Impact Hub — Where Change Goes to Work

This week marked my first full day of work at a co-working space in nearly 5 years. Back then, I was working on my first business, weBike, in a co-working space called the Affinity Lab. weBike and the Affinity Lab were both firsts. weBike was the first stationless bike sharing system in North America, and Affinity Lab was the very first co-working space in the country. Although neither are around any more, since that time, the entrepreneurship and co-working scenes have exploded in DC, mirroring a trend happening in many cities around the world.

The wonderful thing about the growth of this community is the unique characteristics that develop when the marketplace grows to a point where segmentation starts to occur. As I explained in my post last week, I’m beginning a journey back into the DC entrepreneurship community by visiting a new co-working space each week. In blogging about my experience, I hope to shine a light on the unique qualities and traits of each space I visit. Many weeks, I hope to write a bonus blog post to share additional reflections inspired by the conversations I have as I meet the members of this energetic community. So let’s kick it off!

The first visit on this my journey took me to the place where change goes to work. Impact Hub DC. It’s a coworking space and community centered around entrepreneurs, nonprofits, activists, and creatives in the social impact sphere.

When I walked into the Hub, I was welcomed into a large open space with a clean yet inviting modern feel. The vibe was familiar. A room full of twenty to thirty-something year olds diligently typing away on their microsoft surfaces and mac books. I fit right in as I whipped out my own surface and started working through my email inbox.

I chose one of the large cushy chairs in a more loungy part of the space to start. There were also plenty of desk clusters and high top tables, as I would later utilize after the discomfort of working in a lounge chair finally set in (why do I never learn?) After settling in for a little while, I ventured over to the kitchenette which had an offering of free coffee and tea all day. Coincidentally, free cupcakes were also brought in that day. Was it a coincidence there were cupcakes the very day a bright and promising new member came to visit the space?? Most definitely.

Across from the open main work space there were several phone booths and conference rooms. I thought it was a nice touch that each was named for a few of the 85+ cities around the world who host other Impact Hub locations; a reminder that this was part of a global community of change makers. There were also private offices around the perimeter for those member companies who needed dedicated space of their own. I thought it was strange that most of these offices looked empty, but I later learned that many of these members often choose to work in the shared open space.

One of the things I liked best about Impact Hub was how easy it was to visit. They offer an entire week for a free trial, and it took no more than a quick sign up on the website. It reflected the relaxed and casual atmosphere I felt in the space, as did the soft music that flowed through the space; classical renditions of Top 40 hits.

The atmosphere made it easy to sink into my personal space. With exception to conversations I had with a friend who’s a member, my experience was largely solitary. As welcoming as the staff was, nobody came up to introduce themselves or say hello. In fact, the socialization level in general was pretty low on the rainy Thursday I was there.

It would be easy to blame the energy level on the weather, and it would be inaccurate to project my experience on the character of the community. It would be more apt to reflect on how my actions or inactions may have made me seem as unwelcoming to conversation as others appeared to me, and what I could have done to create a different experience.

We all seek connection, but too often we sabotage that desire by the limiting beliefs we hold and falsehoods we project upon others. They’re too busy to chat. They won’t want to talk to me. They’ll view me as an outsider. One of my limiting beliefs was also the belief that I didn’t belong in a space that specifically caters to social enterprises. Breaking through these social barriers is tough. But doing the tough thing and dismantling our projections and limiting beliefs not only serves ourselves, it also creates the space to welcome in others who likely share the same hesitations.

In the end, my time at Impact Hub left me with a number of takeaways. First is a personal “hell yes!” that a place so supportive of social enterprise exists right in the heart of DC. My time there was nothing but a positive and welcoming start to the journey ahead. But more importantly, I left with some cool reflections. The limiting beliefs I have in myself likely exist in those around me, and I have the ability to choose a difference experience. Sometimes that different experience is simply starting the conversation, but sometimes it’s choosing a different environment. Impact Hub is an incredible community if you’re a social enterprise, but it isn’t for everyone. I most likely am part of the not for everyone crowd, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to lean into that experience.