Space-for-a-fee model gives entrepreneurs, hobbyists a place to create
Eve Picker found a service that was missing Downtown and — as an entrepeneur — did something about it.
She started Bruno Works, which offers space — actually use of a desk — in her Bruno Building at 945 Liberty Ave., Downtown, to individuals who want to work out of low-rent space to pursue their occupation or vocation.
Her program provides primarily a desk for them to work at, but no computer or telephone service. The businessmen and businesswomen bring their own. Usually, similar office-rental locations cost more and provide shared facilities and more services.
“These people are looking for a professional space that they can entertain potential clients, a place to grow their business, synergy with other people like themselves, services that can be shared at reduced costs and, of course, networking opportunities,” said Picker, who wears numerous hats such as architect, city planner, urban designer, real estate developer and innovator on urban issues.
Bruno Works offers a coworking atmosphere that allows the individuals to share a work environment collaboratively by people who do not work for the same organization, she said.
“Some of our current members include an artist who creates work at her desk surrounded by drawing tools. Another, who is building a company, rents two desks and employs the artist part-time. There's a math tutor whose favorite spot is probably the telephone room where she can connect with her students to her heart's content,” Picker said.
That's not all. Also among her renters is a man who works for a company in New England and likes to park his bike next to his desk. And there's an individual who works for his dad's company but rents a desk because his dad doesn't have enough space for him at home, she said.
Gemma Smith, an artist who moved to Pittsburgh in June from Australia when her husband was hired as a curator at the Warhol Museum on the North Shore, said she was attracted to Bruno Works as a place to complete her drawings for a showing in Australia this spring.
“This is better than working out of my home studio,” she said. “It's more productive, and there's space to display my works.”
Her desk, which is rented for a month, is at the end of the building where there are windows that allow plenty of light, she said.
Brandon Craig, whose company BrandGage works with trade shows and other attractions, is happy he decided about seven months ago to lease a desk — he now uses two desks — at Bruno Works.
He likes what his lease offers, such as paper and printing services, coffee and a kitchen, plus maintenance service to clean up after he leaves.
“It's important that I have use of a conference room, because I like to meet with clients and the room gives me the privacy to transact business with them,” he said. Also, being Downtown is another advantage, along with the fact he doesn't have to furnish an office since that is provided, he said.
The cost to use a desk varies. For individuals interested in a full membership plan that provides an assigned desk, access seven days a week, 24 hours a day to their space, the cost is $300 a month.
Those who don't need the desk every day, there's the flex plan for $150 a month with no assigned desk. There's also a student plan for $75 a month. Those who need use of a conference room pay $50 a month.
There are numerous business office-type facilities in the area, many in the Oakland area. In Downtown, One Oxford Centre provides a business center that has a different concept than what Picker offers.
“What Eve Picker has done is very popular across the nation,” said Marilyn Landis, CEO of Basic Business Concepts Inc. on the North Shore. Landis served as vice chair of advocacy of the National Small Business Association and as chairwoman of the SMC Business Council in Churchill, which has about 1,500 members in Western Pennsylvania.
“There is a need for this type of business, since it offers not only residents of an area a place, at a reasonable price, to conduct their business in a professional way, but can be used for companies outside Pittsburgh who have a representative that lives in, say, Cleveland but needs to travel to Pittsburgh for a day or so — a place from which to operate,” she said.
In communities where this service does not exist, Landis said she found McDonald's are best to conduct her business since it has good WiFi Internet service.
“I think Eve Picker's operation is wonderful,” said Emily Buka, executive director of the Riverside Center for Innovation in the North Side. “Her service is very much needed as one method to help individuals starting up a business or vocation,” she said.
Riverside provides not only the office items, such as computer and telphones, high-tech audio system and computer lab, but also support to businesses, Buka said.
“The Bruno Works space-for-a-fee model is a complementary part of the start-up ecosystem in our region. Space is an important necessity for technology start-ups and for early-stage companies,” said John W. Manzetti, CEO of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse. “One-stop-shopping for space like this, the PLSG Incubator, Alpha Labs and others allows start-ups to worry less about logistics and concentrate more on their innovative ideas and the creation of their business.”
Picker recalls how her concept began.
“I was approached by individuals asking if there was space in my building that they could use for a short or long period, without having to pay a high rental fee,” she said.
After a few years, Picker decided it was time to formalize the service by establishing Bruno Works.
Today, 10 individuals lease space in her building, which can handle as many as 40.
Sam Spatter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7843 or firstname.lastname@example.org.