Cool Coworking Space Spotlight

79° West Innovation Hub creates a coworking ecosystem

Let’s think about the role of community managers at a coworking space. 

Bobby_DukeThis is a job which traditionally requires day-to-day operational and tactical work. Community managers have a range of responsibilities — they need to give tours to prospective members. They have to check on current members, making sure they have what they need. They ensure locks work, and coffee filters are restocked. They assist with mail delivery. They manage invoices and help with room bookings.

All that work happens inside the walls of the community space. For Bobby Duke, the community manager at 79° West Innovation Hub in Chatham County, North Carolina, that role goes beyond the walls of the building. Mostly because the building isn't quite ready yet.

The Innovation Hub is located north of historic downtown Pittsboro in MOSAIC, a 44-acre mixed-use community that is part of a rapidly growing Live-Work-Play community. And it’s early enough in the establishment of the space that Duke and team are still shaping the vision of the community. 

Here’s how he’s approaching it.

Step 1: Find ways to serve the local community

Pittsboro, North Carolina is a rural environment with metropolitan connections. It’s a beautiful area with a culture built around the Haw River — farmer’s markets, river outings, and music festivals are common.

“I really like the community,” Duke shared. “The people here have a real passion for the area. I don’t think I've ever seen a community quite as supportive of one another. I went to a networking event, and there were five different insurance agents who each recommended the other based on specific strengths. That’s the kind of service they show one another.”

Duke is aware of the typical demographic of coworking spaces, and wants to see the community of 79° West reflect the people who live and work nearby, with a focus on accessibility and inclusion.

“I want the Innovation Hub to be home for people —  it's more about community than the physical space itself. And that’s exactly why I'm here.”

To that end, Duke is asking more questions than he’s providing answers — for now. 

What does the community want? What does the community need? Instead of imposing his own ideas of what kind of events and resources they might want, he's getting input and soliciting feedback. The direction he’s received points to events such as lunch and learns, knowledge sharing, networking, happy hours, even yoga and meditation opportunities. 

Step 2. Find opportunities to make connections between the community

For Duke, the coworking space at the Innovation Hub can be a conduit for conversations.

“Events like ‘Coffee with a Thought Leader’ are ways we can deliver the expertise of our members to anyone who needs it,” he said. 

Curiously, Duke’s background isn't in coworking, real estate, or hospitality. It’s in environmental sciences. But that makes a lot of sense when you think about the fact that diversity is vital to a thriving ecosystem. 

“The difference between a coworking space and commercial real estate is the unseen element of community,” he explained. 79° West is on track to be a home for a wide variety of tenants and members, from entrepreneurs and artists to nonprofits and business services — all people who want to join a community where they can be their professional selves and their personal selves at the same time. 

Step 3. Expand on ways the coworking space can be a source of innovation

At the local University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, there is a program called Innovate Carolina. This is UNC-Chapel Hill’s department for innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic development, providing an end to end hub for innovation-minded faculty, students, and community partners who use their ingenuity to nudge the world forward. 

Innovate Carolina is a program partner of 79°West, offering workshops and skill-based programs. During the sessions, attendees learn and practice skills they can use to build startups, new programs, and their professional leads. Any member of the local community can immediately participate in the programs.

Step 4. Integrate into the broader goal for the mixed use community

The Innovation Hub is located in MOSAIC at Chatham Park. This walkable and family-friendly destination is quickly becoming the preferred gathering spot for local residents as well as neighbors from surrounding areas. It’s an example of the  live-work-play-connect trend among real estate development, with sustainable design, engaging programming, and an art-centric appeal. Outside the doors of the coworking space is an event lawn that is seasonally activated with free community-wide events, including yoga, strength training, Friday night concerts and movies, as well as holiday makers' markets and other special experiences. 

All this means that Duke rarely goes into a sales-mode when he meets prospective members. 

“I just facilitate their understanding of what being a part of this community is like,” he said. But that doesn’t mean he won’t run the numbers. “The open coworking level is around 7,000 square feet, including an event space that is about 1700 square feet. The second floor has 46 private offices and that is about 18,000 square feet. We also have a warehouse-type space on the ground floor 7,000 square feet as well.”

Duke is looking to help the coworking community space and members make the most out of every relationship, partnering with local companies that offer catering and cleaning services.

Another local resource is Leadership Triangle. The organization runs The Regional Program, which is designed to shape community leaders committed to shaping an equitable future for all residents, and Duke enrolled in the program.

“My favorite part about the program has been the connections I’ve made in such a short time with some of the region’s most aspiring leaders. Finding a space to not only learn more about our region’s most complex issues but also dive into how we can help create positive change within the Chatham community gets me excited for my role as Community Manager at 79°West.”

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