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Workbar, in deal with investors from Japan, looks to expand in US

Workbar has opened spaces inside Staples stores in a bid to expand its reach.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File

Workbar is working on some big plans.

The co-working firm has signed an investment deal with a Japanese real estate firm with plans to expand its footprint in the Boston area, launch in a second US city, and, perhaps, grow overseas.

The Boston company on Monday is expected to announce a “strategic investment” with Apamanshop Holdings, a Japanese firm that owns several co-working operators in that country. The size of the investment was not disclosed, but Workbar cofounder and chief executive Bill Jacobson said Apamanshop is not taking a majority stake in the privately held company.

“We’ve been building a model in Boston. It’s working,” Jacobson said. “And we decided it’s time to accelerate our growth.”


Since launching in 2009, Workbar has grown to seven locations throughout Greater Boston, with an eighth set to open by year’s end at 399 Boylston St. in the Back Bay. It partners with 11 more co-working sites, as far afield as Pawtucket, R.I., and Amherst, to offer a sort of “hub-and-spoke” system for people whose work takes them all over the region.

“People have friends and business associates all over the place,” Jacobson said. “We want a set of locations that’s married to that.”

But that requires a certain critical mass to make it practical for users — Jacobson said Workbar is about halfway to what he believes is its ideal size in Boston.

It’s also scouting a second US city in which to expand, though no decision has been made on where. With Apamanshop, Workbar plans to develop technology and systems that can apply across countries and their corporate cultures, with an eye to perhaps opening locations overseas.

“This is a global phenomenon,” Jacobson said. “We want to look at our hub-and-spoke model and apply it to other countries.”

Co-working spaces — where individuals or small companies rent desks and modest spaces on monthly contracts that are far more flexible than the typical 10-year office lease — have boomed in Boston in recent years, with dozens of small operators popping up around the region.


Workbar is one of the biggest local operations and has partnered with Staples on several locations. Industry giant WeWork also continues to add sites, chiefly in Boston and Cambridge, and is increasingly targeting larger corporate clients, such as Liberty Mutual and Amazon, who want to give their employees the chance to interact with startups and freelancers.

There’s money flowing into the industry. In August, Japan’s SoftBank announced a $4.4 billion investment in WeWork to finance expansions in China and Japan, giving WeWork an estimated value of $20 billion. Workbar isn’t close to being that big, Jacobson acknowledged, but Apamanshop’s investment will give it the needed capital to keep growing, and a valuable partner whose co-working operation — known as Fabbit — plays a key role in the startup world in Japan.

“We saw a great fit with our focus on Japanese entrepreneurs and startup companies who need a supportive working environment to do their best work,” said Apamanshop chief executive Koji Omura, in a statement. “Workbar and Fabbit, through close collaboration, will bring exciting opportunities to the startup ecosystem worldwide.”

Tim Logan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @bytimlogan.