What coworking can teach university entrepreneurship centers

Coworks is the product of a university entrepreneurship center. Now our software platform helps these centers run more efficiently. But with our deep experience in coworking and flex office, we know there is more these two sectors can share.

Universities are investing more resources into entrepreneurship programs that equip students with the skills and experience to launch successful startups. But operating these dynamic programs presents unique challenges. 

And at the 2023 Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers conference, Coworks CEO and Founder DeShawn Brown delivered a presentation on how coworking space principles can optimize the operation and growth of university entrepreneurship centers. 

Drawing from his real-world experience as a student of such an entrepreneurship program, then a member of a thriving coworking community at Raleigh Founded, then a founder of a leading space management software platform, Brown shared best practices around community-building, software tools, and creative partnerships. 

By learning from how successful coworking spaces run efficient operations, university entrepreneurship centers can enhance the student experience and expand their impact.

The rise of coworking spaces near campuses is no coincidence. A recent study by CoworkingCafe found that 4 of the top 5 U.S. universities have at least one coworking space within two-miles of campus. Out of 100 universities analyzed, 926 coworking spaces were located nearby. 

This demonstrates how connected and valuable coworking can be to higher education ecosystems.

Coworking spaces create the perfect environment for peer-to-peer learning and navigating professional work dynamics. Students can work alongside and network with experienced entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses. These interactions cultivate critical business communication and collaboration skills.

Coworking communities also nurture entrepreneurial aspirations by surrounding students with innovators and providing tailored resources like mentorships and competitions. The creative energy stokes students' interest in turning their own business ideas into reality.

DeShawn Brown experienced those benefits firsthand as a student entrepreneur at NC State. After graduation, Brown came full circle — helping coworking space brand Raleigh Founded to grow the next generation of NC State students and activate their ambitions. And Coworks is in use by several leading university entrepreneurship centers around the country.

This cycle from student to seasoned expert makes Brown an ideal expert to share coworking insights applicable to university contexts. His presentation will focus on three operational keys:

Fostering community and culture

Coworking is fueled by community-building amongst members. Likewise, entrepreneurship centers should facilitate community and networking for students. Social events, guest speakers and communal layouts bring people together to exchange ideas and expand networks. 

Brown shares specific techniques for sparking serendipitous connections and collaboration. Cultivating these personal bonds and support systems helps students thrive. That is more often than not the role of the Community Manager, an evangelist who focuses on the energy within the space. But often this person gets bogged down by administrative work and operational tasks, which then take away from the development of a cohesive environment.

Optimized operations 

Efficient operations are essential for coworking spaces to deliver value at scale. And for community managers to be able to cultivate the community that will be truly valuable for students. Entrepreneurship centers similarly require solutions to streamline management tasks.

Brown showed the audience how platforms like Coworks automate space scheduling, event management, member engagement, and most importantly data tracking. For entrepreneurship centers, it’s absolutely critical to demonstrate usage and adoption metrics.

Coworks space management software is specially designed to help universities establish the benchmarks and demonstrate the ROI of the space and it’s programming, including:

  • Data-driven performance for donors and stakeholders
  • Associating students served to square footage
  • Aligning resources to disciplines and programming
  • Tracking hours of use across tools and amenities

Strategic partnerships

Coworking spaces grow through creative mutual partnerships. Centers should also tap into win-win relationships with incubators, accelerators, local businesses and coworking spaces. These partnerships open up mentoring, funding, facilities and other resources to empower student entrepreneurs.

Brown was able to detail partnership models like Raleigh Founded's close ties with NC State, both of which operate on Coworks software, alongside another half dozen programs that leverage Coworks on either side of the relationship. By collaborating with external ecosystems, centers can create richer experiences and sustainable funding models.

The fact is, campus centers face unique challenges in their operations and community-building. Adapting the principles underpinning successful coworking spaces can launch centers to the next level.

University leaders, educators and administrators who attended Brown's presentation came away with actionable insights on improving operational efficiency at their centers. By focusing on community, software tools and strategic partnerships, attendees will be equipped to create more dynamic and inclusive entrepreneurial programs. 

This approach prepares students for startup success, while cultivating a more diverse talent pipeline of future innovators and business leaders. That benefits both universities and the overall economic health of their local regions. 

The rise of coworking spaces adjacent to campuses demonstrates the reciprocal value generated through university and business partnerships. Entrepreneurship centers empower future founders. Visionary graduates like DeShawn Brown later return the favor by sharing knowledge and resources back with their alma maters.

By proactively learning from the operational playbook of coworking industry leaders, university entrepreneurship centers can maximize their full potential. This cyclical exchange of ideas, mentorship and innovation will shape universities and startup ecosystems for generations to come.

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