Sunday, January 3, 2010

Co-working Trend Gaining Momentum for Social Entrepreneurs

One of the hottest social enterprise trends of the past year – and one of the top trends expected to continue well into 2010 and beyond – is co-working. Wikipedia defines co-working as “an emerging trend for a new pattern of working.” Social entrepreneurs are increasingly trading in their isolated, work-at-home environments for coworking – what Wikipedia calls “a social gathering of a group of people, who are still working independently, but who share values and who are interested in the synergy that can happen from working with talented people in the same space.” Trendwatchers in the social enterprise space predict that co-working will continue to gain popularity among social entrepreneurs in 2010, thanks largely to the still-flat economy, in which startup budgets will remain tight.

But co-working isn’t just about saving money. Unlike business incubators, co-working environments focus on community – and social good -- rather than profit. According to Heather Fleming, the CEO of Catapult Design, which operates out of Mission*Social, the co-working space in San Francisco provides each conference room with monitors, speakers and Web cams that are rigged to the walls for frequent international video Skye calls. Additionally, she says, “most of the IKEA furnishings in the space are perched on wheels to make changes fast and easy.” But most significantly, Fleming wrote in a recent bog post for PopTech, “the solidarity component (of co-working) also plays a valuable role in space serving social entrepreneurs…I now get to sit next to two successful female CEOs running technology organizations.”

And there are other pluses, Fleming says. “Co-hosting Catapult’s holiday party with the immensely popular SamaSource (which also co-works at Mission*Social) fueled the expansion of our social circle,” Fleming said. “And naturally, being in proximity of 20 feet with Inveneo has already resulted in a joint proposal on a new project.”

Co-working emerged in 2005, publicized by tech engineer Brad Newberg to describe a physical space. Newberg organized a co-working site called the Hat Factory in San Francisco, a live-work loft that was home to three technology workers and open to others during the day. To this day, Hat Factory charges $10 per day or $175 per month for a desk, standard office amenities and access to a shared kitchen, private meeting room and a lounge. Today, there are hundreds of co-working sites available in urban settings around the world: co-working spaces now exist in Britain, Argentina and Australia, as well as in the U.S. – chiefly in San Francisco and New York. The global Hub network is expected to continue to grow next year and has begun to experiment with seed funding collaborations and startup-incubation that relies on co-working communities.

In New York, co-working groups include Spark Space, The Hive at 55 and New Work City, where full-time, part-time, and drop-in memberships as well as workshops and events can be held.

Another co-location hot spot is San Francisco’s South of Market (SoMa) area, a place where some of the most affordable office spaces are located for social entrepreneurs operating on tight budgets. This area of the city has long served as a kind of start-up haven; the trend continues. Among those social entrepreneurs housed in this area are Public Architecture and blueEnergy Group, which provides sustainable energy to marginalized communities. The city has a second co-location area in the building at 972 Mission, called Mission*Social, a co-working space also aimed at social entrepreneurs working in San Francisco. Founded by Inveneo, the space is stocked with groups that include SamaSource and which serve communities in Rwanda, Guatemala, India, the DRC, Zambia, Kenya and other areas in the developing world.

Interested in co-working? The site of the upcoming TEDxSoMa
will be in a popular South of Market co-working space, ParisSoma. Or join the co-working Google Group, and the LinkedIn group on co-working.

If you’re already in a co-working arrangement for social entrepreneurs, let us hear from you on how goes the experience.

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