[This is the fourth installment of an ongoing series on New Jersey's tech coworking spaces.]
Indiegrove, a coworking space in Jersey City, is all about finding freedom through entrepreneurship.
It was that very principle that inspired founder Zahra Amanpour to launch Indiegrove in May 2013. "[Entrepreneurship is] the most empowering tool an individual has to achieve true freedom and independence from the larger corporate world," she said. "I also think that it's a way for people to freely express themselves and bring out that creative side."
The spirit of free expression is evident throughout the place, with its bright, airy, and open environment. "I wanted the space to be very uplifting," Amanpour told NJTechWeekly.com. She certainly succeeded.
Indiegrove’s lobby is colorful, with several cafe tables and quiet phone booths where members can make business calls. The coworking area features picture windows that offer stunning views of Jersey City and Manhattan. A number of private desks also can be found nearby.
Indiegrove has two private meeting rooms, three private offices, and a kitchen with an expansive view of Jersey City. Potted plants and paintings by local artists are scattered throughout the facility.
But the company’s most exciting feature may be the community itself. The coworking space is full of people who are "really working hard and doing incredible things,” Amanpour said. “It's a serious type of entrepreneur who comes here."
Indiegrove currently has about 120 members and roughly 30 more people who routinely use the meeting rooms. Tech makes up about 50 percent of Indiegrove’s membership, with financial, healthcare, fitness, and other technology businesses represented. “We have every type of tech you can imagine,” Amanpour said.
One member business is Jersey City-based GTNetwork LLC, a provider of software and mobile apps for ground transportation companies. Nate Shpiro, co-founder and CEO, said his team has grown from six to 13 members during their time at Indiegrove.
Another member, San Francisco-based Gain Fitness, offers a hybrid training approach, where personal trainers can program workouts on apps to provide clients with remote access for exercising, said Nicholas Della Valle, an iOS Developer for Gain.
Indiegrove's members also include attorneys, sustainable energy professionals, therapists, and marketers.
It is this diversity that makes Indiegrove a particularly productive work environment, Amanpour noted. Member Bill McCann, CTO of New York City-based AlignCare Services LLC, expressed a similar opinion. He enjoys getting fresh perspectives on his work from people outside of the tech industry. "They don't have that legacy baggage where they know something is done in a certain way," he said.
Most of Indiegrove’s members live in Jersey City, but "we're getting a lot of New York businesses now," Amanpour said. Increasing numbers of entrepreneurs are commuting[E2] from New York City to the coworking space, thanks partly to Indiegrove's location across the street from the local PATH station.
McCann, a New Jersey resident, said the train makes it easy to meet with his business partner, who lives in New York City. He also appreciates that Indiegrove is within walking distance of many convenient businesses, including banks, restaurants, retail stores, and coffee shops.
Indiegrove’s membership package includes a variety of amenities, including:
· Use of the two on-site meeting rooms
· Copy machines
· Fax machines
· Kitchen with free coffee and tea
Indiegrove also provides entrepreneurs with opportunities to learn and network at its many events. "We have a lot of educational workshops" that cover topics like handling taxes and managing cash flow, Amanpour said. Some of the workshops are held in partnership with Freelancers Union, an organization that supports independent workers. Indiegrove also hosts meetings for groups like Code for Jersey City and the Jersey City Writers, as well as its own Indiegrove Women's Group meetup.
Indiegrove's sense of community isn't just limited to events. The staff is on hand to assist members should they require help with equipment or need to borrow office supplies. "The little things add up," McCann said. "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. … And that's very true here with Zahra and the people she's hired."
Amanpour’s passion for entrepreneurship was initially sparked when she joined Women's Freedom Forum, a nonprofit organization that assists women who face hardships in the Middle East and Africa. "Somebody was telling a story about how they had helped women entrepreneurs in Africa get off the ground and how successful the local economies have become,” Amanpour said, explaining that the account further cemented her career choice.
Amanpour’s next stop was Workshop in Business Opportunities, a New York City-based group that supports entrepreneurs in underserved communities. From there, she moved to the City’s Department of Small Business Services, where she managed the agency’s NYC Business Solutions program and oversaw 90 employees.
After working with small-business owners, Amanpour decided to pursue her own entrepreneurial journey. Like many budding entrepreneurs, she was initially challenged when it came to funding, even though she had excellent credit and collateral. "Financing was a huge hurdle for me," said Amanpour, adding that her business concept, which was new at the time, hindered the process. "I was turned down by probably 10 different banks.”
Coworking spaces have gained more attention in the two years since Amanpour started her company, making it easier for other such businesses to secure funding. Hoboken-based Mission50 and Cowerks, of Asbury Park, recently received loans from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. Indiegrove also was a beneficiary. The agency granted a $175,000 loan to Amanpour, who said she plans to use the money to expand Indiegrove’s facility.
It's the next step on a long and rewarding journey for Amanpour.
"I think entrepreneurs are born with something in them," Amanpour said, "but it doesn't always necessarily get triggered. Something in life will trigger it."