Co-working program helps spur growth locally


Stuart Pearman, left, a freelance web developer, chats with Amelie MacDonald, community manager at The Factory, and Henry Morrow, The Factory’s coLearning program manager, as part of the Cotivation program. Courtesy The Factory

It’s easy for entrepreneurs and small businesses to get stuck in a rut, spinning their wheels in the mud of red tape and self-limitations.

Knowing this, local co-working space The Factory recently launched a program in which individuals from any business background can join a group that will help them set goals and learn from each other’s experiences.

It’s like having co-workers, but from different companies. The program is called Cotivation, which stands for “collaborative motivation.”

Amelie MacDonald, community manager at The Factory, 38 W. Fulton St., Suite 400 in Grand Rapids, said her organization adapted the concept of Cotivation first launched in New York by Tony Bacigalupo.

“He founded New Work City (Manhattan’s first dedicated co-working space) in the 2008-09 recession,” MacDonald said. “That’s since closed, but he moved to Denver, Colorado, and he’s turned the business into New Work Cities.

“He was looking for a way for co-workers to get together. He was finding people were their own bosses, which was great for some, but daunting for others. Maybe I get stuck in X, Y or Z. Maybe I need help or a connection to someone working in a similar industry.”

MacDonald said each Cotivation cohort meets for an hour once per week, for five weeks, and The Factory runs one cohort every three months. It is designed to “be as structured or as loose as you want it to be,” she said.

“It’s customized to each person. The only thing people have to do is be a friend and help people by giving sound advice and listening and participating.”

The first half of the first session consists of introductions and icebreakers. In the second half of Day 1, participants choose an “overarching goal” that they want to accomplish.

“After we talk about our big goal, we talk about the first milestone we want to set,” MacDonald said. “We find saying we want to accomplish something after five weeks is still a lot, so sometimes it takes more time.”

Goals past participants have set include:

  • Training for a project management certification
  • Setting up a business and registering the name
  • Securing initial clients
  • Reading for professional development
  • Learning JavaScript, CSS, SASS or AngularJS programming languages
  • Transitioning from IT support to front-end web development
  • Creating a stormwater sensor for a municipality
  • Using the StrengthsFinder test to update a résumé and LinkedIn profile
  • Creating a book of hand-illustrated ideas using notes from an art history class

MacDonald said in the first three cohorts, most of the participants were from fields such as marketing, design, programming, operations, talent acquisition/HR, customer support, social entrepreneurship, production, coaching/training and education.

But the program is open to anyone who wants to learn and grow in their field, she said, as long as they are members of The Factory and plan to be generous and reciprocal with feedback and ideas.

“One of the things I’ve learned is it’s OK to not know (all the answers),” MacDonald said. “Say I don’t have the answer, but I might know somebody else who does. If nobody in the group knows the answer, they might have a friend or colleague who can connect them with that kind of information.”

Since the groups only meet once per week, MacDonald said she keeps the cohort connected by providing access to The Factory’s private social channels, including communication software called Slack where the teams can share ideas.

“Today, somebody shot out a question on Slack, somebody was saying do we know how to flatten and merge an image in Illustrator. Within three minutes, three people had sent a video, an article and a step-by-step set of instructions,” she said.

“One of the things I’ve learned from working here is that we all tend to take each other for granted, working in the same space with so many knowledgeable people. This program helps us go deeper into goals you’re trying to set for yourself,” she said.

MacDonald honed her methods of preparation and facilitation during the past three Cotivation cohorts she has led.

“I probably spend … an hour and a half preparing, sometimes coming up with an activity, doing some homework, digging out an article to share or helping move someone forward,” she said. “After the sessions, I do a recap, reading my notes and seeing what themes emerge, then sharing them with the group.”

Out of The Factory’s current membership of 100 co-workers, MacDonald said about 17 people have participated in the Cotivation program so far.

She said Cotivation members who are worried about protecting proprietary details as they establish a business might benefit from shifting their mindset.

“One of co-working’s core values is collaboration over competition,” she said. “People leave that worry behind, because they see more value in connecting with somebody who can help them than they do in competing.”

As facilitator, MacDonald said she has benefitted from the program as much as the participants have.

“One of the big things for me in running a program like this is I found that when you invest in people, you really win,” she said. “It does help you go deeper and foster those genuine relationships with others.”

“It’s important to continue to grow and be curious.”

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