“To have such a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in a small, rural place is incredible.” This is a feeling shared among many members of the Proximity Network, including Amy Lessley of Staunton Innovation Hub. Located in Staunton, Virginia, this space is focused on supporting entrepreneurs through an engaged and connected member community. Read on to learn more about Amy’s approach to growing her coworking space and supporting entrepreneurial growth in a rural area.
Why did you decide to open a coworking space?
We opened in March 2018 for phase one. Phase two is scheduled to open the first quarter of 2020. I wanted to provide a resource to help innovators at scale and jumpstart the entrepreneurial ecosystem in our area. Our core mission is to reduce barriers to innovation in the many forms that those barriers can take.
Tell us about your space. What kinds of amenities do you have? What makes it special?
Currently, our building measures around 4,000 square feet, but phase two will be 25,000 square feet. We have appreciated the luxury of having a smaller space open first as it has allowed us to iron out some wrinkles and get some things in place before launching the larger space. This will allow us to hit the ground running.
Currently, we offer an aesthetically beautiful space with tons of awesome and supportive people. The feedback we repeatedly receive from members is that the collaboration, support, and creativity generated by being in the space is their favorite thing about being here.
We offer great coffee, wicked fast internet, free black and white printing, a vending system for small eats and quick snacks, two phone booths, a conference room, dry erase boards throughout the facility (with some spaces offering dry erase walls), a huge chalk wall for communication with inspirational quotes, a variety of seating options (standing desks, standard desks, couches, yoga ball seat, etc.), a supply of things you might overlook/forget (charging cables, paper clips, hole punch, paper cutter, random office supplies), music throughout the building, and frequent educational and networking opportunities for Staunton Innovation Hub and community members outside of the space.
One thing that gets attention from the greater coworking world is that we are in a fairly small town compared to other coworking spaces. Staunton, Virginia is such a gorgeous and unique town. It is getting national attention as a great place to visit, retire to, and/or raise a family. That being said, it still maintains that small town, community-minded feel. Our population is less than 25,000 people. To have such a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in such a small, rural place is incredible. We’re not in a city, and we love that.
What is your favorite thing about operating a coworking space?
It’s the stories of how our space has provided value to our members and the community, and watching the community grow and thrive. We LOVE seeing ideas come to life and anything we can do to speed this up and smooth out that process, the better! We have had so many members who have joined and discovered more than just a place to plug in and work. It’s all about relationships and networking. Also, it’s really fun watching new visitors come in and say, “WOAH! THIS IS AMAZING!”
What has been the most surprising or unexpected thing about operating a coworking space?
We thought the community would be supportive, but we’re really humbled by how supportive, creative, and incredible our community is.
What’s your favorite story about one of your members?
There was a lady who came in to sign up for one of the smallest memberships we have (in terms of time and money). She started her membership and didn’t show up for an entire month. The day she finally came in, we were having Professional Development Hours (a service where professionals of different fields volunteer their time in an open office hour type format) that she was able to take advantage of immediately. She has become one of the biggest fans of our space! She increased her membership because she just didn’t feel she was spending enough time here. Her marketing game has increased as a direct result of connections made through her membership. Her startup business is branching out because of a suggestion [during] conversation (think water cooler talk) from another member. Every week, she is gaining speed. That type of energy and success is inspiring to her fellow members and to us who run the space. This is not a lady who is just coming in, plugging in and putting her head down to get to work (we have plenty of those members and they’re super productive and successful), she is taking full advantage of everything we have to offer while getting work done.
What is your biggest piece of advice for someone wanting to open a space?
Care about the people in your space. That doesn’t mean you accommodate every single request, it means you listen, try to get to the root of the issue, and take that feedback to make the space better for everyone. Taking this attitude will build a community that people will want to return to AND increase the positive vibe, allowing abundant networking opportunities and positivity. Don’t make decisions solely on the bottom line or on trends, make them based on the needs of the humans in your space. Also, automate as much as possible so you can focus your energy on all the other little details that make it work.