NEI Embeds at Co-Working Spaces to Better Connect with Entrepreneurs

A well-funded nonprofit that gives grants to Detroit-area entrepreneurs plans to station some of its staff members in the region’s co-working offices, hoping that an “in the trenches” perspective will help it better understand what startup founders need to succeed.

“It’s more effective and it gives us more flexibility,” says Jim Boyle, spokesman for the $140 million New Economy Initiative. “We hope to bring the connections and resources we have directly into the ecosystem. We also hope there will be some serendipity at the water cooler that will help us foster connections.”

The new program, called NEI Street Level, will put NEI staffers in the Grand Circus co-working office in downtown Detroit through the end of January. After that, they’ll pick up and go somewhere else. “I think our time at Grand Circus will teach us a lot about how long or short we should stay at each co-working space,” Boyle says.

Boyle says the NEI began taking notice of co-working spaces after seeing projections that estimate big growth in co-working offices, with the potential for more than 1 million people nationwide using the spaces in the next five years. “It’s a new way people are working in the new economy,” Boyle says. “We like to promote it for people working in the basement—it gets them into a connected space.”

NEI currently funds a few co-working spaces in Detroit, including Ponyride and the Grand River WorkPlace in the Grandmont-Rosedale neighborhood. “We see this as a way to connect with entrepreneurs and a way to graduate them to brick and mortar spaces,” he adds.

The NEI is also sponsoring Co-Working Week, which takes place Oct. 20-24 and will highlight metro Detroit’s co-working spaces with open houses and speakers.

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