Technical.ly Philly

Mar. 4, 2009 1:00 pm

Indy Hall to expand, add educational element

It’s been just over two-and-a-half years, and things seem to be working out for Independents Hall: the community is thriving, the success of the business model has made Philadelphia a cornerstone for the coworking movement, and the Strawberry Street office is frequently packed with workers. However, it is that runaway success that has forced Indy […]

Alex Hillman and Geoff DiMasi present to the community

It’s been just over two-and-a-half years, and things seem to be working out for Independents Hall: the community is thriving, the success of the business model has made Philadelphia a cornerstone for the coworking movement, and the Strawberry Street office is frequently packed with workers.

However, it is that runaway success that has forced Indy Hall to make some tough choices about its future. The coworking company has filled membership to capacity and there are eight more people on the waiting list. In an effort to take the next step, owners Alex Hillman and Geoff DiMasi called a “Town Meeting” last night to propose their plans to 40+ members of the community packed tight into the Old City office space.

In short, Indy Hall will likely expand into a space that is two-and-a-half times larger than the current offices, and there will be an effort to create an alternative education system powered by the community. See all of the details of the new plan, including the exact location of the new offices, after the jump.

waitinglistAfter brief introductions, Hillman displayed a presentation slide detailing membership statistics (see right). Hillman and DiMasi quickly moved to the next slide and asked the community for two things they enjoyed about Indy Hall and two things that they disliked. While most complaints, like dirty coffee mugs in the kitchen, were commonplace for any office, most members echoed the membership numbers presented by Hillman: The space is becoming too crowded and members are having trouble even having a private phone conversation. One audience member detailed the troubles he goes through to find a quiet spot to chat as listeners nodded silently in agreement.

Hillman confessed that he “sucks at saying no” to new members and after announcing new branding for Indy Hall, he began playing a video walk though of a proposed new location. The potential new office space will be located on the second floor of the Daniel Building at 3rd and Church street (Google street view). The space is two parallel 130 ft. hallways with a thin dividing wall in between them.

When the camera panned through the room, several audience members let out impressed whistles; the new space is two-and-a-half times the size of the current offices. Hillman said the plan is to knock down part of the wall to create an “H” shaped office. There were four bathrooms, three conference rooms, and plans for two kitchen areas. At end of the video, a simple slide with the word “discuss” was displayed, and Hillman and DiMasi took questions from the audience.

Indy Hall needs to come up with $18,000 that would cover the first and last month’s rent and a security deposit. While the current business can comfortably sustain the current space’s rent of $2,000 a month, DiMasi stressed that in order to move into a larger space, the duo needs to see support from the community. If no current members drop out and every member of the waiting list signed up for membership, Indy Hall would come close to covering rent for the new office, but additional cash would be needed for things like utilities and cleaning services. Hillman and DiMasi discounted any source of outside funding, expressing a desire to keep funding “inside the family” and to continue to contribute to the tax revenue of the city, not take away from it.

In an added set of complications, Indy Hall just renewed its current lease for the Strawberry Street offices in January for one more year. If their proposed timeline is accurate and every component works out, the business would move into the new offices in early May. Unwilling to fracture the Indy Hall community across two offices, DiMasi and Hillman proposed making the old offices a space for events and education while moving all members to the new location on Church St.

Details were scarce, but the duo imagined a new educational structure where members could teach classes on their areas of expertise and charge small fees that would pay for the space and the instructor’s time. DiMasi, a former professor at the University of the Arts expressed a desire to fix what he saw as a broken system of higher education, and envisioned that a class at Indy Hall would be a fraction of the cost of a traditional university. While an example of a recent Cocoa class was given, no other specific examples were detailed. They emphasized a standard of quality for events and classes promising only to use the Indy Hall space for events and classed that they would attend themselves.

The community did not need to be sold on the educational component. Instead, there were requests for specific plans of action as nearly everyone that voiced an opinion seemed ready to do whatever they could to move the expansion forward with. One member of the crowd shouted “I don’t have my checkbook, otherwise I’d write one.”

Hillman then asked members to help promote the coworking community to their personal and professional contacts and re-emphasized their reliance on an expansion of membership to make the new plans economically feasible. Moving forward, Indy Hall will meet with the owners of the office while continuing to gauge the level of community support, although no deadlines or timetables were set. Hillman mentioned that City Councilman Bill Green had been in attendance and has previously offered support to the organization.

In closing, Hillman confessed that “We are at a growth point that not many other spaces have had a chance to experience.” He wants to become one of the first coworking spaces to undergo this kind of expansion and offer Indy Hall as a model to future coworking efforts. The community seemed supportive, but wanted a plan of action moving forward, which Hillman and DiMasi said they would provide in the days to come.

After the buzz of the crowd died down, Hillman adjourned the meeting to National Mechanics for a beer. The community had reasons to celebrate.

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Sean Blanda is an adviser to Technical.ly, the local technology news network, having cofounded its flagship Technically Philly in February 2009. He is a media consultant, engagement editor for Behance and lives in Brooklyn, NYC.

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