About Co|Operative: Co|Operative is an Incubator + Coworking space that focuses on creating a hub for entrepreneurs and creatives in Alamance county. We seek to grow ideas into sustainable businesses, foster an innovative environment for our community, and generally tip the scales in favor of local entrepreneurs.
Enough with the why.
Why we need a haven for entrepreneurship and creativity.
Why we need to change how we look at how we create businesses.
Why we need to foster a community of people who ask "what if?" and then go forward with "how to."
Let's talk about the how.
How does an area historically not viewed as creative, progressive, "up and coming" or whatever term you choose, become something else? That could create a policy paper for a think tank that would make my desk sag. But let's just talk about the initial "seeds"....the starting steps.
The Environment Is Pretty Damn Toxic
First, let's look at the current "ecosystem" for starting a new business. Not for high flying tech startups full of venture capital...for the average person who just wants to start - to start and grow a business that supports them financially and satisfies their passions; that leaves them with a sense of pride in what they built.
For someone starting their first business, it's pretty ugly out there. They create and obsess over their idea in private, unaware of all the things they don't know until it's too late. Let's call that a lack of oxygen.
Next, they go out into the world without access to a supportive network of mentors and a community built around teaching and helping. So basically, you're an orphan. With asthma.
Then they start up, usually under capitalized, with unreasonable timelines to being profitable and no financial buffer for those inevitable first mistakes. An asthmatic orphan who doesn't have enough to eat.
And now, they are in an ecosystem that forces them to spend way too much of their time trying to navigate rules and laws around taxes, insurance, legal structures, and other mind-numbing minutiae, instead of actually working on growing their business. A lost, underfed, asthmatic orphan with a limp.
Then we say, "Good luck, have fun, here's the bill for my advice/service/fee incurred just for existing, but it's totally up to you what to do, this is all on you pal. Hey isn't owning your own business awesome!" Sorry - No free lunches here Tiny Tim.
Ok, so maybe this analogy is a little over the top. But seriously, it sucks.
Creating Our Own (Unfair) Environment
An ecosystem is "a community of living organisms, in conjunction with the non-living components of their environment, interacting as a system." Put simply, it decides the ultimate health and quality of life for the living organisms. If it's healthy - we thrive. It it's toxic, unbalanced? A lot of things die before they ever get strong enough to take on the big bad world outside.
Our goal is simple - create a more favorable environment for businesses to be built, sealed off from the larger ecosystem until they are strong enough to succeed.
Incubator....accelerator...whatever you call it, it's about building a place where businesses can get to the "walk" part of "crawl, walk, run" before going out there. No one sends a toddler out to go pick up the milk, right? So how do we go about this? What's the environment that helps ideas become sustainable businesses?
- Provide a home. Give them a place to work, meet, and grow alongside others who are fighting the same fight.
- Give them oxygen. Pump them full of advice, give them mentors and a real life education grounded in reality, not theory.
- Feed them. Give them a reasonable path to funding to do it right, and the knowledge of how to ration it wisely...(you know, cause winter is coming).
- Guide them. Make sure they have have a validated business plan and a team that will get them to their goal.
- Be their family. Give them all the unfair advantages we can to help succeed once they walk out into the world from those mentors, fellow members, and the best of our community. Family.
In short - cheat. Give unfair help, unfair advantages, unfair access to funding sources. No apologies, no shame. If the rules are tipped against you, there is no fighting fair.
We start the CoWorking part of Co|Operative with an Open House on the 26th. It's a time of excitement for everyone involved.
Will the people come? Will they get that this is half about being a place to work and half about being part of a community? Will they understand that it's a collective enterprise, not single life rafts? Is this the right time?
For me, personally, it's a time of extreme impatience, because I'm constantly living in future world. The one where people do get it. Where it is the right time. Where I see the first small fires start as people begin to see that great ideas and great businesses don't only start and thrive to our west or to the east. Where the beginning of an entrepreneurial ecosystem gets on it's legs and starts to push back at the big bad world out there.
Hope to see you on the 26th at our Open House. I'll be the guy impatiently planning for the future, and waiting for you to hop on board.
See you next week!