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INNOVATE

Groovy: New Communes Cater to Entrepreneurs
 

Forget peace and love. These communes aim to see what happens when smart entrepreneurs spend every minute together.

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People of a certain age may remember how hippies got together during the Summer of Love to establish communes based on peace, love, and harmony. But the idea wasn't unique to the 1960s. Communes have existed throughout history in many incarnations.

One of the latest could be called the incubator commune. Around the world, in such tech hot spots as Silicon Valley and Berlin, people have started entrepreneurial communes that blend work and life together (as if entrepreneurs didn't do that already) to potentially supercharge innovation and entrepreneurship. Tie-dye is optional.

Not that using close quarters to foster work and study is a new idea. Hundreds of years ago, young apprentices would move in with a master craftsman to learn skills necessary for a trade. Renaissance artists had workshops where they trained young people with talent who would eventually do part of the work to complete commissions, making life for later curators and authenticators complicated and troubling. Universities can offer a similar sense of co-mingling activity and living where students ultimately learn from each other. There are even successful businesses like Dell, Google, and Box that were born in schools.

And yet, is a commune really a patch to innovation? The answer depends greatly on the structure of the experience. Blackbox Mansion in Palo Alto incorporates an accelerator and so can literally help launch companies--it has six in its portfolio at the moment. But according to Brock Lemieux at The Kernel, some like The Glint have already waned. And, as fellow Inc.com columnist Jessica Stillman has pointed out previously, not everyone can benefit from such living and working arrangements. If you're married, have kids, or tend to withdraw from the presence of others, such an experience won't be for you.

And you might wonder whether it is the best approach to reach your goals anyway. Starting and growing a business is a creative endeavor, but is living and breathing a single experience really the best way to do it? Creativity requires nurturing, feeding from outside your normal routine, and even time away from a project so you can rejuvenate.

The tech space in particular can become insular. Concentration is good, but not at the expense of remembering that a broader community is necessary. You must learn to understand and empathize with customers and suppliers as well as see changes in society and other industries to recognize opportunities when they arise.

Perhaps the real lesson of these communes of entrepreneurs passing in the night is to build your own extended communities through home, actively working with other entrepreneurs, leveraging your company's advisory board, and looking for employees with broad backgrounds that could bring that extra something that can mean the difference between scraping by and wild success.

Last updated: Dec 28, 2012

ERIK SHERMAN's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.
@ErikSherman




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