That time when I volunteered for a year hosting community events with a bootstrapped budget to develop a non-profit’s economic revitalization program

Project Context

Team

6 Dedicated Volunteers
Idea Institute (WWU)
Downtown Bellingham Partnership

My Role

Customer Experience Strategist
User Researcher
Project Manager

Audience

Bellingham businesses and government officials
Downtown Bellingham Partnership
Bellingham community members
Hatch Incubated businesses
WWU’s Idea Institute

Time Frame & Constraints

May 2015 through June 2016
Funding constraints
Local Politics

Project Breakdown

01

Problem

In 2015, our team of undergraduate students interviewed business owners, students, and community members to hear about the issues facing the downtown Bellingham area’s economic vitality.

We identified a disconnect between the WWU student community, local entrepreneurs, and the 35+ vacant storefronts in downtown Bellingham.

Figure 1: The team of volunteers entered a vacant commercial space and remodeled the space to accommodate hosting a variety of public events to attract the community.

02

Research Process

Interviewing local businesses helped us understand the environment of the downtown neighborhood. We surveyed our student peers and interviewed Bellingham community members to better empathize with our community, who would be the audience interacting, promoting, and frequenting our storefront.

Over the next few days, we brainstormed ideas gathering inspiration to make a dynamic and modular space from “City Studio Vancouver,” and the retail space in NYC called “Story.” We thoroughly examined our gathered evidence while exploring the possibilities held within this opportunity for Hatch in various forms and functions. This helped us establish a feasible direction that we leveraged to bring this idea to fruition.

Synthesize

Hatch’s story began during an ideation session and was then transferred to a Business Model Canvas after conducting a SWOT analysis. Hatch’s objectives were (1) remodel vacant storefronts (2) create entrepreneurial learning opportunities with the WWU’s IDEA Institute (3) secure a long-term tenant for the vacancy. Customers rented Hatch’s remodeled spaces to showcase artwork and host community events. Through events, professional networking, and small business incubation, Hatch established a new paradigm of how entrepreneurs could establish their business within Downtown Bellingham.

Figure 2: The Bellingham Folk School, an incubated service-based startup, hosted guitar and fiddle classes.

03

Design

Hatch focused on revitalizing vacant spaces in the downtown commercial district by lowering entry barriers for service-based startups. Volunteers entered vacant commercial spaces, remodeled them, and hosted service-based businesses, local artists, and community events until a new tenant decided to rent out the retail space for five years. Once we secured a long-term tenant for the retail space, we would vacate and then progress onward to remodel the next vacancy.

Shortly after pitching and onboarding stakeholders in June 2015, we gained the keys to the downtown vacant building. In July, the Hatch team began remodeling the vacant retail space with major tenant improvements. During August, we began planning for the future: how we would attract small businesses and prove that our offering – a team to support their business and a location to test it – would be worth their time.

September was a big marker in the early Hatch development – it signified our first full month of activity. We hosted a launch event where the Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville, Hatch sponsors, and the IDEA Institue cut a red ribbon opening up the program. Hatch featured artists from Seattle and showcased various local events, such as “Bellingham’s Monthly Friday Night Art Walk” and “Morning Jam.” We met many local artists, families, and Bellingham business owners during our events while collecting our Hatchling incubation program’s business applications. In October, Hatch let two service-based start-ups regularly use the space to teach Yoga, acoustic guitar classes, and fiddle lessons.

Figure 3: Hatch showcased local artwork, hosted community events, and rented the space to service based businessessuch as Willowed Yoga, who used the space to teach Yoga.

04

Deliverable

In November 2015, we found a tenant who signed the lease for the first vacancy space. The Hatch team successfully moved out of our first location to remodel the more challenging second vacant building. The second occupied vacant space was much more labor-intensive. We began the second cycle of Hatch in January after our volunteer’s donated 265 volunteer hours to remodel the vacant space.

Outcome

After a year of operating, Hatch successfully occupied and remodeled two vacant storefronts and as a result, secured two long-term tenants for two vacancies downtown. In the end, Hatch engaged hundreds of students and community members through community events, professional networking, and small business incubation.

Hatch established a new paradigm of how entrepreneurs could test their business within Downtown Bellingham. The idea that you can reinvigorate a downtown space by using it as a place to support the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem of the community is a unique and powerful economic development model. Hatch filled a niche in the Bellingham ecosystem that was missing and led to long-term economic growth and downtown vitality.

My Role

As a Co-founder of Hatch, I had responsibilities that required me to wear many hats as the customer experience strategist and project manager. On a day-to-day basis, I would be collaborating with a dedicated team of volunteers to conduct interviews and create surveys, taking the necessary steps to create a target market fit in Bellingham. Somedays, I would be installing hardwood floors, and during events, I would help ensure everything ran smoothly by minimizing pain points for customers or administrator experiences.

Figure 4: Hatch was established as a go-to location for monthly community events, such as Bellingham’s Monthly Friday Night Art Walk or Morning Jams.