We met Troy Bronsink from The Hive to chat about how The Hive has grown from an idea to bring folks together to live more meaningful lives into a successful social enterprise. The Hive is a spot where folks can go to attend classes based on an array of topics centered around social engagement, creativity, and living a more mindful, compassionate life. The Hive serves between 50-70 people per week.
Tell us about yourself
I live in Northside with my family. We have a daughter in 8th grade and a boy in 1st grade. Before my family moved to Cincinnati we had lived in Atlanta for about 12 years. I came into social enterprise work as a consultant and facilitator with a background in faith-based work. I wanted to find a space to do convening groups in which people could learn together, where I could collaborate with a wider partnership than just my own faith tradition.
What is the Hive?
The Hive is a cross-fit for mindfulness. We’re a place where folks can learn contemplative practices in peer-to-peer groups. We tie those practices to social engagement and creativity. For instance you might attend an art journaling class, a yoga class, or a class about non-violent activism or permaculture. Mostly folks will come in for a 6-8 week class and be paired with a facilitator. Students can learn a practice that would become a daily habit to help them to be more mindful and to be a more active participant in life. Students also have a small support group to really deepen the way that practice connects to what they do in life.
The Hive has a number of events centered around mindfulness. Every month, The Hive has contemplative morning events that bring in around 40 people each time. We did one with the help of Flywheel as a sponsor on mindful economics in partnership with Mortar, Peter Block, and the Economics of Compassion Initiative.
We started The Hive last April, so we’re rounding out our first year. We’ve had close to 2,200 students walk through the door with a number of classes and events. We started off with a huge list of classes and we’ve been experimenting to see what works with folks. We’re getting a clearer idea on what type of class fills up or what elements make a class work. We’ve been really surprised with the response. I anticipated it would mostly be Northsiders, but we’ve really seen folks come out from all over the city. There’s still a lot of opportunity for us to grow as well.
How did The Hive begin?
Two and a half years ago I was leading a discussion group around contemplative practices and kind of compared it to AA and what is it like to have a support group. It’s important to ask yourself, “do the habits in my life support the direction I want to go?”
I’ve also met some fantastic folks here in Northside. I met a woman, Sarah Buffy, who’s been really involved around trauma and activism. I also met Davy Brown, a yoga teacher and metaphysics teacher. I began to meet folks from the creative sector who work at Chase Public and WordPlay. Through these different networks I began to see that there was a need for a way for activist to sustain their work. We began to brainstorm what a center could look like that would keep those people from burning out. Then it became clear that we could help people rise to the challenge of having a contemplative practice. We began to fine tune the idea to turn towards mindfulness and contemplation. In the the summer of 2015 we began to raise funds from individuals to start The Hive.
We received a portion of our seed money from a grant. Then we began to form partnerships with faith traditions that wanted to jump in and help us get started. When we first started the renovation of this space, it really galvanized the team and the possibilities. We counted close to 1,200 hours of volunteer work just to get the first floor of this building renovated and aesthetically up to par. That helped build a lot of momentum.
I began working on registration details with a friend, Denise Swearingen. I’m much more of a start up energy. I enjoy getting resources, getting people excited, but then it’s the details people who actually make it happen. Together we started to form what a class registration would look like. I began to call people who I thought could be potential facilitators. I reached out to people who I thought were influencers in the city and began asking people who they would want to take a class from. Our first set of classes were connected to to these networks which played a large role in getting The Hive off the ground so quickly. We had Kim Pope from Poems Inc. Dance Company and Ramsey Ford and Tamaya Dennard from Design Impact teach classes. Quinetta Roberson taught a class around race and reconciliation. All these different networks, much wider than myself, jumped in and said this was something that they’d be interested in participating in. Michael Wilson, a photographer in the city, agreed to be our first art show. All of these people helped bring the Hive into existence, way beyond my own small individual platform.
What was your biggest struggle when you decided to start the Hive?
I knew from the beginning that we needed to make money. Most of the people that believe in our vision don’t necessarily have a lot of experience making money. If you’re a person who is passionate about creating change in the world and personal transformation, then most likely you’ve been able to avoid those hurdles of greed or using people to gain profit.
In the modern culture we’re kind of separated into these groups. It took awhile for me to find folks that could help me learn how to do both. If you ask my staff, we struggled with this because it’s important that we’re not motivated by a sense of scarcity. At the same time, learning about how to be specific about goals and learning how to turn our class product into something profitable was important. We needed to secure the impact we want to make. We’re a nonprofit, but still making revenue that’s earned. We aren’t in a place where all we can do is chase grants year to year to simply exist.
How did you learn about Cincy Elevator?
We learned about Cincy Elevator from Ramsey Ford at Design Impact. They had been to The Hive to teach a class here, Studio C, and he mentioned this social impact incubator program. I thought it would be perfect for myself and our team. Elevator came at just the right time because if we had not had some of those real, basic rooted questions, we would have been sidetracked by a lot of unnecessary things.
What was it like going through the program? What did you learn?
