Six years after it was launched, Cal Lutheran’s Hub 101 is thriving.
By Julie Price
Hub101 is a special place where college and commerce commune and grow to everyone’s benefit. Launched six years ago under Cal Lutheran’s direction, it is an inviting, 10,000-square-foot coworking space inside the university’s Westlake Center in a sprawling commercial office building tucked into the hills. Hub101 is a place where Cal Lutheran students and new entrepreneurs share open office space and a world of ideas.
The random networking among students and businesspeople regularly evolves into deep bonds that can change the courses of their college careers, commercial ventures and, ultimately, contributions to society.
“I can’t properly overstate the importance that Hub101 played in my company’s first year,” said Michael McCrary, founder and CEO of PureSpectrum, a burgeoning online sample platform formed in 2015 within the walls of the then-new Hub101.
From the day he “stumbled into” Hub101 and gladly agreed to pay $100 for a 10-by-10-foot work area, McCrary has watched his small startup grow exponentially, to the point where it recently received $17 million in Series B investment funding.
Having long sized out of Hub101, McCrary now runs PureSpectrum out of 8,000 square feet in the same Westlake Village office building.
“There was some nostalgia that this is where we started,” he said. “I wanted to stay close and connected to it.”
That he has done, regularly hiring people out of Hub101 and volunteering as an entrepreneur-in-residence for the School of Management. During the pandemic, he spoke at virtual events and did some online mentoring; now he looks forward to increasing in-person interaction.
“If there’s any way I can help Cal Lutheran and its students, I’m all in,” said McCrary, who did not attend the university but feels “very much like part of the Cal Lutheran family.”
A VISION COME TRUE
Credit for the success story that is Hub101 goes to Gerhard Apfelthaler, dean of the School of Management, and Mike Panesis, the Steven Dorfman Professor of Practice in Entrepreneurship. “I think Gerhard is a genius,” McCrary said, “and a vision that he had, which Mike is a massive part of too, was brilliant.”
To the visionaries, it’s a simple equation: “Entrepreneurship is one of those topics where you can learn about it in the classroom to an extent, but you really have to experience it,” said Panesis, who leads the operation from his post as executive director of Cal Lutheran’s Steven Dorfman Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Panesis cites PureSpectrum’s success as a classic case of Hub101 doing its job. “When a company tells us they’re leaving Hub101,” Panesis said, “even if we’re losing revenue, that’s a huge reason to celebrate.”
There are a lot of success stories. Take alumnus Evan Brandt ’18. He graduated with a degree in business administration and — like others at Hub101 — an emphasis in entrepreneurship. While at Cal Lutheran, he was a go-getter, serving as president of the Entrepreneur Club and spending his last three years as an intern at Hub101. Known as “doers,” the interns are so called to make it clear that they are there to do everything they can to broaden their experience — from working the front desk to working directly with entrepreneurs.
Brandt made vital connections at Hub101 and co-founded Videoms.com out of the facility soon after graduation. Today, he oversees a team of 45 people who are helping make his 3-year-old company the largest commercial real estate technology firm of its kind in the United States.
“You can’t really create a better environment for someone who is young and very interested and hungry,” Brandt said. “There are all kinds of cool, interesting people at Hub101 who have different businesses, in different industries, in different geographical locations. … If you’re ambitious, you have the opportunity to really take advantage of all the opportunity that exists at that space.”
IT STARTS WITH THE DOERS
The heartbeat and ultimately the reason for Hub101 is the diverse group of Cal Lutheran students who work there as doers, bringing a world of knowledge and receiving an unparalleled educational experience.
When Tamar Haddad ’21 arrived, she already had a degree in English and literature from Bethlehem University. At Cal Lutheran, the native of Palestinian territory earned another bachelor’s degree this year, in music. She minored in entrepreneurship, which is what led her to work as a doer at Hub101, getting invaluable insights into the business world after an education steeped in the arts. As a recent graduate, Haddad moved off campus, but she still lives nearby, while she plans her next move. And she still works as a doer, riding the bus an hour and a half to get there. “It’s absolutely worth it,” she said. “Hub101 is the best place. I feel inspired there.”
Fellow doer Ina Svanes ’20 concurs. After graduating with a degree in business management, Svanes is now pursuing her MBA at Cal Lutheran — and is happily back to work as a doer. Like most international students, the Norway native is not allowed to work off campus but can work at Hub101, which makes it “an especially great option” for foreign students. But that’s not her main motivation for being there.
“My favorite part is that we’re always encouraged to do things that we’re good at,” said Svanes, who was given work at Hub101 that aligned with her major. “Everyone has different talents, and we get to explore our interests and talents while we work. That’s just the ideal.”
And that’s the whole point, said Hub101 community manager Kristin Bell, MBA ’20. “In this common working space, serendipitous, genuine conversations take place,” said Bell, a former doer herself.
A Thousand Oaks native who got her undergrad degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and then spent four years in London, Bell returned in 2018 to earn her MBA. “I chose Cal Lutheran because it had an enterprise innovation and entrepreneurship track,” she said. “I also was attracted because it had Hub101.”
In November 2019, Bell took over as Hub101’s community manager, and then the pandemic hit. For more than a year, people made it work from home, but something vital was lost. And now, that something is coming back.
“As people are starting to get a taste of this environment again, it’s naturally a good reminder that this is a place where collaborative relationships flow,” Bell said, “and that there’s a priceless value in that.”
Hub101 is located at 31416 Agoura Road in Westlake Village. For more information, visit hub101.org.
Julie Price is an award-winning journalist, former senior editor and features editor at the Ventura County Star, and former staff writer and special sections editor at the Los Angeles Daily News. She lives in Ventura, California.