2017 marks the 10th anniversary of “The Melting Pot”, the coworking space established by Claire Carpenter in the centre of Edinburgh. It is now a thriving community of 172 coworkers and a venue hire space that hosts 10,000 visitors a year. As that milestone approaches, The Melting Pot’s team are preparing to launch the next phase in their coworking revolution – the Coworking Accelerator Network.
The Melting Pot opening in 2007 was the culmination of several years of development by a group of like-minded people led by Claire. This presented many challenges: defining, realising and maintaining a whole new model for sharing resources with a niche target audience, in the very centre of Scotland’s most expensive city. As Scotland’s Centre for Social Innovation, The Melting Pot supports a raft of not-for-profit organisations whose aims are to address social needs both at home and abroad, often struggling to find funds.
Claire and the team at The Melting Pot have acquired an awful lot of experience over those 10 years. They’ve navigated some very choppy waters, and avoided catastrophe on more than a few occasions. In that time, they have developed a guiding philosophy, tools and a turn-key business management solution to ensure that coworking spaces not only survive, but thrive and contribute to the betterment of their local communities and economy. Now, the Coworking Accelerator Network is set to offer that opportunity to others.
Hi Claire, what was the vision for setting up a coworking space in Edinburgh?
My dream was to create a shared working and learning environment in my home city. I wanted to create a dynamic and diverse community that shared a sense of collective purpose. It’s all about a place where the sum of the parts was greater than the whole.
Everyone who comes to The Melting Pot, brings with them a unique set of experiences, wisdom and skills. The unifying factor are the values that bring us together. As a host, we make our values clear. This in turn attracts visitors that share those values and feel that sense of community with us.
You have put aspirational values at the heart of the Coworking Accelerator Network, are those values you developed by running The Melting Pot?
Yes, this is a really important part of The Melting Pot’s ethos, shared by many other Coworking space developers I’ve met over the years, when developing spaces to build community and economic activity – we’ve identified the three most important shared values:
- Belonging because people connect when they develop a sense of belonging to where they live and work.
- Nurturing because people and businesses grow when talent, relationships and opportunities are nurtured.
- Place-Making because communities thrive when people, spaces and place create a joined up ecosystem.
We also demonstrate our values through our social innovation programme, a calendar of training and events that we run through our coworking space.
The central plank of that programme is The Good Ideas Academy. This is a special training and mentoring programme for aspiring social innovators. Over a period of six months it offers a camp to 25 different socially innovative ideas, and then a class to 10 of those ideas. They get to refine, test and plan their ideas. No one leaves without a much greater understanding of what it is they are trying to do and how to go about making it happen.
We’re now in our 5th year of running this programme, and we’ve supported over 80 new social enterprises in that time. We’re just about to hear the pitches to select this year’s 10 final projects.
Our philosophy is that if we actively demonstrate our values, we attract entrepreneurs who will also reflect those values. We’re very proud to see what our alumni have achieved.
What has been the secret to your success at The Melting Pot?
We have an excellent space in the heart of Edinburgh, and we’ve designed and redesigned that space over the years to maximise what we can achieve with it. There has been a lot of trial and error. There are two main spaces, one forms the centre of coworking, the other is our venue hire space.
It has not been an easy experience and we’ve had to make many mistakes in order to learn what it takes to keep going! We now want to offer the fruits of that experience to others who’d like to set up new coworking spaces. That’s why we’re launching the Coworking Accelerator Network.
Why launch the Coworking Accelerator Network? And why not just franchise The Melting Pot?
We did consider the franchise model, but we decided it did not really fit with our values and it wasn’t practical for us. Ultimately our aim is to promote the incredible benefits of socially innovative coworking spaces globally. We decided that our Coworking Accelerator Network was the best method for achieving that aim.
It has two distinct offerings. The first is to create a network of coworking spaces, that share our core values. We also set out a list of coworking commitments which can be seen on our website. This way, all participants can enjoy a like-minded global community.
The second offering helps new coworking spaces to open their doors. This starts with an ‘Explore’ option when judging feasibility, which is effectively 1-2-1 consultancy from an experienced professional.
The ‘Accelerate’ option offers a turn-key solution for opening and running a new coworking space. We know only too well the pitfalls of running this kind of business. Now we can provide new coworking spaces with a shortcut to success, offering our expertise and our proven template. We can save newcomers years of time and potentially fatal expenditure. We’ve developed a model that works, with systems to deliver it, that is adaptable to local conditions. The Coworking Accelerator Network exists to help people to create their own successful spaces.
You’re coming to this year’s Coworking Europe conference, what do you hope to get from it?
We have been before and always find it inspirational! It’s nourishing to get together with others in our field and hear their stories and tell our own. We hope other participants will join us in our new network. We’re close to our 10th anniversary and it’s the start of a new phase for us. We’ve witnessed first-hand the unbelievable benefits of coworking to our members. It makes absolute sense that we should now offer our experience to others, helping spread the coworking message around the globe. We need entrepreneurs who want to make the world a better place and we need to give them the space and the community for them to achieve their aims. We’re taking another step in the coworking revolution.
Claire has just received the Social Enterprise Champion Award 2016, given by Social Enterprise Scotland.