Suburban-focused coworking firm plans expansion to 30 facilities

A coworking company that has provided shared office space since long before the concept had a well-known name is planning an expansion of up to 30 facilities in the suburbs.

Office Evolution, based in Boulder, Colorado, hopes to grow its network of four shared office centers in the suburbs by attracting new franchisees to open sites in places other than Lisle, Naperville, Hoffman Estates and the Rosemont/Chicago border.

Founder and CEO Mark Hemmeter says suburban entrepreneurs who run their own businesses such as law offices, accounting firms, coaching practices or consulting services are the market Office Evolution targets.

"We're really focused on the suburbs," he said. "And the suburbs are somewhat ignored."

In the coworking or shared office market, Hemmeter said it's easy to find a place to snag a desk for the day or rent an office for a month - in Chicago, that is. But in the suburbs - although the coworking market has expanded during the past five years, coinciding with the growth of ride-sharing and homesharing services - he said options are more limited.

With 16 years in the industry, Hemmeter said Office Evolution wants to offer more sites in the region where business people who work alone or with small teams can secure space with all office amenities included and less hassle than a typical 5-year lease.

"Entrepreneurs and small business owners are very savvy, and they need flexible places to work," Hemmeter said. "They don't want to make long-term commitments."

Franchisees Joshua and Ashley Shi recognized the need in Lisle and Naperville for workplaces less distracting than home, more professional than Starbucks and more private than the library.

For prices between $169 and $1,200 a month, depending on services and space needed, businesspeople can gain access to a desk or furnished office with a phone number, receptionist, Wi-Fi, printer, fax machine and kitchen at 650 Warrenville Road, Suite 100 in Lisle or 1755 Park St., Suite 200 in Naperville. In Lisle, the package comes with an on-site gym membership, too.

"We take care of everything for you so you can run your business," Joshua Shi said.

Inside 8,000 square feet in Lisle, for example, Office Evolution offers 27 offices, two conference rooms and access to a training room. Using these offices are CPAs, attorneys, scientists, movie producers and nonprofit organizations.

Shi, who has a background in cybersecurity, said he sees himself as "a matchmaker for businesses," not a landlord.

He's helped entrepreneurs connect with other Office Evolution coworking members or his own contacts when they've needed services in the legal, accounting, web design or data science fields.

Joshua's wife, Ashley Shi, is a classical piano teacher who says clients also appreciate the ability to separate their work and home lives.

"This definitely helps them to create that balance," she said.

The Shis say they are considering opening more Office Evolution sites in DuPage or Will County, possibly in Oak Brook or Joliet. Hemmeter said the company is recruiting more franchisees, with details available at

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  Naveen Chathappuram of Naperville uses his office at the Office Evolution coworking center in Lisle. Chathappuram, with Immortal Thoughts Film Production, said he uses the office as a convenient place to start work on his next film. Bev Horne/
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