Mark Hubbard is the founder and director of Renew Social Ventures. It’s a nonprofit, a small business incubator, and a collaborative co-working space. Most important to us – it’s where we hold our Intern workshops, our graduation/introduction nights – and we use the space as our studio. We’re also the Photographers in Residence. – Photos and Interview by M. Tioxon.
I was evil. No, that’s not right. I was always a strange one. I love the financial world – lived in a part of it for a long time. And I think there’s people that do amazing work – but a lot of the financial world is focused on itself and that was always an odd thing to me. You could go around a room of my colleagues and ask why they all got into the business, and every single person would say ‘to make myself money because I have a friend and I saw his paycheck and I saw how much money he made and now I want to.’
And those weren’t my motivations. I wanted to help people.
I played trombone. I was seat number one. First chair trombone. And some piano. Some other stuff. A little bit of piano a little bit of drums a little bit of whatever.
Oh yes. Yes, we’ve had that discussion. My son will play some kind of instrument whether he likes it or not. Of course he gets to pick and at the moment it’s violin. But he’ll have to play something. It definitely changes you.
Typically when I do something, I’ve thought through every single possibility. There’s 150 slides, charts, projections – and everything’s mapped out all the way down the stretch. Every little piece of the strategy has been thought through and you can’t find a hole in it anywhere, and I’d win every argument. I’m at that point before I take any real action. Even though I’m still entrepenurial. I didn’t do that with Renew. And so the fact that a stage is built. That’s really nice. And that there’s an amazing PA in here. There’s a piano on the stage. And there’s a chamber orchestra in residence. And a photographer in residence. And twenty members. Twenty brands or so that have decided to associate themselves with us. I mean all of those are ridiculous hurdles and I don’t even know if I actually did anything.
I built the stage by hand.
If you look back, I don’t know that I would have thought that Renew would be this far along in just six months.
The day I signed the lease I printed out a little vision statement and put copies in all of the windows because there was going to be an event in downtown Roswell. I thought I’ll at least put them in the windows. Maybe someone will look and see what I’m doing here.
I had a few calls and several emails that next week. We had a member signed up within the first week or so – people responded very quickly.
I go with ‘I’m a New Yorker.’ I grew up in the Midwest. Ohio. Indiana. Moved here from Manhattan. It feels like that’s where I’m really from. Moved here from Manhattan in 2001. Been here for ten years.
I would spend every weekend in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That was a big thing for me. Because I lived on the West Side. I’d walk across the park and go to the Metropolitan. Because we had a corporate membership. I’d get in for free. So literally just about every week I’d be there.
Best City? I’m an urbanite. So I love New York. I love Paris. So, probably I’d have to say Paris. My wife would kill me if I didn’t say Paris.
I mean for me personally the biggest payoff is being immersed in art. I grew up in the theater, I was a musician and my father was a theater professor. Until I was twenty my life was constant art. And then going into finance and shutting that down for however many years it’s been since I was twenty. Shutting that down and not having an artistic outlet. At all. And my only experience of the arts during that time being from a consumer position. Buying a ticket to go to something. The biggest payoff for me now would be for Renew to be a thriving socially oriented business place where I could do venture capital work that’s immersed in some artistic endeavor. Immersed in an artistic experience. That’s why it this is important.
I absolutely believe that art changes the way you do your work. It changes the way you live your life.
That’s what this is supposed to be. A physical representation of commerce and art and helping people together in one place. They don’t need to be separate things.
One of the trends we’re on the front of is that we are more than a co-working space. Simple co-working spaces are about utility. And numbers. So they’re about providing space at the right price point. The lowest price point. Just a place for people to come in and sort of work in the same general vicinity of each other.
Renew Social Ventures is not a co-working place. We’re a collaborative working space.
I don’t want or really care about finding the model that’s a profitable co-working space. There are people that are doing that and that’s great. Whatever. It’s important work. But I don’t need ten real estate brokers to be members just because I make money off of them. That doesn’t fit what we’re trying to accomplish.
There’s an incubation piece of it that hopefully will develop more over time. The idea was to build a community of people that were all focused on something larger than themselves. Some thing or things that they can align around – and then have those people collaborate on some overall and regular level.
You have to care about something larger than money. It’s not that money is less important. That’s not the point. It’s that there are also other things that are important. And in my mind the best social enterprises are ones that have it baked into their business model. The social responsibility is inherent to their business and not an afterthought, or just there for good marketing.
Money’s not less important. But if it came down to ‘you know what we could do is if we got 20% of our materials from this place that’s kind of exploitative, that’s not that bad. But boy, we could make a lot more profit then that would allow us to do a lot more things and that would help this.’ You don’t talk yourself into things that allow you to do more profit but sacrifice the social impact. Money’s not less important it’s just not the only thing that’s important.
I’ve never tried to raise money for a non profit. I’ve never to put together arts programming. I’ve never tried to put together various non-related businesses and figure out how they can help each other. All of this is an education for me in a lot of ways. I’m not supposed to say that. I’m supposed to say ‘I’m an expert. I’m an expert on all those things.‘ Never mind.
I played football for a while in high school. I mean I’m around 6’4” so yeah, I played football. I played defensive line.
Defensive line because you just had to be big and dumb. There aren’t that many plays to run. You just have to run and go tackle the guy. On offensive line you have to know the plays and stuff. You had blocking assignments. I didn’t have to do any of that. Every now and then you do a little stunt work where you move but other than that – go tackle somebody.
I was also a punter.
I got the job because I stood on the 50 yard line and I said to the coach, ‘you know, I can kick.’ This is when I was a freshman in high school. So the coach says, “All right Hubbard, get over here.” So I had to kick. He only gave me one punt in front of the whole team. I felt like an idiot. And yeah, whatever. I’m big too. Big kid. I guess I was on the 50 yard line and I kicked it through the uprights. Pretty substantially through the uprights. It was a perfect spiral. PERFECT. Maybe sixty yards or something. And all the other guys were amazed. I was THE MAN. I never kicked that far ever again – not even close.
Quite frankly, one of my best moments was probably that first graduation/orientation night you guys did (LeahAndMark). I mean, I had been in the building alone for a month or two doing a lot of work on the stage and trying to get the space ready all by myself. I had no idea if anything was ever going to pay off in any kind of way. We put a lot of our money into this and I put a lot of time and physical effort into it. Even then I had no idea if it would ever be anything.
So that first night with your fifteen interns and you had thirty people here, and there were flashes going off everywhere with people outside and we were playing music – that was a nice moment.
Photos and Interview by Mark Tioxon
Check out Renew Social Ventures.