(Photo by Andrew Zaleski)
While Baltimore’s technology scene can name a number of local hubs where ideas and startup founders come together — Betamore, the Emerging Technology Center, the University of Maryland BioPark — the same isn’t true for the city’s newer community of social entrepreneurs.
The monthly Social Enterprise Breakfast has been one avenue for those interested in building businesses that are financially sustainable and lead to a “positive social outcome,” as Rodney Foxworth, chapter leader of the Maryland Social Enterprise Alliance, has described social entrepreneurship.
But a new coworking space for social entrepreneurs in Old Goucher could become the focal point in building up a budding social enterprise scene.
“Social innovation has been nascent for a while. It’s starting to get an identity in the last year or two,” said Pres Adams, one of the cofounders of SocEnt Baltimore, billed as the city’s first shared workspace for social innovators. “We’re really about five to 10 years behind the tech community. This [coworking space] is a first step.”
The coworking space takes up most of two floors inside a rowhouse that also holds an architecture firm and the offices of the Maryland Film Festival. Downstairs is the main conference room, a shared kitchen and access to a patio out back. Upstairs is about 1,200 square feet and limited desk seating, which Adams said will grow into other available second-floor rooms as more members join. Right now there are eight members — although all aren’t paying the $225 per month for full-time membership — which includes Chris Merriam of Bikemore, Andrew Hazlett of Hack Baltimore and Michelle Geiss, who runs the Community Design Lab and helped cofound SocEnt Baltimore.
“We’re branching out to be a bigger and bigger group of people organizing,” said Geiss of Baltimore’s social entrepreneurs, who added that the coworking space, still in its earliest days, is “breaking even” with “a little operations cash” on top of that.
It’s a nice bottom line, and one that certainly fits into the local social entrepreneurs’ credo of building sustainably. But the more significant outcome was getting such a space established. SocEnt Baltimore will be the testing ground, Adams said, to determine if there are enough social innovators who want coworking space to grow into a bigger building. There are plans to hopefully join the global network of Impact Hubs, business incubator and community center hybrids for social entrepreneurs.
For now, Geiss said, the new coworking space is about “creating those conditions for collaboration.”