Coworking company 1776 rebrands to 76 Forward to align its ‘current mission and vision’

CEO Jennifer Maher said the company "couldn't back down from the adversity of 2020." The DC-born brand's location in the District closed in April.

At a 2017 event at 1776 in D.C. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)
Update: Comment from 76 Forward President Charlotte Lee has been added. (8/5/21, 12:46 p.m.)

In the four years since D.C.-based incubator 1776 and Philadelphia-based coworking company Benjamin’s Desk merged, the company has made a lot of changes.

It has since opened new locations and closed others to align with its business model as well as hosted accelerators and programming. It currently has no D.C. sites, as it closed its Lafayette Square location on April 30, though it said it had intentions to reopen in the District in the future at the time. Its flagship Philadelphia location in Rittenhouse closed in January.

And Thursday, the company announced its latest change: It’s rebranding from 1776 to 76 Forward, in an effort “to re-establish their identity and re-ignite their mission.”

The rebranding comes with an update to the company logo, a new website and a new tagline. It also comes with the promotion of Charlotte Lee from chief of staff to president of the organization. She started with the org as a campus manager for Benjamin’s Desk, and has held other roles over the years, including events manager and director of operations.

“We believe this new identity not only aligns with our current mission and vision, but sets an aspirational tone for where we could go in the future. Coupled with a new tagline, ‘Venture Forward Together’, we hope this change will inspire current and future members, partners, and entrepreneurial communities to join us in forging new paths of innovation,” Lee said in a statement.

In an email, Lee clarified to that the name and tagline change was important to dispel connotations of racism. “Where Revolutions Begin” didn’t feel appropriate in the wake of the racial justice movement sparked by the murders of George FloydBreonna Taylor and others, and after the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, “1776” became almost “wholly associated with an ideology we do not condone,” she said.

“Our name, tagline, and the associations they came with started to feel not just uncomfortable, but holistically not representative of what we were trying to build and how we aim to establish ourselves,” Lee said. Past 1776 member newsletters authored by Lee have also noted a desire to sever the brand’s tie to the United States’ founding year because not all people were allowed the freedom the American Revolution purported to bring.

An email sent to members Thursday morning indicates the name change is also an effort to distance the brand from its association with the United States’ founding year. Past newsletters authored by Lee have noted a discomfort with the brand’s tie to it because not all people were allowed the freedom the American Revolution purported to bring.

Throughout the pandemic, the company has spoken to community stakeholders to help solidify its future aspirations, it said. 76 Forward will continue a slow rollout of its overall rebrand strategy over the next several months.

“Our team has faced challenges recently but we constantly went back to our mission and vision to guide us,” CEO Jennifer Maher said. “We knew we couldn’t back down from the adversity of 2020. And we knew there was more that needed to be done in order to re-establish ourselves as leaders of innovation. That’s when our fight response kicked in.”

Director of Strategy Melissa Rucci said her team to come to terms with the unforeseen demands of pivoting during the pandemic — the  company has downsized to four locations across Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Indianapolis. It maintains a virtual event series.

The future of coworking isn’t certain in a pandemic world. According to the Washington D.C. Economic Development Partnership’s annual DC Development Report, released in March, several coworking companies have closed locations and scaled back over the last year. WeWork, once home to 13 spaces in DC, closed three spaces in 2020 and has plans to close four more in 2021. The report also found that RegusMakeOffices and Spaces all closed District locations or shut down operations completely.

The company’s aim, Lee said, is to take the revamp and expand to innovation regions outside of those already heavily trafficked, like New York or Boston.

“Our hope is to serve those regions that may have been previously ignored, yet are primed for growth,” Lee said. “We want to level the playing field, bring innovative opportunities and resources, access to capital, access to talent and mentors and create valuable programming to solve specific problems.”

Companies: 76 Forward

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