Photo: Connor Radnovich, The Chronicle – Nadia Gathers (left) and Joleen Xu work on their laptops at the Impact Hub offices in San Francisco.
Impact Hub San Francisco has the requisite geek-chic office look: an airy, industrial space; worktables packed with people hunched over laptops, gesticulating as they make calls or scrawling on whiteboards, enlivened with quirky touches like a beanbag nest area. But its intangibles — community, serendipity and spontaneity — have drawn about 800 social entrepreneurs to set up shop at the sprawling co-working and event space, which just marked its five-year anniversary.
“There’s an amazing range of people here doing inspiring work,” said Dwight Wilson, CEO and co-founder of Collabriv, which places international interns at technology companies and nonprofits. “We met our first webmaster here, our first accountant; many others who’ve helped open doors in other countries for our recruitment efforts. And for someone like me who’s 57, it helps keep me young to be around so many folks here who are a generation removed.”
Located at Fifth and Mission streets (The Hub’s landlord is a subsidiary of Hearst Corp., which publishes The Chronicle.), the Hub is among some 70 similar spaces worldwide, described as “part innovation lab, part business incubator, and part community center.” A new Oakland campus is also part of the larger Impact Hub movement. The San Francisco location is one of five (the others are in Berkeley, New York, Philadelphia and Washington) under the auspices of MissionHUB, which also sponsors theSocial Capital Markets Conference, an annual San Francisco event for social entrepreneurs and investors.
“Everyone sits next to different people all the time; there are no private desks,” said Tim Nichols, managing director in San Francisco. “We want to be at the forefront of how people work; making sure people get connected and not just sit down somewhere as if they were in a cubicle at a corporation.”
Memberships start at $30 a month just for events, ranging up to $3,500 for large private spaces. Several larger organizations embed their people within the Hub. The Presidio Graduate School, a green MBA program, offers its students space at the Hub. “They can explore how the real world is doing things they’re learning about, as well as find jobs,” Nichols said. Google.org gives one-year Hub memberships to the 25 winners of its annual impact challenge grants.
In addition to its open space, the San Francisco location has 22 private offices for the third of its members who have larger teams, ranging up to about 15 people.
Code2040, for instance, moved in 18 months ago with six staffers and now has 14, occupying the biggest office.
“It’s the best of both worlds: We have the private space to be a team and develop our own culture, but are in the midst of a melting pot of other people looking to create change,” said Laura Weidman Powers, co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit, which works on expanding diversity at technology companies.
Not all members are focused on social and environmental concerns, but all are “values aligned,” said Hub spokeswoman Marissa Feinberg.
“They compost their lunch, eat vegan, do yoga; they have a mind-set of social impact,” she said. “A place like this connects them with resources to make more change. We want to have people to convert so we are not just preaching to the choir all the time.”
Eventually Code2040 will move into its own space.
“You outgrow it and that’s kind of the point,” Weidman Powers said. “We will have gone through a really formative period of growth in being here.”
Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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