Our Interview with Danielle from Propeller Coworking!
In December of 2012, Danielle Kraus joined Propeller - just a month before they opened their current building. An International Development major, she graduated from Tulane in the spring of 2012 and is a New Orleans native. After a cross-country cycling trip, Danielle moved home to NOLA and started work with Propeller; though she was part of several international and socially orientated groups in college, Propeller’s social entrepreneurship presented a new and intriguing challenge as her first post-grad job. As incubator manager, Danielle manages business operations and membership, as well as workshop programming in conjunction with Propeller’s community manager. A 501c3 nonprofit, Propeller is a unique mixture of Coworking space and accelerator. Propeller’s accelerator is similar to a business incubator, which is a support process that provides entrepreneurs with resources and services aimed to help produce successful firms after their time with the incubator. The accelerator prepares businesses who are socially innovative in four sectors: healthy and local food access, water, public health, and education and youth development. With this August marking the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is still reeling from the effects; local food access was an immense problem in the after effects of the storm, and many sections of NOLA were designated food deserts. Propeller’s socially orientated mission battles every day struggles of New Orleans natives, and seeks to provide social innovation to the Big Easy.
How does Propeller operate, and where did it get its start?
Propeller is both a non-profit and for profit. The non-profit Propeller: A Force for Social Innovation has existed since 2011 and we opened the Propeller Incubator for-profit Coworking space in 2013. “We run an Accelerator program that helps launch companies that are focused on four specific sectors,” says Danielle. “All of the people in our program work out of a shared space, the Coworking shared desk area. We also have 12 private offices and 22 desks we rent out to other organizations, a lot of whom are like minded and work in the same sectors we work in, but it’s not mandatory. There’s a pretty diverse mixture of people, with a little over 100 individuals coming in and out of our space every week.”
So, what’s the difference between the Accelerator and Incubator?
We use the terminology in a different way. We call our incubator program, part of our non-profit – our Accelerator. Whereas we call our building an Incubator. People who are in our program get free workspace, but most of the people who work in our space are not in our program. Just by working in the building, having a desk or some sort of membership, you don’t get incubator services. On the non-profit side, we’re an accelerator / incubator program and on the building side, it’s more of just a Coworking space without business services. We have a lot of workshops and a number opportunities to make connections, but there’s no structure or program.
What exactly goes on in the Accelerator Program?
Propeller is undergoing some exciting changes this year. In the past the program, we’ve run our Accelerator over the course of 10 months. The 15 ventures in our 2014-2015 class are set to graduate this month. Moving forward, we’re zeroing in our focus on our four key sectors – food security, health, education, and water management – so that we can provide more targeted support and serve more entrepreneurs. This year, we’ll be more than doubling the number of entrepreneurs we work with by dividing our Accelerator into two tracks, starting with our 3-month Start-up Track, which is for 10 early-stage ventures and is divided in each of our four sectors. Ventures with a proven business model, as well as other outside applicants, will advance to our second track, our 5-month Growth Accelerator, which helps entrepreneurs launch their existing ventures or business models.
What is the Coworking scene in New Orleans like?
The co-working scene is really starting to take root in New Orleans. Before we opened, there were 2-3 already existing in the city, but it was more popular in the tech community. Launch Pad has been around downtown since 2009 with a focus on tech start-ups. When Propeller opened, we were first social innovation Coworking space in New Orleans, and one of the first in the country. It’s still a new concept, but it’s growing every day. Some people who come in already have office, and a lot are coming from working at home or working at coffee shops. We’re excited to give people a space to work, collaborate, and grow personally and professionally alongside like-minded entrepreneurs. As for the future, Danielle said Propeller has no immediate plans, but that increasing number of coworkers means they may be looking for a larger space in the coming year. For more information about Propeller’s mission, or to check out their 10,000 sq. foot coworking space, take a look at their space here.