One year ago, I was approached by Julia Young, the President of a local nonprofit organization called the Urban Think! Foundation. She was charged with transforming a soon-to-be out of business local bookstore into a Coworking space, event space, and a program to support local creatives. There were hazy thoughts about having a cafe, putting in a loft, and creating a versatile space. She found me because of my numerous blogs posts about Coworking, and my involvement in the local community.
I brought in a good friend of mine, Darren McDaniel, who had experience working at a similar space here in Orlando that was eventually strangled by bureaucracy. He had a business plan, several years of experience, and a PhD thesis paper about creating structure for freelancers and other creatives. Darren would be tapped as the Founding Director of the project, code named Urban ReThink.
We put out a survey to the old mailing list from the bookstore, and as many other communities as we could get in touch with. This concept is a bit bigger than Coworking space alone, but it shares values and lots of the superficial things many spaces have. To say this is ambitious would be an understatement. We do have some great things going for us.
The landlord is one of the original founders of the old bookstore, and he had other offers for the space - this is a passion project for him. A few months into this adventure, we found out he will be developing an area of downtown Orlando called the Creative Village - Craig and the rest of the nonprofit board are really committed to making our city better, and they have been invaluable throughout this process. From the big things like the space itself and the renovation, to smaller things like the PR and marketing strategy, and making connections with other organizations and businesses.
Starting in November, we started hosting events - film screenings, a book signing, an interactive art installation, and several holiday parties. These were a great learning experience, as our space is at street level, and on a major walking path to the rest of Downtown Orlando - the weekends are very colorful here.
On January 17th, our cafe partner opened their doors to a torrential downpour - but lunch time still brought in about a dozen people, eager to see their new neighbors. Last week, some furniture was delivered - donated from a local interior design shop - and we invited a few potential community members to start working here. Today was the final straw as the cable company connected the internet and we fired up our wi-fi - no more stealing from the neighbors!
We were lucky enough to be featured in the local daily newspaper a few weeks ago, and now I am told a business journal article related to independent workers will be landing this week - they even took my picture for it.
We still have so far to go - I'm pretty sure we're doing it backwards - the "if you build it, they will come" plan. I am feverishly trying to finish the website (just got the design on Friday) so I can stop answering all my questions via Facebook, Twitter and Email. At the same time, we know we have lots of interest - people wanting to (and already are) holding meetings here, people ready to sign up for memberships, mentors ready to give sage wisdom, and many and more things ready to happen.
In 2 weeks we'll have the start of our grand opening festivities, and who knows what will happen from there?
Website (coming soon): http://urbanrethink.com