Monday, March 5, 2012

Local Business Spotlight: Independents Hall (a.k.a. Indy Hall) | Old City, Philadelphia

Welcome to another Philly Urban Living edition of “Local Business Spotlight.” For this spotlight, I wanted to meet with a local organization that was doing something different. Not only did I want to discuss what makes them a unique business, but I also wanted to showcase the creative side of Philadelphia. 

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Alex Hillman, of Philadelphia’s own Independents Hall (or Indy Hall for short), and pick his brain about an up-and-coming business movement called Coworking. The concept is surprisingly simple, and the idea is popping up in urban areas everywhere. The best part is, business leaders all over the world are coming to Philadelphia (and more specifically, to Alex at Indy Hall) to see how it’s done right.
 *Note: All "Philly Urban Living | Local Business Spotlight" material has been edited from its original content to conform with accuracy and length.
Tim Garrity, Philly Urban Living: Indy Hall was co-founded in late 2006. What was your inspirational moment for a coworking space?

Alex Hillman, Indy Hall: Indy Hall started as a group of people, not a space. I realized that it seemed easier for me to find likeminded people in any city other than my own. Indy Hall was my answer to that for myself ... and soon after, for other people.

There was one moment I remember where I knew something was happening, though. A bunch of the people I'd been working with from cafes, bars, even each others’ living rooms, all attended a summer party held by PANMA, the Philadelphia Area New Media Association. After spending all night talking to people about how excited I was to be finding more people doing cool things in Philadelphia, I closed my mouth and listened - only to find that every way I turned, I heard people talking about the coworking space that I'd been talking about. But they weren't talking about my idea; they were talking about it as they were a part of it.

It was at that point that I realized that this was going to happen with or without me.

TG: How many members does Indy Hall currently have?

AH: We currently have around 175-180 members. 30-35 members call Indy Hall their "permanent" home, and the rest visit on flexible schedules. Our members stretch across all industries. It’s easier for me to tell you which industries we don’t serve than to tell you which ones we do. Individuals in the Tech/Creative, Science, Academic, Music/Film, Art, and Finance industries all call Indy Hall home. We don’t actively survey our membership base, we leave it up to our people to meet one another and find out how they may be able to work together on their own. That’s how the coworking model becomes successful.

TG: So I read that you are originally from the Lehigh Valley. How do you like living and working in Philadelphia?

AH: I grew up in Hellertown, Pennsylvania, which is close to Bethlehem.  I will have been living in Philadelphia for 10 years this Fall. It didn't at first, but these days, Philadelphia really feels like home.

In Philadelphia, the pace is right, the people are right, and it’s just a beautiful city to live in. It’s a small town in the sense that everybody knows everybody, and people travel in similar circles. It has world class history, music, film, food, and art. Philadelphia is a big city, but it doesn’t always feel like one.

I take trips up to New York all the time, and I love it; to visit. When I leave New York, I’m totally exhausted. I can hang out in Philly every day without feeling overworked or stressed out.

From an industry perspective, it’s an extremely diverse city. There is a lot of everything, just in smaller doses. You sometimes have to look a little harder to find the unique things it has to offer, but chances are they are tucked away in some historic alley right in your own neighborhood.

It's a city where you can take ownership of something small, and have it make a big difference.

TG: Indy Hall has a project in the works for a cohousing space called K’House (pronounced Ka-House). Tell me why you are taking on this kind of project.

AH: K'House is one of our answers to "what's next for Indy Hall". We've learned a lot in 5 years of exploring how to make work better, and a lot of the lessons we've learned have in turn contributed to the improvement of the communities we're a part of. Most of those communities are professional.

K'House stems from the idea that we can apply a lot of the same lessons we've learned from Indy Hall to building not just a home - but a different way to interact as neighbors and with the neighborhood. 

TG: How has the coworking movement changed your life?

AH: Indy Hall is not about having a better work environment, but having better coworkers. Because of that approach, coworking has made *everything* in my life different, and often for the better.

I think coworking has helped me think bigger, think differently about how I interact with people, and helped me build a global network of amazing friends and collaborators.

TG: So what’s next for you, Alex? How does Indy Hall provide inspiration for other projects?

AH: Like K'House is a re-imagining of neighbor/neighborhood lifestyle through Indy Hall values and goals, I've thought about what other things we could re-imagine.

There are so many industries ripe for disruption, and I see how our ideas fit each of them. I'd love to do a record label focused on our style of collaboration. I'd love to do something with the education system that focuses on scalable mentorship, and have a few friends already working on great things like that.

I'm also teaching workshops to people interested in coworking models and our approach to things; people who want to start or grow a coworking space on their own, or just apply coworking to what they're already doing. That's really exciting to me, because we get past the idea of "space" and really figure out how coworking can change how people get things done. 

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