Founder and CEO of Propeller takes us through the entrepreneurial ecosystem that empowers New Orleans with community and collaboration.
The coworking revolution uplifts small town Wisconsin
Around the world, coworking spaces like Irontek are transforming workplaces and communities. The coworking movement offers an appealing alternative to isolated or distraction-laden home offices or dreary corporate cubicles.
Coworking has exploded globally since first emerging in the early 2000s. There are now over 19,400 coworking spaces available worldwide, with 6,200 of those in the US as of 2022. That's grown by 55% from just 4,000 spaces in the US in 2017. Nearly 2 million people across the globe used coworking spaces in 2020, including 865,000 in the US alone.1
A vision to uplift Beloit
Irontek brings these same benefits to Beloit, Wisconsin (population 35,000). The space is the vision of Diane Hendricks, founder of Hendricks Commercial Properties, and a supportive team. Despite Beloit's small size, Hendricks is committed to investing in the city's future.
“Community is her number one goal,” explained Kari Swirth, Irontek’s community manager. “If we're not connected with the community, we're not doing our job.”
Hendricks' guiding motto for Irontek is “Build Beloit.” She aims to uplift the local economy by nurturing entrepreneurs and attracting new businesses. The modern Irontek facility is a repurposed foundry, providing a hive of creativity and collaboration.
Supporting members day-to-day
Members thrive thanks to the communal energy, amenities, and community orientation. Swirth starts her day ensuring members feel at home and have what they need. She and her team tackle emails, inquiries, and provide support.
"In this role, it’s hard to look at the big picture because you're constantly working in that day to day, moment to moment, making sure members have what they need," Swirth said.
Accelerating local startups
A key part of Irontek's model is an accelerator program called gBeta, run by Madison-based gener8tor. The 7-week program provides early stage startups with critical support, including:
- Individualized coaching and mentorship from gener8tor's nationally ranked experts on company growth and investor readiness
- Weekly "Lunch & Learns" and "Mentor Swarms" to engage experts
- Pitch practice for investors and accelerators
- Over $1 million in deals and perks from vendors like IBM Cloud, Rackspace, Amazon, and Microsoft
- Ongoing post-program support and access to the gener8tor community
gBeta's goal is for graduates to participate in an investment accelerator or raise a seed round. The program allows startups to refine their business models with guidance from mentors.
Physical spaces fuel innovation
Despite coworking’s rise, Swirth feels it’s still a new concept for many residents. Irontek aims to shift perceptions of how meaningful work happens. Swirth believes physical spaces remain vital, even amid remote work trends, to nurture innovation.
"Being alone takes such a toll on your mental health. And not only your mental health but your capacity for creativity and productivity," she emphasized.
The face-to-face collisions and casual connections in a shared workspace fuel inspiration and problem-solving. Remote work lacks the organic synergy.
Uplifting Beloit's future
Seeing collaborations happen organically validates Irontek's vision. Thanks to Hendricks' commitment to "build Beloit," Irontek uplifts the town's future. Innovators and dreamers now synergize under one roof.