Startupmound aims to revitalize neighborhoods in Harlem with coworking

Earlier this year, the Harlem Garage, one of New York City’s vibrant coworking spaces sadly closed its doors.

The Harlem Garage was seen as a beacon of creativity in the Harlem community has left an empty space in its wake, but also room for new opportunities.

Things could bounce back rapidly, though. Ike Echebiri, serial entrepreneur and founder of Startupmound, is planning to launch a 24hr coworking and event space in Harlem called The Base. Ike, who runs  a service that allows startups to pitch to investors though an iOS app and in-person events, used to host a monthly startup pitching event at the Harlem Garage. We spoke with him about utilizing coworking to bring benefits to communities, neighborhood and business.

Hi Ike. Your project entails utilizing coworking spaces in Harlem to revitalize neighborhoods. Can you please tell us a bit more about your plans?

Well, not only will the new space be used by local startups and small businesses, non profits and government agencies have also shown intent to utilize the new space, including the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) as well as divisions of the Manhattan Borough. Change is always an idea before it becomes action, and with companies like NFTE we’ll be helping to insert this idea of change into the minds of the neighborhood’s youth through mentoring sessions and guest speakers.

Harlem Garage, Harlem, NYC

Harlem Garage, Harlem, NYC

With the help of the Borough we’ll be able to host city events that’ll attract attention and raise interest in the area. We also aim to work with the local colleges and universities to ensure that their entrepreneurial talent will have options to remain in the area upon leaving.

In what ways do you see coworking as a solution/or tool that could breathe new life into overlooked neighborhoods?

Collaboration and association often leads to innovation, and the coworking environment is filled with both. The more innovation that comes from these overlooked neighborhoods the more businesses it will attract. Also as more and more businesses work from a space the more foot traffic the neighborhood receives raising incentives to keep that area clean and safe.

Do you have any experience first hand with seeing the positive affects that coworking can have on underprivileged areas?

I was fortunate enough to see the effects that The Harlem Garage had on Harlem before closing, which is why it is so important to keep coworking options here in this area. The positive attention Harlem Garage brought to the area attracted WeWork, who’ll soon be opening up a space in a different area of Harlem.

What projects in Harlem do you currently see as having potential to create real change? 

CoFound Harlem is no doubt making strides to create real change with their accelerator program.

There will absolutely be efforts to branch into new neighborhoods local, nationally and internationally. Our first test will be Harlem and based on it’s success we will research similar areas that stand to benefit in the same way. I believe the most important factor is timing, so that has to be right before we begin any new project.

The Harlem Garage collaborated with local schools and networking events. In what ways do you work together and what have been the results of these partnerships?

To be clear, I don’t work for Harlem Garage. Startupmound, my company, hosted one of the networking events that collaborated with them. As a result of my monthly pitching event, I was able to bring some of NYC’s top investors out to Harlem and showcase Harlem’s best and brightest startups.

Ike Echebiri, founder of Startupmound

Ike Echebiri, founder of Startupmound

Through the event we not only introduced startups to investors, but startups to the coworking environment, and investors to Harlem. While the Harlem Garage was operating we had the longest running startup networking event and will continue the tradition of the Startupmound Pitch Series at The Base.

What are some of the current challenges professionals face in Harlem? And, what solutions can coworking offer?

One of the major challenges professionals face in Harlem is fear of change and push back from the community. Harlem’s culture is so deeply rooted in art, fashion, food and music and I sometimes feel people think that embracing the tech space will diminish those cultural anchors. It’s quite the opposite, going back to what I said about collaboration and association leading to innovation, all of those categories art, fashion, food and music all evolve over time because of innovation. So by collaborating and hosting industry specific events I believe we will overcome this fear by creating a more inclusive Harlem.