Three Reasons Incubation Hubs Will Lead the Recovery

CEO of Creative Startups, Alice Loy, weighs in on post-covid changes to co-working centers

The pandemic decimated co-working and incubation centers. Lively spaces where entrepreneurs and creators, startups and corporate innovators gathered became hollow halls dotted by empty desks. But the pandemic is slowing and economic engines— especially centers of innovation— are charged with re-fueling and revving up to help communities rise and recover.   

This week on a call with a Creative Startups client, the director of a university incubation and co-working center, it occurred to me why the near death of these centers will be averted and how they will instead become central to tomorrow’s startups. While one of these reasons is predictable, the other two may not be. If the future unfolds as we predict, entrepreneurs will need co-working centers even more than before the pandemic. But not all co-working centers will capture this emerging opportunity. Market and community changes require new strategies of co-working and incubation hubs, and understanding these trends and implementing new value for entrepreneurs will allow your center to thrive and grow in an emerging era of economic growth.

Reason 1: Creative Collisions

The co-working environment is a petri dish for new ideas, a crossroads where creativity bubbles up from conversations by the water cooler. These creative collisions give rise to “ah-ha moments” that are fueled by the energy of humans bouncing ideas off each other and building to a moment of creative tension where action and implementation is the next obvious step. This recipe for human inventiveness cannot be replicated via Zoom. Humans have evolved over millennia to thrive in “dynamic groups,” and, after the past year, we can all agree video calls do not allow for dynamic social interactions.

Given your co-working hub has evolution working in your favor, it behooves you to facilitate the habits that help humans generate and build new ideas. Re-evaluate your center’s physical spaces and create areas where clients can interact, exchange ideas and enjoy serendipitous moments of creativity. Consider inviting new members from sectors or communities you haven’t yet served. While your center may consider itself a “tech” or a “creative” community, innovations happen at the crossroads of sectors. Host exchanges with co-working centers serving different clientele, and invite speakers and workshops that fall outside the bounds of typical. Creative Startups’ global network is most useful for creatives when they intersect with our tech alumni and vice-a-versa.

Reason Two:  Transplants Need Fertile Soil

The great out-migration from Silicon Valley, New York, and other megacities to smaller cities and rural areas means that millions of people are looking to embed themselves in a new community, and while some of these people are retiring, many of these transplants are starting new ventures. Their startup budgets suggest that a cost-efficient office space that comes with the added value of new friends, potential partners and customers is the smarter move than renting the typical office in an office park. An added bonus that comes with bringing in new members who have relocated to your community is that your existing members gain access to new ideas and professional networks outside the region. 

“Putting out a “welcome mat” will mean your center earns a place in these entrepreneurs’ hearts as well as business growth strategy.”   

Consider hosting events to welcome new community members, inviting them to meet people in their industry and beyond. Offer mentorship hours with established business people who seek to expand their networks. Work with real estate agents to reach transplants, partner with local gyms and grocery stores – places new community members are likely to visit quickly upon relocation. Putting out a “welcome mat” will mean your center earns a place in these entrepreneurs’ hearts as well as business growth strategy.  

Reason Three: It’s a Brave New World 

A global recession always has winners and losers. We know some of the winners (Zoom, Calendly, Slack) but over the coming recovery years more winners will emerge, demanding entrepreneurs learn new skills, create value using new tools, and shift their strategies and habits to suit new markets and customer expectations. Learning some of these new skills can happen online. Building formulas in Google spreadsheets can be learned by watching YouTube, but when it comes to understanding cultural patterns of tool use, consumer behavior, and community values, people learn those norms through communication with others. So, while a founder might use online videos to figure out doc-sharing and formulas, she will learn the etiquette and norms around co-creating and sharing docs through interacting with other founders. 

Building a successful business requires more than technical expertise, it requires cultural fluency and an ability to fit into industry norms. This cultural fluency can only be developed through social interaction, observation, and practice. Humans learn to do “in Rome, as the Romans do” through immersing ourselves in a culture. In part, this is why entrepreneurs join startup accelerators, to learn the norms of working with clients and investors and to gain access to people in new communities, and learn the norms as they grow into these markets.

Note that successful entrepreneurs also have a unique ability to step aside the norms and envision how disruptions and different approaches might bring value to a market. Programs and workshops that marry “this is the normal way to do it” with “and we celebrate your weird and wonderful way of doing it” are more useful for entrepreneurs than either conversation in isolation. Thinking outside the box must be accompanied by deep familiarity with the box: ample data show that inventors and entrepreneurs whose innovations are widely adopted by users and consumers have sufficient cultural fluency to present such innovations as relevant and improved within a cultural context. Co-working spaces accompanied by entrepreneurship programs that understand this delicate dance stand to offer outsized value to new and returning members alike.

Creative Startups works with co-working centers, incubation hubs, and educational institutions to host acceleration programs designed by and for creative entrepreneurs. Let’s talk about partnering to bring our programs to your area today!