In March, a former commercial building in South Kensington that had broken through adjacent walls to other industrial space, opened as a community workspace. By doing so, Pennsylvania gets a new idea incubator, Impact Hub Philadelphia, number 54 in a series of Hubs globally that offer co-working space with an emphasis on networking, collaborative work and support of entrepreneurial activity. Many community values are supported and much interest in education and community outreach projects, healthy foods and food safety, support for community arts organizations and many writers, designers and creative professionals, and aspirants is displayed.
One part of the program seeks to help creative people make contacts so they can do interesting work in service of good causes. The program encourages participation by compassionate, creative, and committed people who focus on a common purpose in Pennsylvania or around the world.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s creative center moves into good company with its new community idea incubator. Impact Hub is already in three entrepreneurial “B” towns, Boston, Bay Area and Boulder plus LA, Oakland, Salt Lake City and Seattle. In the Impact Hub’s words, the concept is an “innovation playground, part business accelerator, and part community workspace.” The Hub brings together diverse people who can inspire each other, teach each other and push one another to stay with a project. The promotional materials are enthusiastic: “Impact Hubs are where change goes to work.”
The co-working space contains lots of public and semi-public areas for which members pay by the month for a certain numbers of days of access and use of support resources. Public meetings, software training workshops and livelier participatory events like Hackathons take place there. These are often weekend-long workshops where ad-hoc teams tackle real social or urban challenges. Problems are real or hypothetical, from creating net accessibility to cataloging historical collections, programming APIs or in more heavily computer science crowds, events more like Codathons. These participatory events are a significant phenomenon, as specialized, collaborative workshop brainstorming sessions resemble interdisciplinary design workshops for real world design: Charrettes that have architects, engineers, municipal officials and historians, for example.
The Seattle Impact Hub has touted its recent success in becoming a Certified B-Corps, which marks adherence to high standards in social issues, environmental performance and transparency. According to their explanation, this designation goes beyond certifying a bag of coffee as fair trade to ensuring that every aspect of the business is managed according to those values. The performance standards emphasize accountability and address its impact on many stakeholders including employees, suppliers, the community and the natural environment. Although the number of B-Corps remains still relatively low, they are diverse, worldwide and represent billions of dollars in trade.
A significant indicator of the diversity of entrepreneurship of Impact Hub communities are niche Hackathons, apparently on the rise in Seattle where recently, the Code for the Kingdom Hackathon brought together Christian spiritual coders. With $10,000 in prizes on the line, 70 competitors coded for apps related to fighting human trafficking and connecting homeless more easily to social services. Logos Bible Software was a principal sponsor, along with the Leadership Network, a faith-based venture-capital network, and several smaller tech start-ups. Three hackers, Sarah Williams, Aaron Stockton and Michelle Zimmerman, created Word Cross using Logos’s API, an app that allows children to practice memorization of Bible verses and form them into crossword puzzles. Philadelphia offers Philly Codefest and the premiere college event PennApps, plus the National Day of Civic Hacking, while PilotPhilly is the largest regional Hackathon for high school students.
With Impact Hub Philadelphia, Pennsylvania gets a new community idea incubator, which adds to the diversity of creative and entrepreneurial entities. A local design professional with many years of experience in Philadelphia, and a supporter of the Community Design Collaborative, praised the injection of artistic and creative opportunity into Pennsylvania, and compared it to the successful Science Center in West Philadelphia. According to recent studies, dense urban settings are a place where capital does flow well.
Commentary by Lawrence Shapiro