“The people, the people, the people,” says Katherine Harrison, when asked why she rents office space from The Hub Coworking in Harrisonburg.
If anyone is aware of how the right space can empower people and their projects, Harrison is. Her company, GraceWorks, helps clients “organize their spaces, optimize their time and master their technology.”
Even when her glass-walled office door is closed, Harrison enjoys the “collaborative, supportive environment” and the creative energy of Harrisonburg’s newest coworking hotspot, owned by Kirsten Parmer ’93 Moore and her husband, Chris.
On any given day, the renovated 19th-century exposed-brick warehouse in downtown Harrisonburg is literally a hub of activity, bringing together creative, focused people with diverse skills and talents. While social engagement is “elective,” Moore says, the friendly, collaborative environment often leads to serendipitous meetings, networking, business opportunities and shared expertise.
Tim Fahndrich ’89, who owns a digital marketing company in Oregon, recently worked from The Hub while visiting his wife’s family. “He started a conversation with a graphic designer who works out of here, and now they’re talking about possibly partnering together,” says Moore.
That kind of place-based synergy and energy helped The Hub Coworking earn a Virginia Main Street Merit Award for Outstanding Business in July.
‘Best business’ among Main Street communities
The business, nominated by Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, was selected from among entrants located in 29 Virginia Main Street communities. The Virginia Main Street program, managed by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, provides assistance and training to help communities increase the economic vitality of their downtown commercial districts.
The Hub meets all three criteria for the award: “strengthening the business mix … displaying an authentic and attractive storefront, or demonstrating exceptional downtown civic and promotional participation.”
Diverse professions represented
The Hub’s more than 40 members represent nearly 30 different kinds of businesses and generally defy the coworking stereotype. “Most people think of coworking spaces as populated by young people involved in start-up companies, but I’d say our average age is 40-something and most people are not self-employed,” Moore says.
Current and past members include web, game and app designers, IT workers, medical researchers and writers, pregnancy and childbirth educators, and translators, among others.
Attorney Jared Burden, who has leased one of the eight private offices for more than a year, has found The Hub to be a perfect place for his solo law practice. Through his business OPENgc, Burden offers general counsel legal services to small- and medium-sized businesses and non-profits for a flat monthly fee (he also works in more traditional arrangements).
In five quick bullet points, here’s why he loves his new working environment:
- “The Hub’s business model matches my own — non-traditional, flexible, innovative.
- I love the comings and goings of solopreneurs who are working hard, some trying to change the world.
- The economics of the place are quite reasonable.
- My glass and brick-walled office is cool.
- The whole place gives an entrepreneurial vibe.”
Moore is herself an entrepreneur. After working at EMU for 13 years in marketing and communications, she parented two children while co-founding a local Montessori school (her first successful “start-up,” she jokes) and maintaining a strong freelance portfolio. In recent years, she also founded and sold two businesses — Rocktown Bites food tours and Taste, a farm-to-table catering company — while working in business development and marketing for Blue Ridge Architects.
The idea for a coworking business was first explored by Blue Ridge Architects founder and owner Randy Seitz, class of ’87. The firm, an integral contributor to many EMU building projects, had originally needed the building for expanded office space, but when the entire lease came up, Seitz approached Moore and her husband about running with the concept independently.
Moore developed a business plan, scrutinized the numbers with the help of the nearby Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Council, and held a community forum to gather input.
One of the first to jump on the concept was Kevin Gibson, who operates running race event company VA Momentum with partner Alan Maynard.
Their slogan, “energizing the community for good,” is an apt phrase to describe the culture and ethos of the space they’ve chosen as their office. The Hub is “a great place to get work done, focus and pursue your passion … at the same time, it’s collaborative and filled with people who are hustling to make a difference,” says Gibson.
Memberships at The Hub are offered monthly and inclusive of all office amenities, including coffee and snacks. They’ve largely have been filled by word of mouth among a “huge niche of people who need affordable professional space and are tired of sitting at their kitchen table by themselves,” Moore says.
Moore sees the business as a blending of her interests in entrepreneurship, marketing and hospitality. “Getting the word out, encouraging people to come together and then hosting them” is how she describes her current role. “Being a good hostess is part of creating the culture. I think you could have a space with a different kind of attitude and have something very different.”
Part of creating that networking space has enabled Moore to take a break from her own entrepreneurial compulsions and become a quasi-consultant to members seeking advice, connections and expertise.
“I get energy from other people’s projects, and helping people make things happen,” said Moore, who has more than 20 years of business and marketing experience. “I love connecting people. I get a lot of satisfaction from the idea stage of projects, which keeps my mind popping about other things. You get a good understanding of what there is a need for by listening to people.”
On her calendar, she says, is lunch with a Hub member who wants to pitch a new business venture. She has no idea what might happen, but the possibilities make her smile.