At Upward, Budding Entrepreneurs Thrive on Flexible Design
Little is off-limits in the world of entrepreneurship. Upward, a social enterprise with its flagship location in Hartford, Connecticut, has embraced that mantra in order to grow into a burgeoning economic driver and community hub.
Upward opened its doors in 2017, as a co-working space to encourage the growth of new enterprises. In the past few years, thousands of residents have left Connecticut for job opportunities elsewhere. Major businesses have fled, too. Upward aims to reverse those trends and transform Hartford into a hub of innovation, co-creation and community.
The organization provides a functional and productive space for startups, entrepreneurs, local universities, corporations and investors to connect, collaborate and succeed together.
“The uniqueness of this project is the strong community aspect of it,” said Monika Avery, principal with The SLAM Collaborative, the architecture and design firm behind the mezzanine level of the co-working space.
To attract motivated entrepreneurs, the firm designed flexible workspaces and communal areas that empower members to choose how and where they work.
"Our founder and CEO Shana Schlossberg spent a lot of time working from and researching collaborative work spaces around the world to make sure Upward embodied all that she loved about the co-working energy and ambiance," said Samantha Wanagel, Upward's director of operations in Connecticut. "We had to create a space that triggers ingenuity."
KI’s research on high-tech, fast-growth companies – the startups Upward aims to recruit and develop – shows that these firms prioritize flexible spaces and the ability to collaborate spontaneously. More than 90 percent of such companies offer their employees workspaces other than traditional desks. Nearly 85 percent have office layouts that encourage face-to-face interaction.
Located in the architecturally-distinctive Stilts Building in downtown Hartford, Upward serves its members in a modern, flexible space. The 34,000-square-foot venture features a bright open-plan work area, lounge spaces and a classroom on the first level. Private offices, meeting spaces, lounge areas and conference rooms occupy the second floor.
“Furniture was instrumental because this is mostly an open working environment,” Avery said. “There aren’t a lot of architectural elements that define the functionality of the space. Except for the offices and the café, everything on the first level is defined by furniture.”
More than two dozen rows of KI's Pirouette tables, Connection Zone benching and Athens tables of varying heights establish areas where members can develop ideas on their own or in groups. Lounge-style nooks with vibrant carpet and Lyra sofas and chairs offer accessible, relaxed locations for small meetings.
"We love the integrity of the products from KI," Wanagel said. "We are constantly on the move with our design thinking processes. Having flexible furniture that could be nested, folded up and moved around in different ways was very important to us."
The interior designers included a café that allows people to work in a relaxed, coffeehouse-style environment. The café supports work and casual interactions at high tables and benching before a backdrop of refrigerators and coffee machines. In a nearby corner, Hub seating, Athens tables and Doni chairs outfit a comfortable lounge area.
“The space really had to be attractive. It had to be multi-functional, multi-aesthetic and very uncontrived,” Avery said. “You want members and guests to feel like they can own any piece of it and that no part of the space is off-limits.”
Upward isn’t all work and no play. Pool tables and ping pong tables are featured prominently near the entrance to the space. Paired with lounge seating, the recreational amenities define a playful area set aside for inspiration, spontaneous interaction and fun.
"The beauty of the space is that it can evolve naturally, and the furniture complements that," Wanagel said. "We have an art gallery, a fun zone and a library. It breeds collaboration. We wanted every space to feel slightly different than the next."
The space is frequently used to host events, from open mics and art exhibitions to corporate retreats and hackathons, that require constant reconfiguration of areas and furniture. KI's furniture solutions allow staff to quickly adjust the space based on the needs of the business that day.
“From soft seating, desking, task seating and the standing-height island in the café, Upward used a variety of furniture to satisfy every programmatic need,” Avery said. “The diversity of the furniture allowed us to define the functionality of each area and to support brand aspects through its material palette.”
Branding agency Cummins&Partners helped Upward deploy a welcoming color scheme throughout the space. Vivid pink, aqua blue, sunny yellow and a pixelated multi-colored wall add splashes of color to the minimalist white and gray palette of the environment.
"Anyone that comes into the space is absolutely blown away by it," Wanagel said. "I can't tell you how many people say, "I can't believe I'm in Hartford,' or 'I've got to get this chair at home.'"
Defined by flexibility, collaboration and vision, Upward embodies the most critical qualities of entrepreneurship. The diversity of its space further supports its mission. Combined, these characteristics have helped establish Upward as a thriving center for entrepreneurial activity.
"Companies stay here because they know they can grow with us. Our space lends to that naturally," Wanagel said.
The yellow accent wall that greets visitors says it all: “Ideas Start Here.”