PopTech Blog

Posts by Heather Fleming

Co-working for Social Good

Editor’s note: Heather Fleming is a 2008 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow and the CEO of Catapult Design, an organization that develops “human-centered products” for BoP (bottom of the pyramid). Below, she tells us why her company works from a co-working space for social entrepreneurs in San Francisco.

“It’s kinda like a third world command center,” is how Tyler Valiquette, (Catapult Design co-founder) described his first visit to 972 Mission, now Mission*Social, a co-working space aimed at social entrepreneurs in San Francisco.

Coworking at Mission Social
Mission*Social in San Francisco’s SoMa

Indeed, Mission*Social is stocked with organizations serving communities in India, Rwanda, Guatemala, the DRC, Zambia, Kenya, etc. and it’s got the extensive Skype conferencing setup to prove it.

Founded by Inveneo, a leading non-profit in ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development), Inveneo’s CEO Kristin Peterson describes the space as a “DIY environment” for its tenants.

Each conference room has monitors, speakers, and web cams rigged to the walls for frequent international video Skype calls; next to the kitchen is an open work area for assembly and de-bug littered with monitors, keyboards, wires, and electrical components; most of the IKEA furnishings in the space are perched on wheels to make changes fast and easy.

Coworking at Mission Social
Mission*Social in San Francisco’s SoMa

Catapult moved into Mission*Social at the beginning of October, joining Samasource and Inveneo. We immediately felt the benefits of sharing space with other mission-driven companies. Within two and half months of moving in, we’ve tapped Inveneo for legal resources, solar vendor recommendations for our client work in Rwanda, an accountant for the 2009 tax season, and even guidance on IRS filings. Resources like this are invaluable and save newbies (like me) loads of time and grief.

Co-hosting Catapult’s holiday party with the immensely popular Samasource fueled the expansion of our social circle. And naturally, being in a proximity of twenty feet with Inveneo has already resulted in a joint proposal on a new project.

The solidarity component also plays a valuable role in a space serving social entrepreneurs. Did I mention that I now get to sit next to two successful female CEOs running technology organizations?

Generally, San Francisco’s loft spaces in the South of Market (SoMa) area are some of the most viable and affordable office spaces for budget-minded social entrepreneurs—within walking distance of Catapult: blueEnergy Group (providing sustainable energy to marginalized communities), Impact Carbon (improves accessibility of clean tech for the international carbon market), Public Architecture, and many others.

The SF Chronicle, directly across the street from Mission*Social, recently announced that the TechShop, a membership-based DIY workshop, and the Hub, a network supporting business incubation, are moving in next year. And appropriately, the site of the upcoming TEDxSoMa will be in a popular SoMa co-working space, ParisSoMa.

Mission*Social is now open for those seeking permanent space as well as those passing through San Francisco. A final perk? The eclectic SoMa neighborhood is one of the only places in San Francisco where you can both guild your teeth and buy a cup of the city’s chicest coffee on the same block.

Great blog posts on the co-working trend:

- Change.org’s Nathaniel Whittemore, “Top Trend of 2010 #4: Coworking and Startup Incubation”

- The Guardian, Bobbie Johnson, “Co-working Silicon Valley Job Crisis”