Philadelphia Performing Arts: A String Theory Charter School occupies an eight-floor office building at 16th and Vine Streets in Center City.
The first seven floors contain classrooms, labs, and other fairly conventional school accessories. On the eighth, they're cooking up an experiment.
On Thursday, the charter network formally unveiled Particle, a co-working space that now houses six startup companies (and, naturally, a Ping-Pong table).
Like other co-working spaces, Particle is sleek, open, and designed with a minimalist touch. Unlike other co-working spaces, Particle's tenants don't pay a dime. Instead, they receive one-year "fellowships" that allow them to use the space for free on one condition: They have to provide some educational benefit to the school, which serves students in grades 5-12 at its Vine Street campus. That could include designing a course or hiring students as interns.
The companies include a handbag designer; a nonprofit that teaches kids to code; and a firm that created a search engine for do-gooders. Some have just one employee. Others have up to 10.
Jason Corosanite, String Theory Schools co-founder and chief innovation officer, says those opportunities will expose his students to real-world work without ever having to leave the building.
"We definitely needed some different experiences and more sophisticated experiences than just, 'I took AP Physics,'" he said.
Any venture involving String Theory's physical space is bound to raise eyebrows. The nonprofit's impressive facility once housed a branch of the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. String Theory took out a $55 million bond to purchase the property, as detailed in an investigative report by Philly.com. Shortly afterward, the school cut back on some services, such as transportation.
According to its most recent financial disclosures, String Theory's expenses outpaced its revenues in 2016 by about $370,000. But the school receives high marks from the district's charter office for financial management and stability.
Besides, said Corosanite, Particle isn't a money play. The space is free to all tenants — by design — and String Theory Schools plans to keep it that way.