As a self-employed tech consultant, John LeBlanc has spent years bouncing around to a slew of workspaces in lieu of doing the 9-to-5 cubicle thing. He likes having a flexible environment, but home offices can be too distracting (just think of all those dishes waiting to be washed). Coffee shops can be too noisy (people yelling their coffee orders right behind you).
But for the past two weeks, he seems to have hit a productive stride at co-working space ProtoHUB Honolulu. Located in the Kakaako area (458 Keawe St.), ProtoHUB kicked things off with an opening ceremony Sept. 15 and is officially open to membership starting Oct. 1.
“It’s an excellent balance, just having people available and also having that space to just kind of crank,” says LeBlanc, who has been hunkering down at a desk here for the last week and a half.
If you have a good network of people … they can help each other out, and sometimes projects can arise that never would have if everyone had been working in their own little office somewhere else
Other than having a productive space, LeBlanc also likes the fact that he doesn’t have to worry about details like signing a lease or buying furniture. And, he likes that he can interact with the other people who use the space — people with different skill sets — on a daily basis. Maybe some are even people who can help him with his own business.
“It gives me an opportunity to interface with people who have expertise that is complementary to mine,” LeBlanc says.
ProtoHUB certainly is not the only co-working game in town. (Any conversation of local co-working likely will start with a mention of the popular BoxJelly.) But it’s those types of interactions — and that type of collaborative community — that the founders of ProtoHUB aim to cultivate. And beyond that, ProtoHUB also has the larger, sweeping goal to not only benefit the individuals who work there, but also to help jumpstart Hawaii innovation on a larger scale.
“We’re trying to open up markets as well,” explains Shanah Trevenna, the director and one of the founders of ProtoHUB. “Like, maybe a coder never thought about sustainability, but then they meet someone that has a green cleaning company and they help them market it.”
“It’s not like you’re here to be isolated,” says ProtoHUB founding member Tyler Mongan. “Here, it is more like a community and a buzz of people talking, collaborating, connecting.”
ProtoHUB is part of an international network of co-working called Impact Hub, with sites on six continents — and new ones being created steadily.
This local iteration has its origins in Trevenna’s own workspace growing pains. A few years ago, her company Smart Sustainability Consulting was just starting to take off. A lot of times, she and her staff of 10 were off at various sites conducting energy audits and trainings. They weren’t quite at the point where they could purchase their own office, but they had outgrown working in coffee shops. When someone tipped her off to Impact Hub, she went to check one out in San Francisco.
“I fell in love with it,” she recalls, “because of the vibe and the people I met. Every single person I ran into there, we were having the type of conversations I wanted to have. I learned so much and met people I wanted to collaborate with.”
When she got back to the Islands, Trevenna teamed up with dozens of other local professionals to begin planning an Impact Hub for Honolulu.
Fast forward two years later to Sept. 15, and ProtoHUB hosts its grand opening ceremony, drawing in about 40 individuals to explore the space.
“This is your space,” Trevenna tells the crowd as they gather in a circle for a blessing ceremony.
On the second floor of an older building in Kakaako, ProtoHUB doesn’t look like much from the outside. But inside, it’s homey and welcoming, with room for workers to sprawl out. There are dozens of work stations in the main room — both individual desks and larger meeting tables. Throughout the main room, there also are a couple of nooks where workers can cozy up on the floor with blankets and pillows.
A few private rooms round out ProtoHUB — including casual meeting spaces and a more formal board room, as well as smaller rooms to make phone calls. In the far corner, there also is a wellness room complete with a massage table. At the front end of the center, there is a small dining area, which Trevenna promises always will be stocked with free coffee and tea.
“The functionality of the space, the diversity and types of rooms that we have, I think it is just a unique thing,” Trevenna says. “(There are) places where you can sit on the floor and be comfortable and then also have an office. Basically you can come to one place and get all of your functional needs met.”
With an expansive common area, ProtoHUB also will be home to various events and trainings, like community yoga, pau hana gatherings and classes on how to code.
It’s through the cohesiveness of its members and events like these that ProtoHUB hopes it can create what Mongan refers to as a “culture of innovation.”
“This can be a place that helps launch that and helps foster that,” Mongan says.
“If you have a good network of people … they can help each other out, and sometimes projects can arise that never would have if everyone had been working in their own little office somewhere else,” explains Kirsten Rosa, who, as a ProtoHUB host, will help facilitate connections between members.
So, far, it seems that ProtoHUB has been attracting diverse individuals. Through the last couple of weeks, a range of people have been dropping in — a public health worker, a few web developers, a graphic designer, a few marketing professionals and a couple artists have all expressed interest in the space.
Andrea Bertoli is brand awareness manager of Maui-based startup Life Foods, which produces a line of organic food. Their warehouse is in Pearl City, but she often coordinates events throughout the island. ProtoHUB will serve as sort of a home base for her — days when she’s not in the warehouse, it provides a place for her to work with others, without the drive time.
“But the better benefit is that I can make exciting connections with other entrepreneurs and business leaders in Honolulu,” Bertoli says. “And being here allows me to seek out good branding and event opportunities for the company, as well as find key partner organizations.”
Things for LeBlanc have been on the quiet side during his first few days at ProtoHUB. But already, he has seen an eclectic mix of people come in and out — entrepreneurs, alternate transportation advocates, musicians.
“Place like this are more than just an office,” he says. “They’re really a hub for innovation, for learning for community building.”
ProtoHUB Honolulu is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday – Friday. It offers packages including both full-time and part-time memberships.