Officially launched in May 2013, the NYC Center for Social Innovation (CSI) is "part coworking space, part community center and part incubator for people and organizations that are changing the world". CSI is working to develop a culture of idea exchange, collaboration and sharing of networks among social enterprise start-ups. Here are a few ways that CSI supports social enterprise start-ups.
The CSI community's structure and format borrow many principles from proven processes that spark innovation, with the concept of "liquid networks" at its core. The simple act of increasing collisions in a randomized environment of individuals with the same overall goal has been proven to promote innovative collaboration. This is a big part of the reason why innovation accelerated so rapidly with the introduction of cities just a few thousand years ago. CSI is dedicated to building a diverse network of social-minded organizations in one small place.
Facilitating these connections delivers innovative ideas from what Steven Johnson refers to in his book, Where Good Ideas Come From, as "the adjacent possible." Borrowing and exchanging ideas from a wide set of experts in your network can lead to new and inventive application of an unfamiliar technology. The cross-pollination of ideas and projects across the social enterprise start-ups at the CSI supports this theory of innovation.
Providing a Support Structure
CSI's internal support for the start-up community is unmatched. I've joined and visited many coworking and start-up-focused support organizations; but the passion, drive and cohesiveness at CSI was remarkable. Sharing a common goal--striving to make the world a better place through a social enterprise--breaks down competitive walls typically found at other start-up communities and incubators. Instead of crowing about who got funding first or how much capital they raised, these entrepreneurs are laser focused on their projects and supporting each other to work towards a shared purpose.
The CSI support structure is built around private offices, team clusters and "hot desks" that social enterprise entrepreneurs can call home, even if it's just for a few hours per week. Entrepreneurs currently working out of coffee shops now have a low-cost alternative that provides a professional address to appear more established. Even if you're just at the brainstorming stage and don't have any funding for a part-time hot desk, CSI hosts a number of free events and meet ups that can help early-stage entrepreneurs get off the ground.
The CSI staff also consists of "Community Animators" who are dedicated to supporting the community on a daily basis. These volunteers are the lifeblood of the CSI community, to facilitating connections between members and attracting outside support for the CSI community.
How to Get Involved
Although the offices are currently sold out, there are many other membership options including team clusters and part-time "hot desks." The CSI also hosts a number of free events and meet ups where guests can interact and be a part of the community, even if they don't maintain a paying membership. Paying members at a low monthly cost also have access to private events, summits, competitions, workshops and access to the online network. Visit the Center for Social Innovation for more information about how your organization can get involved.