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ART / CULTURE / STYLE / UPCOUNTRY SOUTH CAROLINA

Verve of Steel

Railside, a coworking space, goes off-track to bring big ideas


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By Ruta Fox
FEBRUARY 21, 2013

Railside, a coworking space, goes off-track to bring big ideas

 

Step inside the historic, old-brick building at 1040 West Washington, down near the railroad tracks.

You could be in Silicon Valley in Northern California.

Or maybe Silicon Alley in New York City.

But it’s Railside, right here in Greenville.

Greenville’s growing consortium of innovative minds—including designers and digital strategists, Web developers and writers, entrepreneurs and engineers, and even video game creators—are spending time at Railside, the uber-cool workspace, which is part of The Iron Yard brand, an initiative to foster technology and entrepreneurship. Designers, strategists, writers, and developers looking for a place to think, work, and create—those who feel hemmed in by four walls at home or suffocated by staid cubicles in drab offices—fill the ranks here.

Founded by three Iron Yard partners, Peter Barth, Eric Dodds, and Matthew Smith, the collaborative environment provides a convivial vibe in a conventional building where very unconventional work is taking place. The backgrounds of Iron Yard’s young partners dovetail nicely—Barth’s is Wall Street and software start-ups, Dodds’ is copywriting, marketing, and strategy, and Smith’s is design for prestigious clients such as The Gates Foundation and MIT. According to Dodds, “We crossed paths at a design technology conference and realized we could make a hub for design and technology a reality in Greenville.”

Formerly a general store 133 years ago, Railside’s location adjacent to the tracks would have made it a bustling enterprise back in 1880. Three years ago, the 5,000-square-foot brick edifice morphed into a mecca of office space 2.0 when mastermind architect/building owner Trey Cole re-imagined it. It’s proved to be a positive influence on the changing neighborhood.

With its concrete floors, recycled-wood ceiling, open and airy floor plan, and retrofitted riff on an industrial factory, Railside suits the freelancers who rent space here just fine. If you need privacy, just don a pair of headphones and no one will bother you. Workers here range in age from the late twenties to the late thirties, and frequently have assignments from top-tier national and international companies but want the quality of life and lower cost of living that Greenville offers.

The amenities at Railside include a coffee bar, beer in the fridge, and snacks. There’s also one large conference room, two smaller conference rooms, a printer, fast Internet, a brainstorming area with a whiteboard, kitchen, dishwasher, bike storage, parking, and even a shower.

There are three price levels available to freelancers. There’s the “Drop In,” where you arrive with your laptop and leave a tip as thanks. The next level is “Café” membership, which let’s you tap into the Railside community for a $100 monthly fee and space to work in the café areas. Upgrade to the $300 monthly membership, and you get a dedicated desk and storage that’s yours.

But don’t rush over and try to claim one of the 22 desks. You must be vetted to work there. It’s a community of people who relish supporting each other and the synergy those connections provide. For example, once a month co-workers have Zero Day, where a problem is presented (either personal or professional) and a solution is sought through communal brainstorming.

The Iron Yard also runs Accelerator, a three-month immersion program for start-ups, which burst onto the scene in Greenville last year. The Iron Yard arranges seed capital, helps new businesses launch, and provides mentorship. A second Accelerator will launch this year in Spartanburg and is focused on digital health.

Additionally, The Iron Yard’s Academy program is a series of free night classes for kids ages 8–18 and focuses on teaching skills like software development, electronic prototyping, coding and developing apps, programs, and games. Fifty to sixty percent of the kids come from low-income families. Launching soon are full-time, intensive classes for adults who are looking to switch careers, with three tracks—front-end Web software designing, user-experience design, and mobile app development.

“After Accelerator and Academy, we envision an entire eco-system in which we are training people in the most cutting-edge skills and helping launch the start-up companies of the future which will hire them in the Southeast,” says Barth.

Smith, the design guru, was the first to bring the collaborative workspace idea to Greenville, and he sets the aesthetic standard for the new Iron Yard locations opening this spring, which include The Forge, 30,000 square feet downtown at the corner of East Washington and North Main streets, and The Mill in downtown Spartanburg.

Oh, and that beer you want at the office when you don’t have a cent on you?

Simply pay The Iron Yard for it via an app on your smartphone.

 

© TOWN Greenville 2014