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How The Grove Found its Groove in New Haven

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By Kristen VanBlargan

We talk a lot about The Grove here at the Knowledge Green. (That’s an understatement, really.)

But have we ever taken a good, hard look at what makes The Grove, well, The Grove?

Not until now.

Walk into the 12,000-square-foot offices, and you might encounter a private investigator, a producer for National Public Radio, a chief financial officer, an employee of the World Health Organization or any number of other innovators who set up shop in New Haven’s premiere coworking space.

Indeed, what sets The Grove apart is its diversity: In addition to hosting a variety of small businesses and startups, it is also home to seasoned entrepreneurs, remote workers and freelancers who run the gamut from graphic designers to programmers.

Photo courtesy of Christina

Photo courtesy of Joel Callaway

The Power of Collaboration

Although it officially opened in 2010, The Grove’s history extends back to 2006, when Christina Kane, Slate Ballard, Ken Janke and an artist friend were discussing the power of collaboration — and, as Kane says, “The energy that happens when more brains than just your own are powering an idea.”

At the time, she continues, “The economic crash really shook up people’s financial and professional expectations, and they had a distrust of the corporate world. People started realizing the low overhead of starting their own business.”

Ballard and Janke, cofounders of The Grove, thus devised the idea for a coworking space, compelled by the “contagious” and collaborative energy that such spaces provide. They then heard about Project Storefronts. In downtown areas in need of rejuvenation, Project Storefronts works with vacant storefronts and potential business owners. Run by the Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism of New Haven, it seeks to encourage collaboration through repurposing spaces in inventive ways.

The Grove thus became the first application for Project Storefronts, and its founders received start-up funds, including $1,000 to furnish the space. Kane, who was working for an insurance company at the time, collected materials from local carpenters and Yale University for the 1,200-square-foot offices.

Soon, however, they outgrew the space and moved into their current location on Chapel Street.

Photo courtesy of Christina Kane

Photo courtesy of Joel Callaway

A Thriving Community of Innovators

With its sixth anniversary coming up in September, The Grove currently hosts about 150 people who take advantage of its various membership options: 10 days a month, full-time business hours and 24/7 access. In addition to serving as a space for workers, The Grove also hosts a series of weekly events that teach members new skills and broaden their knowledge.

Perhaps most notably, it is home to an innovative entrepreneur-in-residence program. Realizing that the entrepreneurs who worked at The Grove were brimming with valuable insights, the founders asked them if they could meet with others to flesh out ideas. Today, the Grove has five entrepreneurs-in-residence, including a startup founder, CEO and designer. Each uses his or her own unique strengths and skillsets to help support startups and other entrepreneurs.

This accessible, collaborative culture continues to draw new members who have abandoned the traditional office life. Its growth is perhaps unsurprising; the amount of people who are self-employed is booming, and approximately 40 percent of Americans either work independently or have previously been independent workers. In addition to fostering the growth of its members, the founders hope to see that growth of collaborative culture extend beyond The Grove’s walls and into the wider New Haven community.

More than just filling a niche, it is, Kane says, “An intelligent network where you’re not just collecting business cards — you’re also getting introduced to people that help your business survive.”

“The Grove is just fun,” she says. “People know your name, or they’re asking your name. It’s really a fun place to be.”

The Grove is located at 760 Chapel St., New Haven, Ct. 06510.

Lead image courtesy of Joel Callaway.

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