Student Study Space: the entrepreneurial model (my visit to TechPad)

December 15, 2011, 7:55 pm

I saw an ad in Virginia Tech’s sarcastic newspaper for TechPad, an office space located across the street from campus above a busy restaurant. This is how it’s described online:

An open co-working space with common areas for lounging and two conference rooms. Located above PK’s restaurant in Blacksburg, Virginia, is convenient to downtown shops, restaurants and Virginia Tech’s main campus. Over 10 companies currently work in TechPad.

Amenities include: dual wan broadband, month-to-month flexibility, printer/fax, wifi, 10% off PK’s, on-site mentoring, $3,000 of cloud hosting.

I was fascinated by this concept of a 24 hour, co-working, commons environment, which obviously has some library parallels. And if you know me, then you know that I’ve been obsessed with startup culture lately, so I had to go check it out. At VT we are in the initial stages of renovation planning and so I am absorbing design ideas from everywhere possible— especially non-library environments.

I met with a student who manages the place and she was very patience and accommodating.  We toured around and I got to see the space in action:









It definitely has a “garage vibe” with areas still under renovation. As you can see from the images it’s not a polished office park, but what it lacks in aesthetics it definitely makes up in coolness. It’s meant to be an affordable idea incubator where young entrepreneurs can plan, test, and grow their concepts. I like to apply that same approach to scholarly projects. That’s one of the core missions of academic libraries.


What really surprised me though was seeing three VT students using it as a study/productivity space. TechPad offers a subscription model for “nomads” ($60 per month) providing access to a table and shared amenities. It was finals time and this was their hub.


It’s an interesting concept – paying for study space— and I can understand the allure. It’s cool to be surrounded by these startup folks. You feel like you’re in on something–watching it unfold in real time. Anyone who spends time in an active learning space can attest to the “learning energy” that is generated– and TechPad definitely had that appeal. I wanted to linger as long as possible.


Some takeaways:

  • Openness (can see, be seen, and talk with others)
  • Defined spaces (while open, have clearly delineated work/ownership areas)
  • Flexible (moveable) environment– could rearrange on the fly
  • Collaboration (can work together at desks/tables or jump into a conference room, or head down to the bar)
  • Collision Spaces for serendipitous conversations and discovery
  • Adaptable in size (could add more employees or team members as needed)
  • DYI aesthetics
  • Lots of power outlets, wireless, and cloud storage
  • Function over form (not overly designed)
  • Relaxation Space (ping pong table)
  • Reflection Space (ample library of coding  books)
  • Zoning based on needs (meet with clients, meet with team, work alone, etc)
  • Encouragement (see others working, inspires you to want to be successful too)
  • Assistance (on-site metering)
  • Common Experiences (webinars, dining, games)


Moving forward—I want to develop from this kernel and would love to have a hackerspace that transcends software development, but addresses the  full knowledge production work cycle. Many libraries have group commons and multimedia labs, but I want to develop an “entrepreneurial” space — but free of course.


I plan to chronicle (non-library) productivity spaces to help inform the next generation learning environment. I think that we can a lot from other arenas that share some of our objectives. I’m open to suggestions but expect to see a lot of what I’ve learned from hotels.

See: Just don’t call it a Commons: building the learning boutique model

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