Why a coworking incubator program is good for Portland

[Editor: I received news late last week that one of Portland’s original coworking spaces, Souk, was launching a new $8/day drop-in incubator. At first blush, I didn’t really understand how it constituted an incubator. So I asked for some clarification. What I received from Alex Linsker at Souk seemed like a damn fine guest post. With permission, I’m sharing it here.]

Coworking (at least at souk Jellies and other special programs here, and at some other spaces and Jellies I’ve worked at in other cities) can work as an incubator program that’s self-led, peer-to-peer.

If I have to choose between “coworking” and “incubator” then this program is a subsidized “coworking”, but I used to think I had to choose between “city” and “nature” and then I found Portland.

I know some people who say that Portland’s not a city because it’s small and has a different feel and transportation from most cities, but from what I’ve seen, we define our own culture, influence other regions, we have density and diversity of who lives here and the quality of life that we’ve each chosen to have, all of which makes us a city. I think that incubation in some coworking settings can be similar: coworking incubation has a different feel and mode of transportation from most incubators.

The coworker shows up with something he or she is working on, shares what it is, hears what other coworkers are working on. Connections happen and interests, ideas, referrals get shared. We have companies that have grown and graduated from souk to their own private office spaces.

The curriculum is self-led, similar to independent study at college or to the democratic free school movement. Or to many coworking spaces or coworking events, especially Jelly or The Hub. Mentors are other coworkers or are referred by coworkers. Some of us here have been executives at or consultants to Fortune 500 or other big companies, and others are recognized as leaders in their fields.

The variety of coworker industries—such as technology & IP law, web marketing & PR, business development, user experience, finance & accounting, web development, design, social good, event planning, writing, journalism—and the social expectations, lead to peer-to-peer advice sharing, mentoring, inspiration, coaching, collaboration and referrals. The expectation is that you show up, say what you’re working on, hear what other people are working on, share ideas, work with energy in the same space, and the incubator services that are relevant to coworkers do happen. The coworkers come first, then the learning and mentoring happens.

My own experience with coworking as a receiver of business services:

  • Most of my software company’s business advisors were met through coworking.
  • I’ve gotten advice on operations, scalability, strategy, team-building, business control systems, marketing, PR, working with clients, user experience, accounting, legal, finance, sales, through coworking.
  • I’ve been introduced by coworkers to local businesses, I cowork with journalists, I constantly refine my presentation skills from feedback.
  • I’ve been referred to technology providers to whom I now outsource payment, hosting, monitoring and analytics services, and changed how I work with clients, do online marketing and build new functionality.
  • I’ve had fascinating discussions with intellectual property lawyers in the kitchen here while we made and sipped espresso.
  • I’ve learned about Portland angel and investor groups, or, while sitting on the sofas, learned which Portland college is the best to find a marketing intern, and all of this I may someday want to access.
    I’ve been introduced to clients, who are friends-of-friends.
  • I was surrounded by web developers, designers and marketers at an early Jelly and learned from them how to built my early sales site.
  • Overheard phone calls or in-person strategy sessions provide neighbors with business perspective.
  • And as a provider of mentoring, advice, and referrals, I’ve enjoyed sharing the above services with other coworkers. Most frequently I provide advice on end-user experience, business operations as a startup with clients, and referrals to many Portland events.

We have had freelancers new to Portland make connections here, and we’ve also had companies grow in size and graduate from souk.

I wouldn’t recommend to anyone that they provide a coworking incubator program or something similar to an ongoing Jelly as a model sustainable on its own, but we can make it happen at souk, and from what I’ve heard, I think it gives me and almost everyone who participates in it focus, inspiration, connections, mentoring, satisfaction, personal and business growth, and productivity.

For more information on the program, see the press release. For more on the space, visit Souk.

  1. Shawn: Jelly is free, social, coworking in over 100 cities. http://workatjelly.com Jelly in Portland has been active since late 2009, and the next is: http://bit.ly/jelly-coworking-may23

    Katherine: interviews with Tony Zito and Jennifer Costello are at http://soukportland.tumblr.com The @soukPortland and @alexlinsker Twitter mentions and RT’s show some other people involved; so does the Jelly in Portland wiki. Because you asked, I’ll ask more people to publicly share their interest in being involved.

  2. What is a Jelly?

  3. Hi Katherine, You’re right, I think the best coworking has active sharing and conversations that spice up a lot of productive work. The core group of people kicking this off are members who work in the main space here at souk and people who show up. This coming Monday May 23rd will be a great day to come by, it’s a free Jelly day, 9am-7pm with RSVP. What would you most like to get out of the Coworking Incubator Program? Alex

  4. Katherine Gray May 16, 2011 at 11:38 am

    This is interesting. It sounds like coworking with show and tell. Is there a core group of people who are kicking this off? Since it’s self-led what you get out of it will be directly determined by the skills, experience and network of the people who join. I’ll keep my eye on this!

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