The Hub L.os Angeles, the social enterprise-focused coworking space we first told you about last October, has just celebrated its first year of existence. As part of its celebration, it published a digital "yearbook" (complete with the videos above), chronicling a year in the life of the membership community.
If that word yearbook is more reminiscent of school than of business, that’s probably no mistake. Cofounder Elizabeth Stewart still recalls the reawakening she felt upon returning to graduate school in 2006. She had spent five years working in the nonprofit world, becoming disillusioned by the lack of innovation in the space and the sense that it was characterized by zero-sum battles among various players who really ought to have been collaborating.
She matriculated at UCLA to study urban planning and felt her world opening up again (even though she was rooted, for the first time in a while, in one place). "People in graduate school were asking the hard questions, were wanting to have dialogues and to move towards some sort of action," recalls Stewart, one of Fast Company's Most Creative People in 2013. A UCLA campus center called Lu Valle Commons, where students would study, grab food and coffee, and chat, was a particular attraction. "There was no shortage of ideas. There was a sense of possibility," Stewart recalls. "That’s how we talk about the Hub, as a place of possibility."
One the face of it, the Hub L.A. is much like the kind of coworking space that has risen in popularity among entrepreneurs and creative types over the last few years (its somewhat clubby nature also makes it a little bit like IvyConnect, the other grad school substitute we wrote about recently). But the Hub L.A. goes further than merely offering workspace. Like a good university, the Hub L.A. is designed to deliberately foster friendships, collaborations, and creative encounters. This is partly achieved through traditional means—classes, workshops, and the like—but also through novel ones: the Hub L.A. has a full-time employee completely dedicated to "community curation," for instance; employees also engage in a kind of informal professional matchmaking, arranging what they think will be fruitful encounters. They’re measuring their results, too: "We’re emphasizing a more scientific, measurable approach to how to build community," says Stewart.
Here’s one simple measurement, and a yardstick of Hub L.A.’s rapid success: the space grew from 3,400 square feet to 8,000 square feet last year. Part of the expansion, which opened in June, included a media lab to attract artists, designers, and other creative professionals, who then mingle with the academics and nonprofit types who inhabit the other rooms. "We’re pushing past space to catalyze a bunch of other things," says Stewart. "We believe that in order to catalyze change, people need to be in physical face-to-face relationships with each other."
The Hub L.A. is actually part of a global network of "Hubs"; the first was founded in London in 2006. The Hub L.A. was the second U.S.-based Hub, after one in San Francisco. In the year since Hub L.A. has opened, Hubs have also opened in Seattle, Boulder, Boston, Berkeley, and Oakland, says Stewart, with plans in the works for one in Manhattan. The Hub network is still figuring out just how centralized or decentralized it should be, says Stewart. Still, the leaders try to meet a few times a year and are always sharing best practices. "It’s a messy experiment," says Stewart. "One of the core values is seeing things come from the local to the global versus the other way around."
Rates to join Hub L.A. vary. It costs $25 per month for a "virtual membership," with additional fees if you drop in for the day. For desk space after-hours and Saturdays, that’s $75 a month. Two days a week at the space will cost $150 a month, while four days a week will cost $300 per month; teams of up to three people can join at a discounted rate.
Stewart says that what has made her happiest this past year has been seeing people "come alive" in the same way that she had in graduate school. She tells the story of a fashion entrepreneur who entered the Hub L.A. merely thinking he wanted work space. Stewart asked the man how he might like his business to create positive change in the world. "We’re not just a space," she told him, "We’re a community with certain values." (Cofounder Nick Kislinger once called the Hub a "members’ space for people who give a shit.")
Stewart recalls that the man sat for a while in thought, almost surprised that someone would ask him about values in the context of business. "Actually, I’m really passionate about making things locally and with good labor practices," he said. He was a regular at the Hub L.A. for five months, and when he went to open his own office, he wrote Stewart to say that he "couldn’t even envision doing business without thinking about how it makes some impact in the world."
"That’s the kind of story that makes me get out of bed in the morning," says Stewart.
As the Hub L.A. embarks upon its sophomore year, Stewart is thinking more about stories like these—and about the ways they were prefigured with her heady discussions at Lu Valle Commons. "That access that you have to resources and relationships, and all the innovation that comes from being in physical proximity to people with different skill sets definitely drove the question, 'Why does that have to stop? What does it look like to weave that kind of experience through local infrastructure, to have access to a place dedicated to driving that energy that you’d find on a college campus?'"
—Click through the videos above to hear stories from Hub L.A. members on how they've benefited from its particular brand of coworking.
[Images courtesy of Hub L.A.]