Ariel Lev

Coworking’s Impact on Nonprofit Start-ups

T he word entrepreneur may relate to one’s status as a business owner or describe a type of person. In most cases, “entrepreneurs” have started for- profit organizations. Recently, social entrepreneur has described those starting organizations that are mission-oriented over profit- oriented. According to Stanford Social Innovation Review, this ambiguous term is used to describe all manner of socially- aimed activity. Traditional 501(c)(3) nonprofit start-ups are often overlooked, due to the belief that their plight is unique and their needs and concerns are somehow separate. This has impacted coworking. When the Grandin CoLab (a large coworking space and event venue in Roanoke, Virginia) opened in April 2014, the target membership demographic included tech start-ups, budding entrepreneurs and small business owners, but now 15 of the more than 75 members started, direct or work for nonprofit organizations. Differences between for and nonprofit organizations exist within their disparate missions, but money, marketing and relationships are crucial for most early-stage organizations. Many start-ups struggle with these issues on a personnel level, not because of the mission or business plan. For-profit start-ups are encouraged to collaborate and learn from each other, often within a coworking space or incubator. Coworking spaces tout the effectiveness of sharing ideas as essential to business growth, partially because it is actually effective, and partially because coworking spaces are built as collaborative institutions. Nonprofits, however, are encouraged to hoard finite resources and keep their success secrets

suggested working together to find the region’s nonprofit overlaps to share resources, rather than dividing them. CoLab will work toward creating a safe space for nonprofit growth and idea exchange. We do local businesses and nonprofits a disservice by keeping them physically separate. Coworking describes a physical space providing accelerated serendipity. Putting non- and for-profit start-ups in the same space creates a more communal, trusting approach to organizational growth. Taking action to end the unfortunate separation of for- and nonprofit organizations rests in the hands of those in business services and resource dissemination. By creating a space for cross-industry idea generation, a richer, more productive environment will exist for the members from every sector. Here are methods to initially engage with the nonprofit community in your area: • Reach out to your local Community Services Council. Roanoke’s Council of Community Services emailed their database on CoLab’s behalf to gather information and spread awareness.Asurvey or brown-bag lunch can open gateways to knowledge previously untapped. • Talk to your local nonprofits. Nonprofit sector members at CoLab have shared their thoughts on the growth of this relationship. • Present yourself and your organization as an ally, not competition. CoLab is not attempting to replace or minimize the efforts of other local resources. Make sure this is clear during the introduction. Ariel Lev is the director of the Grandin CoLab, a co- working space in Roanoke, VA. —

to themselves. With many nonprofits in the Roanoke region, the start-up situation ranges from tough to dire.Nonprofit start-ups are less “glamorous,” so they are not offered the same opportunities and resources. From CoLab’s perspective, this segregation is unfounded. From ideation to launch to maturation, non- and for-profit organizations require the same bootstrapping and innovative thinking, and often make the same avoidable, expensive mistakes. CoLab has made an effort to accommodate and preempt the needs of our region’s start-up nonprofits. Working with member nonprofits and the local Council of Community Services, CoLab has hosted a diverse think-tank of local nonprofit leaders to discuss their most crucial needs to determine how CoLab can help. This conversation was less about CoLab and more about what happens inside the space. The directors and founders requested more educational and collaborative opportunities, mixing entrepreneurs working in for-profit, social and nonprofit industries with a central hub for resources, a place they could utilize for a variety of reasons without appointment or assignment. While CoLab and the Council of Community Services have not solved the problems nonprofits in the Roanoke region face, we have approached the situation holistically rather than treating the symptoms. The Council

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