Sharing Space with Start-Ups [Updated]
November 2nd, 2007

Charlie O’Donnell doesn’t think working from home is the most productive way to get something finished. “You tend to be a lot more informal about meeting times and there’s a lot to distract you,” he says. But O’Donnell and his partner were unable to afford office space for their start-up business, which helps college students decide what to do after graduation. So they resigned to working out of their apartments and using sites like Cup of NYC, where they could find coffee shops with free WiFi. Soon, however, they caught a break. The CEO of a larger business had some free space, and offered it to the pair, free of charge.

Now, O’Donnell is reaching out to other mid-size companies, trying to get them to offer extra, unused space in their offices to other small start-up companies. He envisions the model as an informal form of incubator, where a company can gain a foothold while it grows into maturity.

“We use normal bandwidth for our regular office activities and hardly ever use the phone. We borrow a conference room about twice a week and we probably take two sodas/juices a day each from the free machine,” he says. “I’d be surprised if our actual incremental cash cost was $150 a month.”

He also raised the idea with lawmakers in the city at a hearing last month. To encourage private businesses to get involved with helping entrepreneurs around the city, he proposed that the government offer tax credits to companies that open up to entrepreneurs. (Surely, the company helping him out appreciated the sentiment.) At the hearing, he also harked back to his days in coffee shops, and suggested the city look for ways to foster the spread of publicly accessible spaces where people can meet and work.

The city should “incentivize as many cafes and similar gathering places to provide internet access free of charge,” the entrepreneur said. “Municipal wifi may be too difficult to implement, but a very workable, and less expensive substitute would be to make sure that every conceivable place where you would want to set up shop or meet with others, would provide wifi.”

[Councilmember Thomas White, chair of the Council’s Economic Development Committee, said he supports such incentives. “I think it’s a decent policy,” he said. “We have a lot of potential here in New York, and we should nurture it. We [provide assistance] for large companies, and we should do it for start-ups as well. We don’t want to drive them out because its too expensive.” When asked if he supported the idea enough to introduce a bill giving tax credits for businesses that offer space, he said he would. He demurred from putting a number on that credit, however. White also said he supported offering incentives for places like coffee shops that offer free WiFi.]

By on November 2, 2007, 8:46 am
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