On the 5th floor space at Indiegrove on Newark Avenue, with ample light shining through its main rooms and surprising views of the waterfront and skyline, headphones don’t necessarily make you anonymous.
“I may wave you down and say hi to you anyway,” says founder Zahra Amanpour.
Indiegrove, Jersey City’s first established coworking space, is celebrating its four-year anniversary this month. And despite coworking’s explosion over the past few years, Indiegrove has always defined itself as much more than designer flex space with desks and a communal kitchen. That, for Amanpour, was taking the easy way. Instead, utilizing her background as former executive director for the NYC Department of Small Business Services she has built a community and network of independent professionals who stimulate, and in turn help sustain each other, all under the same roof.
The seed for Indiegrove was planted while Amanpour was working for NYC and managing WIBO (Workshop in Business Opportunities), a non-profit working to develop entrepreneurs in underserved communities. “I had helped many businesses with marketing and networking already,” said Amanpour. Even though the 11-year Jersey City resident had the JC-appropriate name before the space, the venue was originally headed to Brooklyn. But as she learned more about coworking, the more Jersey City seemed to be the perfect spot. It all came together when the building on Newark Avenue became available and after an initial halt from Hurricane Sandy, the doors opened in January 2013.
“A lot of beginning members were the glue here,” she said. At most coworking spaces, tech is the dominate industry, “but tech was not who showed up at first. It was everyone else: accountants, lawyers, bloggers, therapists, a little of everybody,” said Amanpour. And she prefers it that way. With variety comes less competition and more opportunity for collaboration.
With 150 members, Indiegrove has grown quickly. In 2015, they expanded to part of the 4th floor for a total of 10,000 square feet.
The space is bright, open and lively. A business cards table and online member exchange facilitate easy introductions, phone booths offer privacy and noise control for calls, and a kitchen with coffee, tea and other amenities is available. A mailbox and meeting rooms are included in all memberships. Communal space includes long tables spread throughout three different spaces.
Indiegrove offers various membership plans ranging from $350 a month for full-time members to a flexible 10-day package starting at $225. Dedicated desks and private offices are also available.
With a solid member base, now her focus is on working with entrepreneurs and helping them self-sustain. “I do whiteboard sessions with people. My job is to provide support and resources to the businesses here…to stay attuned to what my members need and help them find it. Community means doing things that reduce isolation,” she added.
Diversity is an important ingredient for her. “Diversity leads to creativity.” And this is Jersey City, one of the most diverse cities in the US, it’s important to Amanpour that the membership reflects this. While many members live downtown, some come from the Heights and other Jersey City neighborhoods, and others commute from the city.
Amanpour also runs a women’s group that has grown in size. “We got a lot of men in the beginning, and now we have more women than men. We have mompreneurs working on their own business with crafts, maternity clothing, nutrition, as well as therapists working with children and teens (in private office space.)
Community at Indiegrove also means introductions are made and skills are shared. “People tend to seek out others in the space, allowing work to flow through here—we have small business accountants, an SEO guy, a bootcamp instructor, and the pastor of the Downtown Community Church, which has welcomed new attendees from here.
“Lunch and Learn”, a chance to brown-bag lunch and gather to learn, chat and chew together, is a popular inclusion for members and also open to the public for a small fee. Topics cover work-life balance, business and passion, SEO, accounting, productivity tips, mind-body connection and more.
Indiegrove continues to be home to an evolving roster of freelancers, contractors, businesses, lawyers, designers, therapists, lifestyle websites and staffing groups to name a few. Auction.com recently took an office, and Uber started its New Jersey market there before branching off to a headquarters in Hoboken. Even Jersey Digs got its start at Indiegrove.
As members businesses prosper, Amanpour is faced with a new reality, watching them leave. “The whole point and the sad truth is seeing them go, but it means someone has thrived.”