People take advantage of the collaborative work environment at Impact Hub in South Kensington. Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro
Inside a former industrial warehouse just north of Girard Avenue - which was refurbished by a New York creative company before being abandoned again - a new group of socially minded entrepreneurs are laboring to fundamentally change Philadelphia.
That's where Impact Hub Philadelphia, a membership-based community and co-working space that's part of a global family of 45 different Impact Hubs across 6 continents, is is preparing for its official opening on Feb. 13.
What Impact Hub does is provide a space for change-makers, businesses and civically engaged groups interested in trying to build a better world -- starting in Philadelphia.
"The only way Impact Hub works is to really find out what people care about here and then help them accomplish it," said Jeff Shiau, 27, who described himself as the Sherpa or guide of Impact Hub Philadelphia. "If you're working on something that you believe is amazing, that is going to change Philly, this will be your hub."
But Impact Hub isn't just looking for anyone with a laptop and a website. Shiau said they seek as anchor members people who are connected to the community.
In searching for someone to fill the Founding Managing Director position, Impact Hub is looking for a person who is deeply connected to Philadelphia.
"It's very good if you’ve been in Philly for at least five years. You have to truly know and breathe the DNA of the city," Shiau said.
Among the local groups working with Impact Hub Philadelphia is FastFWD, a collaboration between Wharton Social Impact Initiative, Mayor Michael Nutter’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, and GoodCompany Group.
FastFWD received a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies and is currently sorting through entrepreneurs' proposals related to increasing public safety. As an "accelerator," the proposals that FastFWD selects will be pre-qualifed as pilot programs for the city to take on. All funding comes from the grant.
"Cities nationally are spending $152 billion annually on public safety. It’s a huge market and there aren’t too many solutions being proposed by entrepreneurs," said Catherine Griffin, a program manager at GoodCompany Ventures.
Shiau said that Philadelphia is uniquely attractive to innovative projects, whether in communications and digital storytelling, civic engagement, environmental or social projects or even some for-profit businesses.
"Philadelphia most likely is going to be the leader of the renaissance of the entire Northeast corridor. This is the next renaissance city," Shiau said.
Impact Hub memberships cost somewhere between $30 and $300 a month, depending on the type of membership. Members can utilize the space for work and meetings, and attend events for free at the Philadelphia location as well as at other Impact Hubs.
Shiau described their planned opening celebration on Thursday, Feb. 13, at 6 p.m., as a "three-story exploration adventure" of the different programs that Impact Hub has to offer.
First founded in London in 2005, Impact Hub's first North American locations were in Berkeley and San Francisco.
Now, in addition to the Philadelphia hub, Boston has one, D.C.'s is in the making, and a New York Impact Hub has just been announced. There are also Impact Hubs in Kyoto, São Paulo, and Johannesburg.
Ironically, Impact Hub Philly is headquartered in the former home of 3rd Ward, a membership-based co-working creative space that was based in Brooklyn.
3rd Ward completely refurbished the building located at North 4th and Thompson streets in the South Kensington area, but months after opening their Philadelphia location in May 2013, 3rd Ward shut down all operations in both cities, citing financial troubles, in October 2013.
Impact Hub, which was at that time working on the third floor, was able to effectively take over the building. Having the larger space changed the scope of Impact Hub Philly, Shiau said.
"We went from 7 to 9,000 square feet to 27,000 square feet overnight," Shiau said. "Suddenly, you have this amazing opportunity."