Solving Cities

The world's smallest office: Growing a city's startup scene

The world's smallest office: Growing a city's startup scene

Posting in Architecture

It's only 20 square feet, but a tiny office in North Carolina is part of a larger goal to build a city's startup scene.

Measuring in at about 20 square feet, it's dubbed the world's smallest office space. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in ambition in one North Carolina city.

The tiny office, known as the Smoffice, was part of a contest this month, put on in Durham, North Carolina, to entice a startup company to live and work in the city's downtown. For the winner: free use of the Smoffice (located in the storefront window of a local cafe), with Wi-Fi, a downtown condo, and advice from area business leaders, for six months. An enticing deal for any business looking to get their feet on the ground.

The contest's winner, The Makery, is a site that deals local, handmade goods, like a mix between Etsy and Fab.com. But the larger goal of Smoffice isn't just to help one business, it's about growing a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation in downtown Durham. Writing at Fast Company, Emily Badger explains how the city will use the Smoffice to meet those goals:

Downtown Durham has 70 startups located within five blocks of the Smoffice, including mobile app developers, health IT companies, andonline marketing platforms. The coffee shop itself, Beyu Caffe, has long been an informal meeting place for the neighborhood's startup set. It's just three blocks away from theAmerican Underground, the 26,000-square-foot basement of the historic American Tobacco Campus that’s dedicated to the kind of flexible, low-cost leases entrepreneurs are unlikely to find in more expensive cities. With the Smoffice, Durham wants to put the city's commitment to entrepreneurship literally on display.

The Smoffice isn't the only gimmick the city has used to draw entrepreneurs to its downtown. A program called Startup Stampede gave 28 startups two months of free rent in a downtown office, after which 17 new businesses stuck around. This year, they're offering the program again for about 12 new startups.

Cities are always looking for ways to grow their startup scene. When located in downtown it can bring vibrancy to the city as well as tax revenue. The challenge can be to get that startup culture to stick. Gimmick or not, Durham seems to have successfully found ways to make that happen.

Check out a preview of the space in the video below:

What The World's Smallest Office Says About Durham's Big Innovation Ambitions [Fast Company]

Photo: Center Studio Architecture

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure