Friday, March 6, 2009

Brooklyn Entrepreneurs Share Values and Space In ‘Co-working’ Building

From the outside, 33 Flatbush Ave. doesn’t look like much. Someone passing on the sidewalk might not even notice it. But on the inside, the building is anything but ordinary.

Al Attara acquired the building around 30 years ago and began filling it with salvaged materials. Now he’s adding start-up businesses.

Three floors of the structure are managed by different companies: Ecosystems, Green Spaces and Interboro. Each of these companies leases space out on the floors to start-up businesses, creating a co-working environment. Ecosystems and Interboro created separate entities — Treehouse (above) and MEx, respectively — under which they rent space.

“Treehouse is a co-working initiative,” said Ecosystems co-founder Andrew Personette. “This is a place where people can come and work together and share resources. We offer the cheapest possible way to have an office outside of your home with all the resources you need.”

For approximately $250 a month, an entrepreneur can bring in their laptop and work, taking their things with them at the end of the day. For around $400, that entrepreneur can have a permanent desk space. “If you have more than one person in your company, it’s slightly discounted for each additional person,” Personette explained.

Which floor a business is assigned to depends on what kind of business it is. Ecosystems, being a sustainable design firm, hosts businesses through Treehouse that are geared toward design: graphic design, furniture design or web design, for example. Green Spaces hosts green entrepreneurs and MEx hosts architecture and urban planning businesses.

Personette said that as of now, there are at least 50 start-ups working out of the building, maybe more. There is a media company called Good News Broadcast, which only reports on good news, a fair trade coffee bean importer and a company that does carbon trading, among many others.

Because there are so many different businesses of different natures, the benefit of working in this space isn’t the price, it’s the shared experiences. “You just hear how so many different people handle their start-ups,” Personette said. “It’s really the right place to be if you’re a start-up because everyone here has the same energy, the same questions.”

All the furnishings are provided by Attara, who has a seemingly endless supply of found objects, ranging from an antique wheelchair, a metal donkey from a game on Coney Island, a spotlight from an old theater in Brooklyn, and several cast iron bathtubs.

There’s so much Attara has collected over the years that the second floor and the basement of the building are completely filled. He built a working kitchen on the fifth floor that is shared by all the tenants, and has everything he would need to build a restaurant if he wanted.

“You could call him a junk collector, but man, he’s got really good taste,” Personette noted. “The whole building is about reclaiming, recycling and creative re-use.” In fact, one of Treehouse’s tables is a granite slab.

Everything in the building is shared among its tenants: space, the kitchen, internet, printers and a wood shop on the second floor.

The wood shop is mainly for small-scale production. “We do everything it takes to get to the point of manufacturing. So, designing, prototyping, all the evolutions of thought processes to get to the product, but then we don’t do large production runs here in this building,” Personette said.

While this co-working community has done so much in such a short time (only a few years), there still is a long way to go. One goal for the future is to create an entity to encompass the building. And also to make sure all the floors have proper heating.

Personette said there will be rooftop farming in the near future. “We already have somebody signed up to raise bees on the roof and gather their honey. We’re planing to make this a really productive space,” he said.

And even farther in the future, “Al would like to share ownership with the inhabitants of the building,” Personette said.

“What’s going on in the building is amazing. As a whole this is totally rare, I don’t know of any other places where there’s a building owner saying ‘Let’s make this amazing.’"

Click for information about Treehouse, Green Spaces and MEx.

Photo courtesy of Treehouse

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