From the Good Ideas File: A Garage that does more than Green, it builds ecosystem

People who have been paying attention to the bottom-up indie revitalization that’s been going on in Detroit might have heard of the Green Garage — or maybe I just read a lot of obscure stuff.  Hm.

I’m gonna admit that when I first heard about the Green Garage, my reaction was, “nice good, needed, yes, but nothing all that new.”  After all, seemingly every city has an incubator/co-working space anymore, and while they’re important and valuable and certainly much needed in what I described in the book as the 1099 economy… it’s not all that new of a solution on the surface.  Which is fine, but didn’t really strike me as necessary to share from the Good Ideas file.  And yes, the focus is on sustainable businesses, but again, you can read about lots of those somewhere else.

Until I read this (emphasis mine):

The businesses that take part in this co-working space know they’re a part of the city’s story. Inhabiting what was an abandoned structure is one part of it, but the greater part is knowing that there’s a need to work together to help the city. Businesses collaborate and always point each other to resources in Detroit. With the recent announcement of bankruptcy, these businesses aren’t shying away, they’re sticking together to build businesses in Detroit.

And then this:

coworking room

Each Friday the Green Garage welcomes visitors far and wide to visit their co-working space for what they call Community Lunches. The lunches started back when the space was first being built out, and it was a way to welcome the community inside and share the Green Garage’s story. Now it’s serves as a way to show the building to colleges, professionals, and other groups that frequently drop by, and also provide networking for the local businesses.

 Michael Stumpf of Place Dynamics recently noted on a LinkedIn group that incubators and accelerators and the like only account for less than one percent of new businesses.  By themselves, these kinds of spaces aren’t in and of themselves economy – changing.  What can be economy-changing about them, however, is when they can become nodes — Town Squares, if you like — for the various, widely varying but messily (and sometimes obliviously) interdependent parts of the small business ecosystem.

Small businesses need that realization of working together, or being parts of the same thing together, now more than they ever have — and that goes for “high tech” and traditional businesses alike.  The communities that figure out how to enable, support and nurture these interrelationships are going to be the ones that develop rich economic ecosystems.

I’ve been spending a lot of time studying the Downtown Project in Las Vegas recently, and one of the central principles that initiative is organized around has to do with the power of collisions.  The more you can enable entrepreneurial people to encounter other entrepreneurial people with different expertise and skills and frames of reference, the more likely that someone(s) in that ecosystem will develop a great new idea.  If an incubator/accelerator/co-working space helps increase the odds of those collisions — not just among its little membership, but across the whole small business economy — then the power of what it does will extend far beyond the roster of a few names on its walls.

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