The independent news organization of Duke University

Think Small

The clatter of plates, customers placing their orders, babbling babies and jazz music. These are not the typical sounds one associates with an office environment, perhaps with the exception of entrepreneurs, who are known for their flexibility. One such entrepreneur, Krista Anne Nordgren, runs her business out of a 30 sq.-ft. space in the front window of Beyu Caffe in downtown Durham.

Stares from curious passersby have become routine for the small business’ employees.

Beyu Caffe provided the space as part of a national competition—known as “The Smoffice” (origin, “small office”) of entrepreneurs sponsored by the Durham Chamber of Commerce. Nordgren and her sisters, Brita and Sarah Rose, beat out more than 20 other start-ups with their pitch for The Makery, for which they raised over $4,500 on Kickstarter, a “crowd funding” site that helps project developers finance creative ideas. The sisters have worked in the rent-free office since May 1.

Beginning this week, The Makery started selling four pieces of North Carolina art each week.

“The Makery has two missions. One is to help people in North Carolina discover all the things that are being made around them,” said Nordgren, a North Carolina native. She added that it is important “to help artists showcase their work to the community.”

Featured artists will include Leo Gaev, a Carrboro metalworker, designer Michelle Smith and sculptor Sarah West of Raleigh. The business already showcases the work of Makery employee Whitney Robinson.

“I’m wearing her earrings right now,” Nordgren says laughing, fingering hoop earrings wrapped in repurposed white leather. Upon glancing at the yellow flower posts in the office, she added that they are also Robinson’s handiwork. A 2008 Duke graduate with a major in computer science, Robinson joined The Makery as a web developer. She also makes and sells leather accessories on her website, Freshly Given.

“This is definitely like a self-taught MBA. But it’s nice because it’s kind of like the ‘fail-fast’ model—if something messes up we quickly learn from that, and we can move forward,” Robinson said.

Nordgren noted that her artistic background has been helpful in picking up business skills. She studied creative writing at Knox College in Illinois, where she graduated in May.

“Having a business is all about having ideas and figuring out really fast what works and what doesn’t work, and you have to do that as an artist, whether it’s writing, dance,” she said. “My oldest sister is a poet, my middle sister is a visual artist, and I think we all came from that perspective of generating ideas and seeing as fast as we can what is successful and what doesn’t ring true,” Nordgren said.

The entrepreneurial spirit also runs in the family. The sisters’ father, Carl Nordgren, is a professor of markets and management studies at Duke. Krista noted that The Makery would like to work with Duke students.

The Makery will reside in the Smoffice until Oct. 31. In the meantime, the company continues to expand—the sisters recently hired an intern from Knox and are seeking other applicants from North Carolina. Ultimately, Nordgren said, they hope their company will spread across the nation, with each state’s website showcasing local artists.

“But we would definitely keep going with North Carolina and see that as our home base,” Krista said. “I’ve been so impressed by the community here and how collaborative it is, and how people really just are excited about what you’re doing in a way that I’ve never seen anywhere else.”


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