You would think that all co-working spaces have the same agenda to serve entrepreneurs, but I found out that is not true. As a member of WeWork Colony Square, I found that out real quick. I may need to find another place for my business.
Places like The Gathering Spot & Tech Square are more about creating a diverse environment that is also inclusive. The last time I visited Tech Square I had an opportunity to catch up with Rodney Sampson, emphatically referred to as a Godfather of tech, startups and co-working in Atlanta.
Sampson co-founded Opportunity Hub in early 2013 on the heels of his successful Kingonomics’ conferences whereby he asked aspiring and current innovators, entrepreneurs and investors across the country what they believe they required to be successful at business and entrepreneurship.
According to Sampson, these aspiring entrepreneurs wanted:
- Safe spaces to work and build. Spaces safe of institutionalized, personal and interpersonal racism and bias.
- Mentorship from actual entrepreneurs that have succeeded and failed. We want mentors from those who have actually participated in the process of company building.
- Access to vetted entrepreneurial programming that teach entrepreneurs how to effectively navigate today’s entrepreneurial landscape and build a business from the ground up.
- Access to qualified talent. Working at a startup is very different from working at a major corporation academic institution or government agency. The work culture in Obama’s administration was the closest I’d ever seen. They worked for 8 years like it was a high growth startup.
- Access to startup capital. Startup capital is usually equity and not debt since startups usually can’t service any debt because they don’t have any revenue.
This was the thesis that Opportunity Hub was built on.
From 2013 to the end of 2015, Opportunity Hub built the largest majority minority owned entrepreneurial center, technology hub and co-working space in the world. In late 2015, Sampson partnered with Dr. Paul Judge and Allen Nance to launch TechSquare Labs. To date, TechSquare Labs’ portfolio companies have raised more than $250 million in venture funding, are valued at more than $1 billion, created more than 750 high demand jobs and generate over $75 million in revenue.
Now, Sampson is scaling OHUB as a product based technology company designed to take inclusive ecosystem building online. The first product is the ecosystem app. It’s tender for peer to peer based innovation, entrepreneurship and investment. It’s first national program is HBCU@SXSW and is now working to launch campus chapters of Opportunity Hub at colleges and universities throughout the world.
As an update, it’s important for would be startup entrepreneurs to ask the spaces they want to work at the following questions above to make sure they are in the best space. In addition, there are some nuances to consider.
If you are building a business to consumer (B2C) company, then Switchywards may work for you.
If you are building a technology (B2B) company, then TechSquare Labs or Atlanta Tech Village is probably best for you.
If you are looking for connections to black influentials and affluencers, then a request for membership at The Gathering Spot may be best for you. Although not a co-working space, co-working is an amenity of this private club’s memberships. Also, I’m not sure of the ratio of startup founders to folks who work good jobs that are members. Rodney Sampson was a founding member and early advisor to Ryan and TK. I’m really proud of what they are building in Atlanta and beyond.
Location may be a factor as well. If you want to work near Ponce, then there is Industrious. Buckhead, there is WeWork. Midtown, WeWork. ROAM is in Buckhead and North. This was a major issue for me as an entrepreneur because I travel with my sports media company and WeWork is located in the major cities that I travel in.
Whether they are actually authentically “safe” for men and women of color is to be determined. Remember, the startup community and co-working spaces mirror what is going in society. For instance, Rodney Sampson was recently referenced in a Breitbart article for asking a woman that aspires the same ideological thinking of James Damore and his anti-diversity memo to not come to TechSquare Labs.
Also, remember co-working is just a baseline in tapping into resources for high growth company building. Entrepreneurs must ask what else these spaces have to offer beyond space. What entrepreneurial programs do they offer? Who are the mentors? Do they have a fund? Who are the owners? Are they involved? Also, please remember that it is not these spaces’ responsibility to build your business. It is the founders and their teams’ responsibility to actually build your business.
Finally, remember, iron sharpens iron. The greatest benefit of working in a space with other startup founders is to actually learn from those founders. Entrepreneurship is not little league. Everyone doesn’t get a trophy. After building several companies – some that have succeeded and some that have failed – Rodney Sampson has come to know that building a business from the ground up to something that is profitable, employs a lot of people and adds value to a supply chain, industry or market – is a science in of itself. After a point, it doesn’t matter the product or service.
So you decide which co-working space suits you. You shouldn’t pick a space because it’s popular. You should pick a space based on the questions I shared here and also make sure that this is where you can grow your business.