Building a start-up company is challenging, to say the least. To build a business sustainably adds another level of complexity to an already difficult process. The growing trend of coworking offers a solution. Coworking spaces may provide a wide array of tools and resources, but typically they provide some amount of space for entrepreneurs, start-ups, and businesses to grow.
Business sustainability is a process of ensuring that an organization has a positive impact on its community, environment, and economy through their regular operations. Local businesses and start-ups usually care about their community and environment, but too few resources exist to ensure an integrated sustainable strategy from the beginning. Coworking spaces offer a unique way to reduce cost, share resources, and network with diverse people in your community.
Work Hard Pgh
DECO’s first home was a shared desk in a friend’s office. Six months later, we were in serious need of a more permanent base if we wanted to grow. After visiting a number of local shared coworking spaces, we finally found a place called the Hardware Store and quickly realized that it was much more than just an office. To eliminate any confusion, the place is not an actual hardware store in the traditional sense. The building on Warrington Avenue in the Allentown (Hilltop) neighborhood, just up the hill from Station Square, had housed a hardware store for years. When the store closed, a retired chemistry teacher named Josh Lucas decided to start something new.
Instead of hammers and drills, the Hardware Store now offers a variety of digital media tools like GoPro cameras, podcasting audio equipment, and a green screen. Additionally, it offers affordable desk space and a conference room, providing a home for dozens of start-ups and even a few established companies that want or need a traditional office. Like Walter White in Breaking Bad, Lucas saw an opportunity. Instead of making drugs, he decided to make businesses.
The DECO Office Bike parked in front of a mural by local artist Baron Batch.
Now home to more than two dozen start-ups and business ventures from graphic media to community development groups, the Hardware Store is bringing positive change to an economically challenged neighborhood. Despite the media-centric focus, the diversity of organizations that call the Hardware Store their home base is impressive. With the addition of Lewis Environmental Services, DECO is no longer the only environmental consulting firm located in the space. Instead of driving fierce competition, the collaborative atmosphere encourages partnerships and “blue ocean” style diversification.
Many of the entrepreneurs at the Hardware Store will work together to identify niches in the market and give incoming work to the specialist with the best product and cost in their respective field. This kind of collaboration helps bring in new work and directs it to the person or group who provides that service. Cross-promotion is not the exception, but the rule. This process helps grow revenue, the lifeblood of any organization.
Inspiring New Ideas
The flexible space offered by coworking spaces can take good ideas and launch them into being. Such a case is seen with technology group MetaMesh, which started as an idea to provide free WiFi. Since landing at the Hardware Store, the group has partnered with local groups and helped provide free WiFi for Warrington Avenue with the creation of the PittMesh network. Mayor Bill Peduto sees the value in such ideas and even joined for the PittMesh Launch in November of 2014.
MetaMesh founder Adam Longwill explaining mesh networks at the Hardware Store.
We are always working on meaningful projects. We are always looking for new community members.
In an effort to grow ideas from within the community, the Hardware Store has partnered with the Allentown Community Development Corporation, even providing a desk for Siena Kane, the business district manager. Kane has been able to provide affordable resources to new businesses, like the newly opened Leon’s Caribbean restaurant. Connecting with the shared resources helps to cut costs and improve efficiency. As the Hardware Store website states, “We are always working on meaningful projects. We are always looking for new community members.“
Members of the Hardware Store helped the Allentown CDC decorate street lights for the 2014 holiday season.
We define three benefits of operating sustainably: reduced costs from efficiency measures, increased revenue through higher sales or greener products, and better community integration from shared goals with local stakeholders. Coworking spaces are gaining popularity for small businesses and start-ups by offering numerous paths to each of these objectives. We see the Hardware Store as our partner in forging a path to sustainability.
Storefront at 744 E. Warrington with a MetaMesh Wifi antenna visible above, left of sign.