‘Smoffice’ initiative gets international recognition

Apr. 25, 2013 @ 07:14 PM

An initiative launched last year to attract entrepreneurs to downtown Durham by offering a free, tiny office space in the front of a downtown café has won international recognition.

The Smoffice, a competition for entrepreneurs by Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Durham Inc, won the award at the 2013 International Chamber of Commerce World Chambers Federal Competition in the “best unconventional project” category.

“We are thrilled by this honor,” Casey Steinbacher, president and CEO of the chamber, said in a news release from the chamber. “To recognize by your peers on an international platform is phenomenal.”

Finalists in the competition presented their projects during the 8th World Chambers Congress in Doha, Qatar, Monday through Thursday.

The Smoffice was the only finalist from the United States, according to the release. The chamber said the initiative is the first American recipient of the award. Competitors were from Slovenia, Finland, Korea and Nuremburg, Germany.

The Smoffice was launched by the chamber and DDI, a downtown Durham-focused economic develompent group as a contest for the “world’s smallest office.”

The initiative was part of a series of efforts by the chamber and DDI to market downtown Durham as a hub for entrepreneurs.

The contest offered access to free office space starting May 1 of last year in an approximately 30-foot space in a front corner of the downtown coffee shop Beyu Caffe on Main Street.

The program offered free access to a condo in a downtown residential complex, as well as technical assistance from experts in legal, accounting and marketing.

There were 22 applicants. The entrepreneurial team chosen had plans to launch a website called The Makery that would offer online flash sales – sales of goods in limited quantities, for a limited time - of arts and crafts.

They raised money through the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to help with the launch of the website, The idea was to offer members deals on art, apparel and home wares at prices that would be less than what a consumer would pay at a craft fair, or on another website.

Attempts to reach the founders of the website by email were unsuccessful Thursday.