The popularity of business incubators has greatly increased in recent years. In case this is a new term for you, according to Entrepreneur online, a business incubator (also known as a co-working space) is “An organization designed to accelerate the growth and success of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services that could include physical space, capital, coaching, common services, and networking connections.” With recent economic hardships, incubators have become a means to support entrepreneurs, spur innovation and strengthen local economies.
This concept is not new. Business Incubators first began popping up in the late 1950’s and have been growing globally ever since. According to the National Business Incubation Association, there are approximately 900 business incubators in the U.S. today. That is NINE HUNDRED locations nationwide where small start-up companies have the opportunity to interact and collaborate to expand their ideas and successes.
Business incubators create community. The environment is typically very open, which promotes interaction within and between the small businesses. In most cases, there are areas set aside for privacy and other areas for collaboration. When looking at the layout of these environments, three things come to mind- mobility, flexibility and sound management.
Flexibility demands that the components within the space be scrutinized. With the culture being very mobile, the way that individuals are working, or situated, must be as well. Hays Layerd described this perfectly in his interview for Lean Architecture: Designing Startup Incubators. “You question, let’s say in the office, are we containing this space with four walls? What is a wall? We really look at the definition of space and ask how are we separating two conversations, how are we separating two environments? And that wall is it just a traditional wall with wood studs and gypsum board on both sides, or is it a panel on casters or wheels that we can move around?” This is dynamic design.
Not only is functionality important when considering the design of an incubator space, but acoustics are as well. In a global co-working survey released by deskmag, “About one in four coworkers are annoyed by the level of noise in their coworking space. 14% bemoan the lack of privacy or the inadequacy of the office infrastructure.” Doesn’t it make sense then, that these environments should be designed with functionality and usability in mind?
This is where material options and the architecture come in. Integrating textile solutions into an incubator space allows for the marriage of functionality, acoustical absorption and aesthetics. Functionally, fabric structures can do just about anything, from acting as a tack board, to allowing for the attachment of a dry erase surface, to integrating wire management. Most importantly, fabric structures can be easily engineered to be modular. This modularity creates privacy when needed while it also has the ability to expand or contract a workspace, a huge benefit to a constantly fluctuating incubator.
Modularity is only one half of the textile advantage. By its very nature, fabric is a sound absorbing material. Of course, there are various degrees of acoustical absorption which are related to the type of fiber and size, density and finishing technique. Based on the spatial requirements, the construction can be tailored to increase absorption. Other considerations include the shape of the solution and location within space.
Outside of functionality, there is the aesthetic aspect. Beyond the “pretty architecture”, fabric structures have a more important purpose. Like any business, incubators are brands. What do brands have? PERSONALITIES. It seems fitting that the materials within the space, and the shape and positioning of the architecture, reflect the brand and exude the personality. Textiles allow this to happen. There is a material for every personality. It is just a matter of defining what that personality is and what material speaks that language. People pay fees to work within a business incubator. Shouldn’t the environment make them want to stay?
Fabric based solutions are changing the face of environments. The flexibility offered is able to adapt to an ever-changing landscape by offering mobility, flexibility and sound management. Tying in the branding aspect heightens the spatial awareness, creating a cohesive and purposeful space. Business incubators are all about productivity, growth and community. The environment should reflect and promote that ideology.
Allison has had a lifelong interest in multiple facets of design. Growing up between a sewing machine and a sketch pad, she went on to fine-tune her skills through studies in fine arts and fashion design. Upon entering the design/build industry, she continuously researches trends in various markets, including retail, hospitality, exhibitory/events, interiors and architecture in order to provide valuable educational and inspirational resources to clients.