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There are many ways to make the world a “significantly better” place to live.

As previously noted, I’m making a concerted effort to grow the BEAHIVE community and our physical presence — and allow us to better support the growing creatives and microbusinesses in the Hudson Valley. This all fits our vision of shaping a Localist (or Local Living) Economy in the region.

As part of this effort, I’ve applied to the William James Foundation Sustainable Business Plan Competition. The Foundation “supports entrepreneurs who are designing companies for the long-term: building in social and environmental values to create truly sustainable business models.” Their primary initiative is the Business Plan Competition, which provides feedback, mentorship, and an investment pipeline to entrepreneurs and investors.

Whether or not I’m actually invited to participate in the 2014 program, the simple process of applying helped crystallize my reasons for wanting to take BEAHIVE to the next level.

Here are a few of the questions (and answers) from the application. That final one is what it’s all about.

What problem will your business solve, and how will you solve it?

Independent workers in all their manifestations comprise around 40% of the US workforce, yet policies, budget decisions, and economic development initiatives aren’t typically considering them. A majority of them work from home, isolated. And in the exurban areas where BEAHIVE is focused, there’s a noticeable lack of services catering to them.

Coworking appeals to this rising class — in cost, the community-focused ethos, and open, collaborative spaces that promote creativity. We address the changing nature of work, providing professional and social and emotional support to people.

We also address the changing nature of business by incorporating community impact into our DNA.

Who are your customers, and what are they paying you for?

Customers: freelancers, creative professionals, solopreneurs, microbusinesses, small nonprofits, consultants, telecommuters. Primarily, they pay for membership that gives them access to workspace — both desks in open spaces and enclosed, private offices — and amenities. We also offer programs and space rental.

By expanding locations, and thereby our membership, we’ll be able to provide more value-added services to members and the community.

Why are you and/or your team the right people to do this?

Founded in 2009, we have an established, successful model; an established, engaged community; a strong identity and recognized brand in the Hudson Valley; an ongoing marketing effort; and a solid foundation in programming and space management, connections and the like.

I’ve been an independent consultant for more than a decade and understand the market and the audience intuitively. I’ve also been a part of the coworking movement for five years and part of the Localism movement for even longer. I’m a co-founder and board co-chair of Re>Think Local, a collaborative nonprofit (and BALLE network) supporting Localism in the Hudson Valley.

How will your firm make the world a significantly better place to live?

We’re more than desks and wi-fi and printers. We’re building a rich community of members from diverse backgrounds with a range of creative and technical talents and a desire to improve our professional lives, our personal lives and our communities. It’s that last focus that differentiates us from typical coworking spaces. Ultimately we’re catalyzing a Local Living Economy (aka Localism), one that is vibrant, sustainable, locally rooted and human scale.

We need to rethink outdated approaches to economic development, which often focus on attracting large out-of-region businesses and giving them tax breaks, hoping jobs and subsequent tax revenues will follow. I agree in part with Freelancers Union founder Sara Horowitz: “The solution will rest with our ability to form networks for exchange and to create political power.”

That’s what BEAHIVE is doing — and hopes to do even more so by expanding locations. We give the creative class and entrepreneurs a voice and support not typically found in government agencies and traditional business organizations. These citizens bring new energy and businesses to communities, but they also bring new thinking that can impact larger societal issues. They have the kind of broad perspective we need to address the intertwined challenges we face, connecting the dots between seemingly disparate ideas.
We’re not only supporting them professionally, we’re harnessing their skills and energy and providing a platform to engage in community impact.

Our programming provides a forum to not only inspire, educate and bond members — but ultimately, contribute to the larger community. For example, we convened a group of respected civic leaders, politicians and journalists to explore how to consciously create a vibrant community in Kingston, NY. Our first public event in July 2011, ”CIVIC KINGSTON NY: A Forum for Engagement,” focused on turning vision into action. It could serve as a model for other communities.

We also produced TEDxLongDock in June 2013, which explored the impact of the creative class and entrepreneurship in the Hudson Valley. It gathered great minds from the region and beyond — 22 hand-picked speakers and performers and 100+ curated attendees — to inspire our thinking, channel our ambition, and help unleash the potential of our bold new creativity.

The impact I envision, some of which has already been borne out:

  • Tap into the creative capital of multidisciplinary people to work together on projects benefiting the communities in which BEAHIVE operates
  • Provide a sense of community to members, especially those who usually work in isolation
  • Drive traffic and create energy that will:
    • help support current area businesses
    • help attract new businesses, tourists, residents
  • Help promote and represent the cities we populate as progressive, creative, lively, living communities throughout the Hudson Valley and beyond
  • Help strengthen the local economy, supporting the growing creative class and microbusinesses in the area

This is part of our DNA, and we’ll reflect that as a B Corp once it makes financial sense.

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