech entrepreneurs could congregate to build their businesses.


AnnArbor-TechBrewery-exterior-300x200When an existing tenant downsized and found itself unable to make use of its office space in Ann Arbor’s historic Northern Brewery, Dug Song and Northern Brewery owner Doug Smith teamed up to repurpose the space. In 2009, TechBrewery was born. TechBrewery encourages entrepreneurship and innovation in Ann Arbor by offering a shared-desk space environment in which people can build their own companies, develop their own technology, or work remotely from a far-removed office. TechBrewery offers shared or dedicated desk rentals at monthly rates, flexible for the changing needs of startups. While some occupants stay for five months, others have stayed for five years and remained a part of TechBrewery’s relaxed and supportive community-based environment.


  • Startups begun at the TechBrewery have secured over $100,000,000 in investment
  • Currently houses over 20 startups and up-and-coming businesses
  • Roughly 50 start-ups have moved through TechBrewery, many of whom have outgrown their space in TechBrewery yet remain headquartered in the state of Michigan


TechBrewery was founded as a direct result of the cooperation between entrepreneur Dug Song, and Northern Brewery building owner Doug Smith. Today, TechBrewery serves as home base mainly to local technologists, but also to emerging start-ups and other individuals from various occupations seeking to work in a collaborative environment. It also serves as an important segment of Ann Arbor’s highly interconnected tech community, along with organizations like a2geeks, Ignite Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire, and A2 New Tech Meetup. TechBrewery shares the Northern Brewery building with various other tenants, including some TechBrewery alumni whose businesses outgrew their original desk space.


After an existing tenant pulled out of their space in the Northern Brewery building, TechBrewery moved into the space as an alternative tenant and immediately took responsibility for covering the space’s rent and acquiring/selling the associated furniture. When there is a community need for things like printers or coffee makers, desk occupants can choose to pitch in and cover the cost of the item. Individual startups and entrepreneurs assume the obligation of covering their own desk supplies and other business costs.


The shared-desk format allows TechBrewery to provide for their budget solely through the accumulation of funds accrued through desk rental fees. Technologists, entrepreneurs, and startups can reserve a shared desk for $75 per month, a dedicated desk for $225 per month, or multiple dedicated desks starting at $200 per month. This arrangement allows TechBrewery to aggregately cover its rent, and gives desk tenants the flexibility necessary to manage growing and dynamic startups in a shared space.


  • Gauge demand - Take time to gauge whether your municipality has a demand for shared-desk tech space. Analyze and reach out to the tech community through meet-ups, conferences, or university centers to gather interest and drum up support.
  • Look at existing models – As shared-desk spaces and incubators are common in larger municipalities, take note of spaces that already may be in existence near you and consider what aspect or angle of your potential space would set it apart. TechBrewery, for example, provides a laid-back, community atmosphere and caters specifically to a tech-oriented crowd (though they’ve housed people from a wide range of occupations).
  • Find a space and estimate costs - Find an open space well-suited to the collaborative atmosphere fostered by shared-desk environments. Work with the landlord to estimate aggregate monthly costs, as well as any initial costs that may be incurred in terms of any necessary refurbishment or outfitting the space with the requisite furniture. This will help determine the rate at which you lease your desk space.
  • Fill and use your space - Market the new space to the entrepreneurial community in your locality, and network with recent graduates, college students, local media, and residential developments that frequently house young professionals. Most importantly, cultivate a sense of camaraderie among tenants that will ensure a long-term community of current occupants and alumni of the space. 

Lessons Learned

Building owner Doug Smith emphasized the importance of understanding and adapting to the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of tech start-ups. As compared to a typical long-term tenant, the startups that TechBrewery houses can grow and shrink with great unpredictability. As a result, Tech Brewery tends to fluctuate between low occupancy points and wait-list points. Despite initial unease with this somewhat unorthodox arrangement, Smith indicates that the experience has been personally fulfilling and great for Northern Brewery. He indicated that more than half of the building is filled with groups that started out at TechBrewery.

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Contact the Experts

Emails to [email protected] reach both Doug Smith, Building Owner and Scott Gocci, TechBrewery Community Leader

External Research

Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces, Harvard Business Review