An Interview With Community Manager Taylor Sherbine
In addition to being the Memphis “Hub of Entrepreneurship,” the physical space the nonprofit occupies in the heart of Cooper-Young also serves as a co-working space. It and the community in which it serves requires management and coordination. Taylor Sherbine, Epicenter’s Community Manager, juggles quite a few tasks in helping keep Epicenter – the co-working space and the entrepreneurial community – humming. Turns out, if not for that space and community, Taylor might never have stayed in Memphis.
I sat down with Taylor at the end of May for chat.
Mark Fleischer: You handle a lot of tasks here at the Epicenter offices. Everything from coordinating community events, greeting new entrepreneurs and, on occasion as needed, moving furniture.
Taylor Sherbine: Yes. Since I started with Epicenter in May 2016, I’ve been organizing the Co.Starters nine-week business lunch accelerator, at one point I did intake for entrepreneurs reaching out for support (Kerri Malone had since filled that role). But as for the building itself, I’m focusing more on the community aspects, which include finding members who are good fits with our culture here, organizing the community events, marketing the space, and then the odd little things to do around here, like hanging up a shelf or fixing something around the building. So it’s a good mix.
Mark: How does that outreach happen?
Taylor: I use NextDoor and some targeted, mostly Facebook ads around here in Midtown. I’m very specific in marketing toward entrepreneurs, solo-preneurs, freelancers, creatives and remote workers. We like that mix: people starting a business or nonprofit and people just working remotely, because they all have different levels of expertise and can collaborate together. Really what we’re looking for in someone joining our space is that they’re open, willing to collaborate, and who appreciates the access to shared amenities and in being around like-minded people. Really, people who are trying to get involved in the “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” or looking for a great way to get plugged in.
Mark: I’ll tell you, when you say “ecosystem” people kind of think, What does that mean? And for me, it’s organic – talking to people, seeing people come and go and you think, What do they do? And then you’ll overhear a conversation – there’s dozens of conversations I’ve overheard – and you think “I need to talk to that person.” That only happens in a space like this. Plus, the energy here is great and there’s just a good vibe here.
Taylor: Yeah, and it took us a while to build that. When we first came in there was a good foundation of people but the energy wasn’t quite there. It took us… I mean it took me a lot of work, because I had never been to a co-working space before and was kind of thrown into it – happily though.
Mark: How did you come in to this work, and what’s your background?
Taylor: I’m from the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I went to Allegheny College, which is a small liberal arts school very similar to Rhodes. My school is actually older than the city of Memphis. We had our Bicentennial in 2015, the year I graduated. My school is really big on students doing service after graduation, like for AmeriCorps Teach for America, the Peace Corps, things like that. And while I was in school, I studied International Studies with a focus on North Africa and the Middle East.
I never got to travel when I was young, so I decided in my junior year that I was going to Senegal for four months. And that kind of ignited my passion for interacting with people who are different than me – completely different cultures. I loved it. So when I was graduating I looked at AmeriCorps because I knew it was a way where I could find a new city and get plugged in easily. And that’s what brought me to Memphis.
I was in the AmeriCorps Vista program for Leadership Memphis Downtown for a year. I was working with junior and senior high school students connecting them to local executives for college and career preparedness. I managed I think 40 executives and four high schools. And that’s how I met Leslie (Smith, Executive Director of Epicenter). So at one point I managed her. Yes, funny.
Mark: I know you feel at home here now, but how did you like Memphis initially?
Taylor: For the first year, I didn’t like Memphis. It was really hard for me to find my group of people here. I was ready to leave.
Mark: Really? What was the thing you struggled with? Just not feeling connected?
Taylor: Yea that was hard. Well, I’d never really been to the South before. My family didn’t really move or travel a lot. So having never been to the South – I completely didn’t know Memphis was in the Bible Belt – it was a little bit of a culture shock. And with AmeriCorps Vista, honestly you don’t make a lot of money. So it was really hard to get out and do things – I was doing that for a year or so. It took a little while to get out of that place.
Mark: When you first moved here were you in the Cooper-Young area?
Taylor: Oh no, I was in Binghampton – I really liked it. I liked the neighborhood. A lot of refugees lived in my apartment complex. They were helpful when we moved in – this was a good first impression of Memphis. Then I moved down to the Venue at Central and Lamar. I liked it there a lot.
But, I ended my lease because I thought I was going to leave and go back to Pennsylvania.
Mark: But you stayed. What happened?
Taylor: Well, I was ready to leave, literally. My dad was in Pennsylvania at the U-Haul place picking up the truck to come get me, and then that minute I got a call with the job offer here (at Epicenter).
I was so anxious. I called my dad and I was crying and I said “Sorry I’ve been back and forth. But this lady I know offered me this job and I think it’d be a really cool way to get involved and I think I’m just gonna stay.”
In my mind I thought I could always go back to Pennsylvania. But if I leave Memphis, I probably won’t come back to Memphis. So I figured I would just stick with it.
So I told my dad “I’m going to take the risk and stay here.”
I had a journal at the time – I probably wrote in it ten times total – and I was crying on the phone and then really happy after I got off the phone and I wrote in it that I decided to stay in Memphis, Yay, and I took one of those Choose 901 stickers and slapped it on that page of the journal and I said Hey! Choose 901!
I don’t know what I did with that journal, but that kind of stuck out to me because it was a hard decision, but I was also apparently really excited for it.
So there I was but my lease was up. I moved to the University District for a year. And then after that I came to Midtown, which is where I’ve been ever since. I love Midtown.
Mark: You know, I often come across people who’ve had these similar experiences with Memphis, where this happened and that happened and they stayed. It gets ahold of you.
Taylor: Yeah, I’ve met so many people that say they moved here for the summer and now they’ve been here for 20 years. I think Memphis is a perfect place for Millennials and recent college grads to start. It can be hard if you don’t have the right connections to get started, but I think once you’re plugged in… I really like being here (at Epicenter) and it’s why I ended up staying. I was able to plug into what’s going on in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and meet some really powerful and passionate people who want to see change here, and they’re going to do it no matter what anyone else says.
I feel very lucky to be with this organization and then here at this (co-work) space to see all the people that come in. It’s just amazing who you can meet whether you meant to or not. In 10,000 square feet you’re bound to run into someone new and interesting.
I’m around all of you (business owners, creatives, entrepreneurs) every day, so I get these more intimate relationships where I can see how I can help. I get really excited whenever I see the members interact with each other and help each other. And I like the entrepreneurship piece because I feel like I get a little taste of some secret that people don’t know about like, Oh, I know that the shop is going to open up, or I know when that next thing is coming up. That’s exciting and fun. I like being connected – you see all that’s going on in Memphis. <>
Mark Fleischer is the founder and executive director of StoryBoard Memphis. He was a career consultant and communications specialist in the payroll industry until moving from southern California to Memphis in late 2015. The Bluff City gave him a new start in the second half of his career, gifting him the opportunity to return to his childhood fascinations with cities and his college passions in writing, theater, film, and storytelling.