Quality noise and good vibes

A growing number of Tel Aviv’s social entrepreneurs are turning on to The Hub, the latest thing in shared workspaces.

By
October 29, 2010 16:24
Founder of Tel Aviv Hub

Eli Hillman. (photo credit: JOANNA PARASZCZUK)

Over breakfast on a Tel Aviv rooftop, a group of people is plotting to change the world. Among them are Boaz, a hi-tech professional; Shelley, an independent filmmaker; Smadar, a copywriter and poet; Assaf, a provider of integrated Hebrew-language Internet video services; and Roni, a peace and environmental activist.

As each takes a turn to present his or her project ideas, the others ask questions and offer encouragement.

“Fantastic, what a great idea! That could really change things,” they tell each other.

Boaz, Shelley, Smadar, Assaf and Roni are all members of Hub Tel Aviv, a gathering-place for a growing number of the city’s nomadic tribe of freelance “startupists,” social entrepreneurs and creative professionals. They are taking part in one of the Hub’s regular business breakfasts, where members can introduce themselves, network and share ideas.

Currently about 40 freelancers use Hub Tel Aviv, paying a flexible rate for access to shared office facilities including a desk, WiFi, a computer and shared office equipment and meeting spaces.

Hub Tel Aviv, though, is far more than just an office.

“It’s a greenhouse for social and environmental entrepreneurs,” says Eli Hillman, who co-founded Hub Tel Aviv two years ago with fellow Israeli Danny Gal.

Hub Tel Aviv is part of a global network of shared workspaces designed for a new kind of socially aware entrepreneur. The first Hub opened in London in 2008 and since then the concept has mushroomed into a global franchise. Twenty-six Hubs have sprouted in cities all over the world: Cairo has one, as do Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Prague, Toronto and Oaxaca, Mexico.

Like the people who use them, Hubs do not fit neatly into any one, fixed category. At any one time, Hubs can function as members’ clubs, fully serviced offices, offline social networks, spontaneous think tanks, and learning centers.

Hillman explains what drew him to the Hub concept.

“I’m a farmer’s kid from a moshav,” he says. “I’ve always grown things. Now I help grow people.” A social entrepreneur himself, Hillman’s other projects include running executive team-building days on a farm.

Hillman is convinced that Hub Tel Aviv meets a real need for Israel’s growing community of social and socially aware entrepreneurs – those who look beyond profit to the “double bottom line” – how their projects impact the community as well as making money. The Hub provides the chance to share, gain inspiration from others and bounce ideas off a group of like-minded individuals or experts in a particular field.

“Freelancers often don’t have anyone to interact with,” says Hillman. “Here at the Hub, people sit next to each other in a shared space, so they feel encouraged. It gives them strength and a feeling that they can do anything. We give them quality noise and good vibes.”

Hillman adds that the strength-in-numbers idea works not only for shared inspiration but also for essential practical things, like legal and accounting services. Hub members purchase things together, and the joint purchases bring better deals.

So what happens when you put an ever-changing group of independent entrepreneurs in the same space, free from grumpy bosses, rival coworkers and a set nineto- five structure? Hillman invited Metro to hang out at Hub Tel Aviv for a while, meet its members, soak up the atmosphere and find out.

When I walk through the door of Hub Tel Aviv’s rooftop office space at Derech Begin 55, it’s immediately apparent that this is no regular workplace. I am greeted not by a receptionist, but by an energetic yellow dog, which turns out to belong to Hub member Ram Efrat, co-founder of nonprofit Adam LeAdam.

Today, Efrat and his partner Uri Amit are here holding a meeting on the Hub’s comfortable sofas. On a large noticeboard marked ‘”People with Good Ideas for the World” are photos of each Hub member and a description of their projects.

Outside on Hub Tel Aviv’s enormous roof terrace – which offers tantalizing glimpses of the sea – people are holding impromptu meetings, asking questions and talking animatedly. Inside, others are sitting at desks working quietly.

“Don’t feed the entrepreneurs!” warns a joke sign.

Since Hub Tel Aviv members rent space by the hour or day, it’s never exactly the same crowd here. One day a French journalist might sit next to an Israeli hi-tech whizz-kid, the next a Jewish community activist might bump into a scriptwriter producing her first movie. It’s like business speed dating, or an offline version of Facebook.

The resulting atmosphere is buzzy, energetic and happy. Literally anywhere here can be a fruitful place for creating new ideas – even the toilets, which, in keeping with the egalitarian spirit, are marked “People.”

So is the Hub a hip haven for Tel Aviv’s bright young things?

“Actually, we have people of all ages here, from 20-somethings just starting out through older people aged 50-plus who have worked all their lives in a company and now want to do something for themselves,” says Hillman.

Picking a member at random, I asked seasoned social entrepreneur Uri Amit, whose nonprofit Adam LeAdam operates volunteer programs for young Jews in India and Israel, to tell me what attracted him to the Hub.

A Hub veteran who joined almost two years ago, Amit says his reasons for joining are closely aligned to his own values and those of Adam LeAdam.

“I WANTED to be part of something bigger than just myself,” he explains. “The Hub encourages innovative, out-of-the-box thinking, openness and social entrepreneurship. People from different professional fields sit together in one space. There are great people here who push you to ask a lot of questions, which is something that is hard to do but is very rewarding.”

Shelley Hermon, an independent documentary filmmaker, joined Hub Tel Aviv partly to surround herself with like-minded people. The Israeli-born Hermon moved to London with her family at age eight, and returned to Tel Aviv four years ago. She is currently completing Within the Eye of the Storm, a documentary about two men, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, both of whom experience a personal tragedy that transforms them from enemies into advocates for peace.

“I searched for a place where I could be part of an office but still keep my independence,” says Hermon. “The Hub has helped me a lot. There is a sense of community here and people have a real willingness to support each other.”

Hermon adds that she has made several important connections among Hub members, including Yossi Artzi, a film director, editor and writing coach.

“Yossi helped me look at my film with fresh eyes,” she says. Naomi, another Hub member with a background in conflict resolution, has become a researcher for the film.

In addition to its frequent business breakfasts, Hub Tel Aviv serves up a buffet of diverse goodies including a weekly session for discussing business plans and asking fellow members for input into project ideas. There are frequent seminars and workshops on a wide range of topics geared for social entrepreneurs; a regular social gathering called Hub Pub with invited speakers; and lectures by Hub members on subjects as diverse as martial arts training methodologies and personal freedom.

Is Tel Aviv the perfect place for The Hub?

“Actually, this sort of thing is needed in the [country’s] periphery,” says Hillman, who has plans to extend the network to places like Beersheba and Karmiel, but for the immediate future is looking to open another local Hub in Jaffa’s revamped port.

Uri Amit agrees.

“It’s great that this facility exists in Tel Aviv,” he says. “But if a Hub were to open in, say, Kiryat Shmona, where there are also a lot of independent workers, that would really be a powerful statement.”

For more information about Hub Tel Aviv, visit http://telaviv.the-hub.net/


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