Let's Just Make the Startup-Coffee Shop Thing Official


Daniel Odio.jpg

A new coffee shop in San Francisco's Mission District isn't just the unofficial workspace for dozens of startups like the rest of the city's coffee joints, it was designed to cater to their needs.

Summit, which opened late last year, has dedicated office space above its airy (and awesome) ground floor. The San Francisco Chronicle explains this unique situation:

Created by i/o Ventures, a Bay Area startup accelerator comprising former executives from MySpace, Yahoo, and file-sharing site BitTorrent, the Summit is equal parts Bell Labs and Central Perk - and probably the country's first official coffeehouse tech incubator.

Every four months, i/o selects and funds a handful of small tech ventures to the tune of $25,000 each in return for 8 percent of common stock. In addition to the cash, each team gets four months of office space at the Summit, mentoring from Web gurus like Russel Simmons of Yelp, and discounts on all the Pickle & Cheese Plates or White Snow Peony Tea they could possibly need.

The coffee shop is also "experimenting" with a more conventional co-working space pricing plan in which you'd pay a $250 membership fee and $500 a month for a dedicated desk. They claim to be home to 40+ telecommuters and untold numbers of digital workers passing through, like entrepreneur Daniel Odio, who said of the place, "It's pretty hoppin' in here and great to see another startup-friendly space in The Mission neighborhood of San Francisco.  They even have a venus fly trap at the bar." (He also took the photo above.)

As someone who has worked from home in San Francisco, Summit's opening has got to be a welcome phenomenon. While it's located just a couple blocks from two of the world's best coffee shops (Ritual and Four Barrel), neither of those two places has been too work-friendly. Ritual removed almost all of its outlets to keep nerds from staying and Four Barrel actively discourages using a computer. For my money, the best work environment in the city has long been Coffee Bar, which has copious amounts of daylight and electrical outlets -- and also sells beer, for a smooth work to after-work transition.

But within the tiny world that is the Mission, with its legions of hipsters and AppleGoogleFacebook employees, Coffee Bar is located way far away from Summit in the northeastern part of the neighborhood. Summit sits on the west side of the Mission and right in the middle of the Valencia corridor, which is one of the best neighborhoods for a 20/30-something in America. (For years, I lived at 25th and Valencia, so you could say I'm a partisan.)

The national-level takeaway here is interesting, though. Are we going to see Summit-type coffee shop/offices springing up in New York, Portland, Austin, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Boston? Some Bay Area cultural ideas multiply and conquer (Alice Waters-type food, the Internet) while others can't get a foothold outside the specific configurations of the region.

The Summit concept smells uniquely San Franciscan to me because it's a place that's "laid back," but in which people work at all hours of the day and night.

Image: Daniel Odio.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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