For the past five years, we’ve experimented. We benefitted from the tremendous investment made by Civitium to found 7hills Makerspace, and I went in on five buildings up on clocktower hill to test the real estate-as-startup-community notion. If we just got more creative people and businesses closer together, what would result?
Results were mixed. Some cool initiatives got underway like #UnexpectedCanvas and photog shooting sessions, collaborative services provided to ABC Studios, plus plenty of workshops and company growth. We made our first Maker Fund loan (and it’s just been repaid!). We launched Co.Starters program and graduated 8 new potential companies. We brokered a deal between the largest flooring company and fifth grade 3D designers. There’s even one super cool poloroid wall project still up at the Maker House on 5th Avenue.
In the process, we discovered that the few feet of distance between buildings and the one-room mecca of the Historic Masonic Lodge just just didn’t quite fit. The needs were somewhere in between. The artisan meetups pointed out the market for co-working space and artist-specific resources. The equipment was not as important as the experience. Blazingly fast, always up, symmetrical fiber internet was necessary but not sufficient to rally a community and provide value.
So, we’ve spent the last year listening and retooling our model and our future plans. The folks who have built startup communities in places like Boulder, CO and Provo, UT (all eerily similar to NW Georgia) are quick to insist that nothing amazing happens short of long-term vision and commitment by entrepreneurs themselves. The work of fostering innovation and a strong startup community is a generational project to be done by the doers. (Recommended reading on this: Startup Communities and The Rainforest)
Commitment to A Vision
Well, we agree. So, we are planting our flag and doubling down on our experiment. We see that the uniqueasset possessed by NW Georgia is a vibrant creative community proudly rural by choice. While the NWGA Creative Economy survey is still underway, we already know that our “etsy-quotient“, or number of Etsy stores per population, is higher than that of Atlanta. Individuals from big urban areas are moving here wanting a change, a different pace, but still craving the creative community that might have been easier to find in Brooklyn, Chattanooga, or Chicago.
While several of the startups growing here (including the one founded by yours truly) are anchored in digital and software creation, this is not about growing technology companies or big exits. That probably will happen, but it’s not the goal. We want to nurture startups and entrepreneurs of all kinds. We want to grow an ecosystem of bigs and smalls, ones and tens, makers of head and hands who are thriving. Even in failure, people and companies make a contribution and are welcomed to try again, plant something anew.
Fifth Avenue Creative Hub
The new home for Makervillage is a warehouse at 252 North Fifth Avenue. We will build it out to 13,000 square feet and work to built it from the ground up for creatives. Primarily a Co-work Space, we want to welcome members to utilize both open and private spaces for work and focus. In our Startup Pods, those with more dedicated needs will have access to some space of their own. Artisan Pods will foster the messiest of our creative members to work and store materials safely. The A/V Pod will be set up to support one-stop product photography and voice recording for stores, product demo videos, or voiceovers. The Shipping Pod will empower artists and etsy-ers to easily pack and ship with large work table, needed packing materials, discounted meter rate, and daily shipping pickups. The Gallery, open to the public a few days a week, will provide a display and retail spot for artists in our region as well as a hella inspiring place to work. Finally, the NWGA Code School will live in the brain of the building and open in the fall. Most importantly, some really amazing partnerships are in the works which will make this collaborative vision possible to execute.
Already, the first tour with our most committed creatives revealed new ideas and ways the building could facilitate more creative endeavors, and as long as folks step up to lead those efforts, I will continue to support the building adapting to accommodate its members. We know that success will look like variety of events, pop up discussions, trainings, impromptu concerts, food truck Fridays, and more formal programs like TEDx or Co.Starters expected regularly.
DISCLAIMER: Not just for creatives. We think remote workers from all industries big and small may want a place to work productively alongside creatives, and so we welcome the lawyers, CPAs, corporate execs as long as you are cool with some irreverence and playfulness in your place of business.