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Marilyn Yu of Shared SF | Building a Space For Inspiration & Community

Borrower Stories

SHARED SF is founded on the apparent contradiction that 1 + 1 = 3. But as you’ll see, the math adds up.

What doesn’t fly in mathematics, can be irrefutable in the currency of community: When people work together, they can accomplish more than the sum of their parts.

And synergy is what SHARED SF is all about. “SHARED is a shared workspace for creative people. So that’s anyone who builds, designs or invents something,” explained founder Marilyn Yu. “It is based in the belief that together we can create greater things than we could individually or in isolation,” she states.

A space for entrepreneurs and creators

Indeed, if you take a walk around the premises, you can see how the physical layout of the place reflects that vision. From office spaces to fabrication spaces, communal tools and equipment, and lockers, SHARED provides just the right amenities to design anything from a motorcycle jacket to a website for an emerging startup.

There are larger spaces that allow people to “make a mess,” and small, quiet spaces “for work that requires a lot of thought and/or concentration.” There are also hangout spaces for members to discuss innovative ideas or just get to know one another.

Though the rooms vary in functionality, the place is decorated throughout in sleek, modern style, with black and white photos, dark wooden floors, and matted glass panel rooms. It reflects the values of creativity, innovation, and collaboration that are prevalent throughout this community space.

Nurturing Collaboration and Creativity

SHARED’s members — and there are 60 to 80 of them at any given time — are as diverse as the space that was created to support their aspirations. “We have a pretty broad range of people here,” Marilyn told us. From fine artists to genome sequencing companies and AI companies, to Marilyn herself, who designs women’s motorcycle jackets, there is no shortage of diversity in terms of craft. The common ground is that everyone is a small business, and everyone is passionate about what they do. It’s this kind of fire that is contagious amongst the members and fuels their work.

The common ground is that everyone is a small business, and everyone is passionate about what they do.

“I like being around people who are really passionate about what they’re doing,” Marilyn told us earnestly. “There aren’t people here who just come here because it’s their job. Everyone’s working on something that they feel very strongly about, and that’s really nice, to be around that kind of energy. ”

History of SHARED

“I think it’s pretty common for people to share a space with two or three other people — I mean people do that in their living situations as well,” Marilyn said when we asked how she got the idea of SHARED. Indeed, sharing space is normal and even necessary, as anyone who lives or works in an expensive city like SF will tell you.

Marilyn, working at SHARED

But when Marilyn conceived of the idea of SHARED, she was thinking about more than just saving money. Recognizing the invaluable synergy that comes from working with other creative people, she wanted to establish and maintain a reliable and affordable space for that.

Getting Support For Her Vision Wasn’t Easy

It was difficult in the beginning, though. To create the special space she envisioned, she had to have a building she could call her own. And to buy the building, Marilyn had to apply for a large loan. The application involved securing multiple positions on the loan, both from a local bank and CNote-partner, and mission-based lender, CDC Small Business Finance. “We went through a lot of hurdles for that,” Marilyn confided. “Shared workspaces, they’ve been around for a decade or two…but more risk-averse businesses like banks, like the federal government — they’re not really in on the latest business structures.” It took a lot of convincing to get the bank and SBA to believe in SHARED enough to invest in it.

“That’s where the CDC [CNote-partner CDC Small Business Finance] came in, because they were packaging the loan for the SBA,” Marilyn explained. With the help of CDC’s research alongside her own, Marilyn was able to help The SBA see the relevance of shared workspaces and to secure funding. In 2010, she purchased 739 Bryant Street; and after renovating the place for 90 days, she turned her vision into a reality.

More of a Community Than a Business

Now it’s fair to say that in the past 7 years, a unique little community has emerged out of SHARED. Unlike other shared workspaces, it has become something more than a workplace to its members. “It’s kind of like an extension of their home. They’ll leave their computer and their phones out, and they’ll go grab a bite to eat. It’s very familiar….I think maintaining a safe space for people to feel comfortable is very important,” said Marilyn when we asked her what she did to make her clients happy.

Another thing she does is hand select her members, looking for people who are both “professional, meaning that they’re serious about whatever business idea they have,” and a good fit for the existing members. Her carefulness has ensured that SHARED remains a place of synergy both professionally and personally, and it has really paid off for her and her members. “I love just seeing people meeting other people…Often, members will then collaborate and work on projects together. Or they become friends…” One member even officiated another’s wedding.

SHARED’s members are so close, that forced events like happy hours aren’t even needed. “I think people didn’t think they were very necessary…which is kind of a good thing” Marilyn mused. “They feel comfortable talking to someone outside of a structured mingling time.” Why bond in a bar when mutual passion, hard work, and a general openness and friendliness has already bonded you in the workplace?

Conclusion: 1 + 1 = 3

Just as this proposition describes what’s going on within SHARED, it describes what’s going on in the world of impact investing. Everyone has something to bring to the table. However small, it can make ripples of impact for others. Marilyn conceived an idea to create a space that will help small businesses get on their feet and thrive and the impact has been tangible and positive. CNote’s partner CDC, by offering their time, research, and innovative thinking did their share. And every small business that has gone through SHARED will, in turn, make their own impact.

You can make our own impact and help write more stories like SHARED’s by investing in CNote. Learn More.

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