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Brandon Napoli of Sacred Space: Coworking Church

Brandon Napoli was interviewed by Sajid Islam June 21, 2018 about Sacred Space, a coworking space and church in Palo Alto, California.

Brandon Napoli Head Shot
Head Shot of Brandon Napoli

Beginning

Brandon worked in New York for an economic development company that provided access to underserved entrepreneurs.  Since he served entrepreneurs his whole career, Brandon was able to empathize more with their journey.

When he moved back home to California, Brandon worked remotely out of his house while volunteering at a local church.  He saw that the church was not used from Monday to Friday. In Palo Alto, where real estate is a premium, Brandon had the idea of creating community there by repurposing parts of the church.  He thought about how the building could be used in a way that would reduce overhead.

He already had a relationship with the church, so they spent the next few months formalizing the concept of revitalizing the church’s interior and making it more modern.

Church Niche

Brandon saw that a lot of his neighbors could use a new work setting.  Churches have the opportunity to open the doors at no cost to them. That is exactly what Brandon did.  After redesigning the church, he allowed the community to fill it.

They have a reservation system in place which is not necessary for booking.  However, it does help guarantee that a space will be available to work in. Sacred Space runs completely off of suggested donations.  Historic churches have a lack of debt and overhead. This mean that Brandon did not have to play with funding models that he would have if they had rented a traditional office space.  A different model, one of impact, was put into place instead.

Donations

Sacred Space asks for suggested donations to make sure people are committed to reserving space.  All donations go towards one of two things. Either back into the facility to continue to evolve it or back to the community itself.  Sacred Space is a social enterprise. Members just need to show a little commitment and the space will match it.

The financial model is one of mutual respect that focuses on how to create a greater impact in the community.  This adds more purpose to the coworking space.

Changing the Interior

Change always comes with some level of friction.  However, the building is segmented into three sections: a daycare, a historic church that was built back in the 50s, a new church with a sanctuary.  The coworking section started was built into the fellowship hall of the old building.

The church provides an opportunity to create a multipurpose space with modular features in it.  Since they need to set up and break down the space, all furniture is mobile and flexible. Brandon has opened up new purpose in the same space.  Just because it is used a certain way on Sunday, do not mean it cannot be used another way Monday to Friday.

The uniqueness of a worship center is something that just cannot be built.  There is a sense of stillness surrounding it. People can come to work when they need to find solitude and authenticity.  Even those who are not religious search for these features. Sacred Space welcomes all people. There is no need to be aligned with any one religion.

Sacred Space
Picture of Sacred Space

Members

Sacred Space is very intentional about reaching out to all the neighbors and letting them know about the space.  They focus on serving the underserved workforce. The Silicon Valley is a technology heavy area that is very male-dominated.  A lot of women come in to work. In fact, they are a majority of the membership. They also target a lot of artists who cannot afford space elsewhere.  Sacred Space lets them to come in at a subsidized cost that allows them to work on their business. Social enterprises also make up a good portion of the members.  Lastly, workers who are in transition often come in. There are a lot of people who are transitioning from corporate jobs to starting their own company, as well as those who have gotten laid off.  A lot of people who are in a place of ambiguity come in.

Sacred Space Members
Members of Sacred Space

Marketing

Sacred Space has gone to all the local coffee shops and community boards and posted about the space.  They highlight the fact that they are not competing against any other businesses but complementing them.  Members are encouraged to visit local businesses to form relationships with them rather than compete.

Brandon also targeted a lot of meetup organizers.  He attended multiple meetups in the area and networked there which has brought in a lot of membership.  He also formed partnerships with the city. The city has provided free PR which reached people they would not have been able to otherwise.  Lastly, Sacred Space has worked with schools to provide programs for teenagers and their parents.

Team Members

Brandon teaches at a community college outside of the space.  Luckily, he has a flexible schedule that gives him a lot of time on site.  The pastoral staff that use the facility also help manage the space. They come out of their corner office, work in space, and meet new people a couple days a week.  This has allowed them to not rely on new hires. Sacred Space is run mostly by staff that is already working somewhere else in the building. They just come in maybe one day a week.  This system creates shared responsibility of the space.

Additionally, trusted members sometimes have agreements to watch over the space a couple of days out of the week in exchange for no donations.  These have all helped to keep costs nominal as they grow the space.

 


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