Growing the hive: Downtown coworking space provides a home for digital creatives

It’s so often an improbable beginning that paves the way for a rewarding outcome. Shelda Edwards has certainly found herself acknowledging that fact in recent days. She’s a graphic designer and illustrator with an appreciation for sublimely good puns — her web persona is Legend of Shelda — and she spends most of her day situated in front of the backlit glow of a screen.

The somewhat solitary nature of her work led her to start a channel last year within the online chat network Slack for local digital creatives like her. Think of it like a group chat session. Except, well, this one ended up producing a collective so tight-knit that Edwards and her virtual co-workers eventually decided to take it into the real world. They snagged a Downtown storefront and in August launched a coworking venture under the umbrella of a formal limited liability company.

That idea came to fruition with the opening of The Hive Collective, which operates out of 100 Peabody Place. The space houses a combination coworking and retail enterprise, where The Hive provides resources for digital creatives as well as raises money by selling things like locally made posters, pins and apparel.

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The Downtown Memphis Commission helped the venture get off the ground through its Open on Main initiative, which is focused on activating underused spaces Downtown. A grand opening party — which is actually being called a grand opening “swarm”, again with the puns — was held Saturday, August 11.

And to think, Edwards marvels, that this actual business got started from something as simple as a group chat online. Something that itself was just meant to try and mitigate the fact so many professionals like her work in coffeehouses, in living rooms, on couches — in anything but a traditional office.

“I was doing a lot of my own freelance stuff and had been wanting a group of people to be like ‘Hey, I’m working on this project, and I really need someone to look at it. I’m stuck,’” said Edwards, who works at Lokion as a production designer and also does freelance design projects on the side.

“I just wanted a space to be able to talk about my work and ask what do you think about this concept versus this concept. Just getting opinions from my peers. I like connecting my friends, and this felt like the right thing to do instead of always being on social media and sharing resources there.”

The Open on Main program supports the creation of retail pop-ups at specific spots Downtown to provide a platform for local makers and entrepreneurs and to spotlight properties available to lease. What’s attractive about the initiative to participants like Edwards is that the spaces, when approved, are available rent-free in increments of one month or longer.

The Hive’s agreement at 100 Peabody Place runs through the end of August. Until August 31, the space will be open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. Co-working rates are $10 per day or $25 a week for access to a desk, Wi-Fi, printer and scanner and coffee.

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The Hive is also hosting formal events there, such as a workshop for individuals and businesses interested in hiring digital creatives on August 18 and a workshop for designers discussing freelance and small business taxes and finances on August 25.

On Wednesdays after 5 p.m., the Hive hosts critique sessions that are meant for creatives to bring in work, present it to the group and get feedback.

Allie Mounce and Clare Freeman, who are co-owners of Pretty Useful Co., which makes pins, prints and apparel, are founding members of The Hive Collective. They said that the popup has also been useful to test the waters on a possible long-term retail presence for the effort, and to think about what that might look like in the future.

"The Hive Collective has grown organically for us as a way to stay connected to our friends that are freelancers or work at other agencies,” Mounce said. “The Memphis creative scene is bigger than any one agency or organization, and we want to support each other, to back each other’s endeavors, and to learn from one another.

Creative industries have always been characterized as competitive, but we believe we can push beyond that to work together to promote collaboration instead.”

Indeed, the collective has been presenting its benefits to members as including everything from digital resources to the in-person programming and workshops, and the opportunity to develop skills and grow collective knowledge.

The Slack channel, according to Edwards, will remain active and be a key focus for the collective. Hopefully, she adds, the popup will generate new members who join the community and keep it as active as possible. The Slack channel is invite-only, and you can ask to join by sending an inquiry to [email protected].

“We’ve talked about doing some sort of monthly get-together type of thing in other spaces,” Edwards said. “We’ll stay primarily online, but pop up in spaces to activate them.” It started as a group chat, in other words, but it became The Hive and will remain a community, in whatever form that takes.

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Read more articles by Andy Meek.