Communal living comes freighted with crunchy visions of tempeh burgers, macramé, and drip candles.

Forget that for a moment, and consider that they might be the ideal set up for young entrepreneurs.

Shareable recently outlined a movement that's reinventing communal living for those looking to change the world for the better through entrepreneurship and tech innovation rather than back-to-the-earth farming and the like. As such these experiments in communal living, which has been rebranded "coliving" (to highlight the ideological similarities with coworking), are usually located in tech hot spots.

Take Rainbow Mansion in Apple's hometown, Cupertino, California, for example. The arrangement got off the ground in 2006 when a few needed to find housing in über expensive Silicon Valley. As Shareable reports, the group of young people came up with a creative solution:

In 2006, Jessy Kate Schingler and four other young engineers landed jobs at NASA’s Ames Research Center. They suddenly needed a place to live in Silicon Valley, but rather than opt for cheap housing with a long commute, they pooled their resources and rented a palatial 5,000 square foot property in Cupertino. The Rainbow Mansion was born.

It was more than just a luxury home full of brilliant young minds. Dubbed “an intentional community,” The Rainbow Mansion was an experiment in a new type of cohabitation. The house began hosting hackathons and salons in its library, inviting Silicon Valley’s best and brightest to participate. “Right away it set itself in motion,” Schingler says. “It had this sort of accidental mystique about it.”

In the six years since, the Rainbow Mansion has housed 60 people from 12 countries, along with employees from Google, Apple and Tesla. One of Schingler’s cofounders, Chris Kemp, became CTO of IT at NASA. 

The Bay Area and Silicon Valley are home to several other such experiments in coliving Shareable reports, including TheGlint in San Francisco and Palo Alto's Blackbox Mansion. While these coliving communities may pass on the hippie clichés in order to nurture young entrepreneurial talent, they haven't entirely given up the desire to change the world for the better that fueled other earlier iterations of communal living. As Chris Kemp, one of the Rainbow Mansion founders explained to the Register:

If we felt that someone was on a mission to change the world, they got in--even if they couldn't pay the rent. We would never consider what people were doing at the moment. We considered what their values were and how they intended to do good--and good could mean anything. Good could be you were trying to develop the sort of gene-sequencing algorithm that provides doctors with the ability to tailor medicine to particular individuals. Good could mean building IT systems for NASA or a better user interface for the iPhone. 

The Rainbox Mansion and similar "intentional communities" might be good for all of us then as they encourage world-bettering innovation, but coliving is also good for entrepreneurs themselves and their work, according to Shareable, which explains:

Once the barriers of unfamiliarity begin to break down, people begin to work in harmony and think along similar lines. “You see through people's outer shell and into more of who they are,” says [entrepreneur and coliving veteran Chelsea] Rustrum. “You develop deeper, more real relationships and have the potential to actually work together, actually help each other. Not just in professional ways but in personal ways also.” This is the magic of coliving: It connects people in a multitude of ways, building trust and creating infinite opportunities for collaboration.

“It’s hard to explain the creative serendipity that goes on,” says Todd Huffman. He cites his own start-up, which he runs out of the Langton Labs coliving space, as an example. His group is working to build a very advanced 3D microscope; it just so happens that four of his Langton roommates have Ph.D.s relating to microscopy.

Obviously, coliving isn't a solution for every entrepreneur such as those with spouses, children or a very reserved, private nature, or those living far from other entrepreneurs. But if you're young, risk tolerant, with an idealistic streak and a little bit of gregariousness (not to mention a limited bank account), coliving might be worth considering.

What's your reaction to this sort of communal this normal apartment-sharing or just bizarre?


Published on: Jun 27, 2012
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