Coworking’s Impact on Nonprofit Startups

September 1, 2015

The word “entrepreneur” has adopted a variety of connotations. For many, the word relates to one’s status as a business owner. For others, the word describes a type of person. In most cases, though, “entrepreneurs” are those starting or who have started for-profit organizations.

 

In recent years, the term “social entrepreneur” has been developed to describe those starting organizations that are mission-oriented over profit-oriented. It also encompasses the blurring of the lines between non- and for-profit organizations. Each designation has challenges, but in most case they are discussed as unique and separate. 

 

This silo-ing has impacted the world of coworking. When the CoLab first opened in 2014, the target demographic for members included tech startups, budding entrepreneurs and small business owners. The CoLab now serves more than 100 members, 15 of whom started, direct or work for nonprofit organizations.

 

The perceived difference between for- and nonprofit organizations exists within their disparate missions. This does not mean, however, that the paths toward the mission are entirely separate or different. Money, marketing and relationships are crucial for most organizations at an early stage. Many startups struggle with these issues on a personnel level, not because of the mission or business plan.

 

To combat these issues, for-profit startups are encouraged to collaborate and learn from each other, often within the walls of a coworking space or incubator. In fact, coworking spaces tout the effectiveness of sharing ideas as essential to business growth. This is partially because it is actually effective, and partially because coworking spaces are built as collaborative institutions.

 

Nonprofits, however, are encouraged to hoard seemingly finite resources and keep their success secrets to themselves. With so many nonprofits in the Roanoke region, the startup situation ranges from tough to dire. The glamour of the startup is less-so with a nonprofit and because of this they are not offered the same kinds of opportunities and resources. From the CoLab’s perspective, this segregation is unfounded. From ideation to launch to maturation, non- and for-profit organizations require the same bootstrapping and innovative thinking, and often make the same avoidable, expensive mistakes.

 

We do our local businesses and nonprofits a disservice by treating them like they exist in silos and keeping them physically separate. Coworking, conceptually, describes a physical space that provides accelerated serendipity. Coworking is one solution. Putting different startups, non- or for-profit, in the same space creates a more communal, trusting approach to organizational growth. 

 

The responsibility to take action to end the unfortunate separation of for- and nonprofit organizations rests in the hands of those working in business services and resource dissemination. By creating a space for cross-industry idea generation, a richer, more productive environment will exist for the members from every sector.

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