When Brad Halsey and Albert Vega established tech training and education business Building Momentum in 2014, they didn’t have any plans to open a coworking space. Neither expressed dreams of housing creative individuals under one roof, nor of fostering unlikely collaborations like welding and wine tasting. Though it may sound cliché to say the small company “built momentum,” this organic growth was a product of just that.
When Crystal City-based workspace TechShop shuttered in late 2017, Building Momentum stepped in to help fill the void in NoVA’s DIY community. The new business was still located in Fairfax at the time, and chief operating officer Allen Brooks says they were approached immediately by locals in need of a new space.
“People came knocking, asking to use our laser cutters [and other workshop materials], and four or five companies asked if they could just hang out every day and pay us,” Brooks says.
Building Momentum was founded on the notion of training service members to solve problems with any tool available through innovation and critical thinking, and last June, the co-owners took their own advice and opened The Garden in Alexandria’s West End neighborhood.
“It’s a simple idea and it made sense,” Brooks says. “What we wanted to do was a build a small community garden. A traditional community garden involves a place where people come together around growth, where different crops benefit one another by enriching the soil. Awesome things come from that and the ground is better because of the diversity and ingredients intermingling. That’s what we wanted to emulate.”
The Garden is located in a large industrial area with a range of neighboring businesses, including a Sportrock Climbing Center, FedEx shipping center and Restaurant Depot. The West End is still an up-and-coming area without many coffee shops and cafes, and even though the neighborhood is easily accessible via the Van Dorn Street Metro station, the stop is reportedly one of the least used in the WMATA system.
Modular offices, open areas, and lots of technology (think 3D printers and drones) fill the 20,000-square-foot modern space at The Garden. Walk a little further down the winding halls and you’ll eventually enter the adjoining workshop area, which smells and looks like a Home Depot minus the plastic packaging.
“There’s makerspaces and there’s coworking spaces, and we are obviously not [just one or the other],” Brooks says. “If an artist wants to come in and crash [an office] with paint, we say go for it. The space is organic and well-worn. We’re not protective of it. This is a co-building community.”
Community and diversity are words Brooks goes back to a lot as he describes The Garden’s tremendous efforts to be inclusive to all, from musicians to engineers. But they’re not looking to simply fill the space with people interested in using their state-of-the-art equipment.
“Makerspaces traditionally aren’t the most open-armed spaces for diversity, [with] people or industry,” Brooks says, speaking with refreshing candor. “It’s a lot of people making technological gadgets or widgets, and it’s a lot of 35 to 45-year-old white dudes who look like me. We want to have a diversity of industry represented across our coworking space, and it allows us to let small businesses support each other.”
Business is booming for Building Momentum as an individual company, with a client list ranging from the Department of Defense to the Smithsonian. But with The Garden, Brooks says there’s still a challenge in getting people to their West End location. To fight the stigma of an up-and-coming neighborhood and better reach locals, they’ve morphed their multi-use space into an events venue including their own recurring Wine and Welding events.
“By the end of these events, couples or individuals are saying to themselves, ‘Holy sh-t, I can do this,’” Brooks says. “We have to get events in here and let people know we have the space. We want people to be happy with our work and benefit from it. Building Momentum is successful the more that our members are successful.”
With more unique events and a growing membership count, Brooks says The Garden isn’t waiting on Alexandria to develop the area around them and is instead taking initiative to form an energetic campus. The company has never shied away from stepping up and being innovative, so why halt the momentum now?
To learn more about The Garden, Building Momentum and their upcoming events, visit www.buildingmomentum.us.
Building Momentum: 5380 Eisenhower Ave. Ste. C, Alexandria, VA; 571-451-6885; www.buildingmomentum.us