It was a great program and the networking was really key. Having a mentor was really helpful to someone who had been in our stage of business. Our mentor Brian assured us that we weren’t in trouble, we were just going through all of the growth pains that are natural. I thought the classes were well rounded. It was helpful to be in the cohort with other businesses that were new to this too. To be able to swap stories and share struggles helped. There were a number of things that I wasn’t familiar with, so just to get that beginners perspective and learn from other businesses or learn from presenters was beneficial.
I think our biggest ah-ha moment came during a class that Ramsey taught on understanding profit margin. It hadn’t occurred to me that our class product wasn’t built to generate enough revenue to expand. It was paying for itself, but it wasn’t really generating profit margins. If we had scaled at that point, we would have exhausted ourselves and not gone forward as a business in building our sustainability. It was really helpful to just take a deeper look and work through reframing our approach. We pivoted in order to really make this last in the long run.
What opportunities are there for someone who’s interested in being involved in the hive?
There are five I can think of right off the bat. One is giving mindful meditation a try. It’s really worth it to anyone who puts the time into it. Come to classes. We have beginner meditation classes, yoga classes, and art journaling classes. Take a look at our website and see what we have to offer. When new folks come in for classes it’s not just a business transaction, it’s a way to become a part of the story of this building and a way to explore a new way of living.
The second is to become a teacher. I believe some folks are particularly good as teachers. Folks who’ve had experience leading groups and looking for a place where they can do that in an inter-spiritual and inter-disciplinary environment. I’d love to talk to folks who might want to be a facilitator.
Our biggest volunteer opening is hosting. When you come into The Hive, you’ll see that the space is a large old rectory (which is a fancy word for big house) and when you come in the front door we want you to feel at home. Our hosts greet students, check them in, and point students towards their classes. Hosting is a big part of our commitment to hospitality. Most of our hosts work in exchange for attending free classes. If you’re interested in becoming a part of The Hive, but not sure if you can afford a class, you could consider being a host. We don’t want mindfulness to be an elitist thing. Part of our funding model is grants and individual donors to help make our classes affordable. We even scholarship different folks and do some events donation based and/or free.
One of the partnerships we made during Cincy Elevator was with Villedge. We focused on helping Villedge with some of the work they do with teens in foster care. We did a workshop in the fall and we’re looking for grant partners to be able to continue to do work with them particularly. Another partner works with citizens returning from prison. We worked to develop a mindfulness program with those folks. The amount of partnerships we’re able to form can depend on the rise and fall of donors. Donors see why our programs are important. By combining their donations with our earnings and resources, we’re able to make those kind of classes happen.
The fifth way you can be involved is by taking The Hive to your workplace. The Hive can help your business or nonprofit develop mindfulness practices and good communication. We retro-fit a 6-8 week course to the needs of your organization. We do this as actual 6-8 hour meetings over the course of several months or a couple of short retreats. Those 5 areas cover a big chunk of the ways to be apart of The Hive. You can participate in a class, become a potential facilitate, volunteer as a host, become as sponsor or patron, or take The Hive to your workplace.
So what’s next for The Hive?
This year our big goal is focusing. We’re entering into our second year so we’re focusing on how to build our class capacity. Right now we’re typically running around 60% capacity. We have room to grow just to meet our capacity for classes. We’d really like to double the number of classes we’re offering by the end of the year. There’s some specific work that we have to do to really sharpen that product. When we get a really good system in place and staff to implement it, I think we’ll look at adding an additional location to make ourselves more available to people. We also just ventured into a podcast where we’re having conversations about starting contemplative practices. I think that will widen our audience a bit. It’s called From the Hive and folks can jump on there and hear different conversations as well as guided meditation.
I believe we are in a time where folks are unaware of how much their attention is being pulled by things that create worry and resistance. We’re actually slowing down our capacity to be inventive and compassionate. If we could move the needle by some percentage points across this nation by giving people access to learn this practice, they’ll live happier lives and learn to live with their neighbor more compassionately. That’s the big reason The Hive exists.
Any additional thoughts?
Yes. Often missing in the entrepreneur conversation is the difference between vulnerability and ego. Some of the challenges to starting a business, especially in the social enterprise sector, is that to clear an orbit, to bust out, to get into the world, takes a whole lot of determination. On the other hand, part of the effectiveness of that is being aware and flexible. Being able to allow yourself to fail publicly and allowing your team to have ambitious goals and hold each other to it is important. At the same time, it’s also important to not be a culture that’s punitive about not hitting our goals.
Finding that sweet spot is really key and I think there’s a lot yet to learn in the business sector about how it operates with focus and yet with vulnerability. I’m still learning how to be really effective and how to measure our success. How do we know to pivot? We set these theories, but then you have to pivot to stay alive. We have to pivot when necessary to keep growing. A lot of folks feel like pivoting is shameful or they get really discouraged, so courage in this work is very important. Elevator gave us a lot of different stories to discover that through. I think that in a kind of serendipitous way, I feel lucky that my business talks so much about that. The medium is the message in that sense.
Watch Troy’s Demo Day pitch for The Hive at the 2016 SECincy Summit here!
Read more about The Hive or sign up for a class on their website.
Edited from Q&A with Troy Bronsink, founder of The Hive