Starting Out in WeWork, Harvard Friends Launch a ‘Social University’

38 desks, including 10 in WeWork Kinzie

In WeWork spaces across the country, the founders of IVY plan on expanding around the world

WeWork Kinzie
Chicago, Illinois

When they started tossing around ideas for their first startup, Beri Meric and Philipp Triebel didn’t hit on IVY right away. In fact, they came up with several ideas—a platform for connecting business school graduates, a members-only dating network—before they got the idea for their “social university.”

There have been a lot of changes to their business plan since the friends graduated from Harvard Business School in 2010. But Meric prefers not to call it “pivoting.”

“My philosophy is that a lot of people talk about pivoting,” says Meric, “but what we’re really talking about is that constant evolution to see what people are really wanting from your company.”

IVY, launched four years ago, seems to be exactly what its members are looking for. It has racked up more than 150,000 subscribers who get notifications about the wide variety of social events IVY throws in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Miami, and Washington, D.C.

What type of events? Los Angeles members might join a private tour of the Museum of Contemporary Art, while those in Miami could try out their skills on the dance floor learning salsa. In the Windy City? Cheer on the Bulls. San Francisco? Hear the CEO of Levi’s talk about reinventing an iconic brand. The most popular events are standing room only.

“When we launched in New York, we were doing about one event a month,” says Meric. “Now we’re doing 20, sometimes closer to 30, in New York alone.”

It’s all part of their idea that the city where you live also can be a place to “meet new people, engage with great ideas, and learn about things that really matter.”

“It’s like a university, but for life,” says Meric. “Everything we do is designed to bring your city to life, to make your city into your campus.”

About 90 percent of what we do is because members say, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if we do this?

Beri Meric

Meric says they never planned on organizing so many events, but the members made it clear that they enjoyed the opportunity to mix and mingle with other interesting people.

“That’s always been the case,” says Meric. “About 90 percent of what we do is because members say, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if we do this?’”

Besides the more than 1,000 events it holds every year, IVY also sponsors frequent trips, such as a ski weekend in Aspen or an excursion to Iceland. Cuba has been so popular among members that it’s come up on the list more than once.

“They all come back best friends,” Triebel says. “The biggest reason why we encourage these trips is because I made good friends in business school by traveling with them.”

There’s also access to an online magazine, as well as other curated online content that aims to help members “learn, grow, and unlock their potential.”

The company has big plans for the future. London is next on the list, followed by Hong Kong, Singapore, Tel Aviv, and Dubai. In 10 years, they hope to be in 50 different cities.

Originally based in WeWork Soho West, IVY has grown from a six-person operation in New York to a staff of 75 spread around the country. Triebel says that having staff in five different WeWork locations is a “no-brainer.”

“At the core, we want to connect people and get them to collaborate on projects and start businesses together,” says Triebel. “We get people to join our community and invest in each other’s businesses.”