Roxie Alsruhe may have moved her tassel from left to right at George Mason University only four years ago, but she has already found her dream job as the founder of PunchRock, a collaborative co-working space for for like-minded social entrepreneurs. It sure hasn’t been an easy road to success for Alsruhe, a fact she admitted over the phone. However, despite the skepticism and scrutiny from critics, she has pushed forward and created something intrinsically unique and beneficial to a specialized segment of the D.C. community that tends to get overlooked.
We caught up with Alsruhe earlier this morning to learn more about PunchRock as well as everything she’s doing to make her workshop space one that’s a watering hole for changemakers to enjoy.
InTheCapital: What inspired you to launch PunchRock?
Roxie Alsruhe: I was a finance and marketing major at George Mason, which seemed promising at the time, but upon graduating in 2009 the job market was not terribly great. I was fortunate enough to find something in a pretty reasonable amount of time, taking on the position of financial analyst for a government contractor. I had the mindset that I would keep with it for two years and then figure out what I wanted to do, like any other Millennial these days.
I always knew I wanted to start something of my own, but I didn’t know what I wanted it to be. One thing I ended up dedicating a lot of time to, though, was a nonprofit I volunteered for that was founded in my hometown of Centreville, Virginia – the Erin Peterson Fund. It was launched in 2007 in honor of one of my friends who lost her life in the Virginia Tech shooting. That meant a lot to me and I got really involved.
That passion led me to social entrepreneurship, which is something I never really learned about in college. Two years after I graduated George Mason opened the Center for Social Entrepreneurship on campus, but while I was still in school we didn’t have all of these programs and majors with a special focus on social enterprise universities boast about now. Even today social entrepreneurship is still new, a buzz word you could say. But making change sustainable and localizing that to D.C. because it’s a place where changemakers come, well the idea just made sense to me. There’s a lot of infrastructure that can be built to support social enterprises in D.C.
That’s when PunchRock took off as a place where social entrepreneurs can work alongside each other and have a common meeting place. It began and still is very much a grassroots movement, which has worked to our benefit. We’ve grown much through word-of-mouth.
Co-working spaces are obviously a big thing here in the District, given the tech scene. How does PunchRock stand apart from the rest?
From the outside we might just look like another co-working space since that’s our bread-and-butter and to be totally honest, that’s how we pay our lease, but we do things a little differently. We have events at night and on the weekends and host fun things to bring people together and teach them about social entrepreneurship and, if they have a social enterprise, help show them how they can increase their impact.
How did your time at George Mason play into the success you’ve found today?
I was recruited to George Mason for Lacrosse, so I’ve always had that driven mentality, which I learned from being a student athlete. I’ve been taught to push myself and be independent, but also a team player. So when I decided that I wanted to build PunchRock, I knew that I would have to work independently and then a team player as well to make things sustain themselves. My education at George Mason also played a role in my ability to now do my own finances and marketing.
Women aren’t well represented in the local tech sector. Have you faced any challenges in creating PunchRock because of the gender barrier?
I never really noticed there being a gender barrier, but I did find that people are very skeptical of my model because it’s social enterprise. PunchRock has been scrutinized by many critics because it’s a social enterprise that’s giving from one end and taking from another. Tech companies aren’t faced with such criticism.
If you were to give one piece of advice to a student interested in starting their own business, what would it be?
Plan ahead. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best, but be smart and understand your market before you go into it. Make smart assumptions, and be very agile because you’re probably going to have to pivot.
All Images via Roxie Alsruhe