Shared office space sponsored by The Opportunity Machine provides a collaborative work space for tech-creatives in the Hub City.
By Lisa Hanchey
For small start-ups and newly relocating companies, committing to a long-term lease is a major financial burden. Leave it to the well-oiled Opportunity Machine to come up with the perfect solution, The Switch, which has ignited downtown’s entrepreneurial scene. In just its first year of operation, over half of its desks are committed.
Located in the former Bell building at 100 Central St., The Switch consists of open co-working space with 58 desks. Tenants pay month-to-month without having to commit to long-term contracts. “This co-working facility serves two purposes,” explains Bob Miller, head machinist and executive director of the Opportunity Machine, a business accelerator designed for technology-focused start-ups. “One, it’s a place for people to come and rent a space to grow and collaborate. But the other part it serves is as a tool of LEDA to be able to help small companies get up and running or for transitioning new companies and recruiting companies into Lafayette. And they can use this as a short-term solution until they find permanent office space to rent.”
Included in the $210 monthly rent are a desk and chair, filing cabinet, 100 megabit LUS Fiber Internet connection, local phone calls, secured card access, two shared conference rooms with 55-inch plasma screens and touch PCs and a common kitchen area. “I don’t think you can get a better deal in terms of office space, the amenities, the conference room, the Internet access — all of that’s all included in the price,” says tenant Aaron Lozier, owner of Architech, a website development and custom software building company.
Spaces are open, allowing creativity to flow between tenants. “There are no walls, so it’s not like you get an enclosed office,” Miller says. “We designed it this way to not compete with traditional office space in town. This is designed to be collaborative. The tenants tend to interact with each other quite a bit, share ideas and, in some cases, share clients. We were trying to create a place where the really super-creative, techno-creative-type people could have a centralized place.”
Says Lozier, “I enjoy being able to work closely with other people that are like me, who are self-employed or starting their own businesses,” he says. “There’s a lot of synergy that happens as a result of that. It’s just a very creative, stimulating place to work.”
Since starting last May, The Switch has committed over half of its space, with some renters occupying multiple desks. Businesses are primarily technology-focused, including Internet eCommerce, Internet web development, health information exchange software service, non-profit digital economic development, pharmacy equipment developers and digital media production services.
The idea for The Switch started a couple of years ago when the Opportunity Machine was looking for co-working space similar to New Orleans-based Launch Pad. “I was looking for a New York or New Orleans Warehouse District loft kind of feel,” Miller says. He found it in Buchanan Place, a 17,000-square-foot circa 1927 building. The Switch takes up 7,000 square feet on half of the first floor and the entire third level.
Among The Switch’s first tenants was collegedistrict.com, a Baton Rouge-based collegiate Ecommerce company. “There are some similar shared work spaces in Baton Rouge, so we were already familiar with the concept,” says purchaser Emily Bergeron. “The Switch really just worked for us. It’s convenient — I live about a mile away, so it’s bike-able for me. And, it’s just neat being in a shared work space. That’s really better than being in an office by myself somewhere.”
“What I’ve noticed is that the people in here are able to network with each other and either bounce ideas or find work for each other,” Bergeron says. “It’s good for people who don’t want to be cooped up or can’t stay focused in a home office, and just need that interaction with other people but have that space at the same time.”
In November, Manchac.com, which builds pharmaceutical robots at its 12,000-square-foot facility in Alexandria, leased space at The Switch for recruiting college talent. “If I had to get my own office space, I would have to deal with going through the whole utility, data, security acquisition and all of those pieces for just a small office,” Manchac’s Brian Broussard explains. “Here, I come in, and for a flat-rate fee it’s all taken care of for me.”
Broussard says The Switch is a smart move for start-ups. “This is especially helpful for people who want to get their offices out of their homes, and start getting into some type of structured facility for their organization and begin a growth plan,” Broussard says. “So, if people with home businesses are looking for that first step to venture out, they don’t have to sign a one-year lease like they would have to do with most commercial space.”