*This article originally appeared on Silicon Bayou News.
When it comes to shared workspaces, should form follow function? Or can design and form actually fuel innovation and creativity? That question is being answered right here in downtown New Orleans, on the second floor of the Maritime Building.
Beta, which is owned and operated by local architecture and development firm Wisznia, boasts swanky design tailored to the needs of the “modern professional”. The space, with its amazing sun drenched views of Carondolet Street, offers 20 workstations and 8 semi-private offices. It has all the amenities you might expect from a shared office space – a kitchen, boardroom, printing station, Wi-Fi, and common seating area. Keeping the lifestyle of the entrepreneur in mind, Wisznia also added some additional perks for residents which include full access to the building’s gym, sauna, and pool as well as discounts on coffee and lunch at Merchant, a luxury café on the ground floor of the building which has become a networking hotspot for the young business class of New Orleans.
What sets beta apart however, is their design conscious, work-and-let-work approach to their tenants. By simply building a sleek and conducive space, beta’s managers have found that they’ve attracted a junior level of entrepreneurs and businesses – professionals who have an established brand and know how to market and manage it but are still not large enough to justify renting an entire office.
“The space is named beta because it’s just that – a project in its beta stage,” explains Chris Brancato, Wisznia’s Director of Special Projects. “What started as a development problem for us was solved through architecture and design and we’ve ended up attracting a highly creative class of residents.
Many of the space’s residents say beta’s design was what initially attracted them to rent an office.
“It’s a different vibe here from other shared offices I’ve looked into. In other spaces I felt like you had to join a community to be part of the space and I felt like I had people looking over my shoulder all the time. I like the privacy here and the clean professional space,” says Laurie Dickson of Noble Mouse, a digital ad agency that is the most recent addition to beta.
“Because our main offices are in LA, we often have studio exec types come in and they want to see a clean, modern work space. We have that here. The rooftop conference room and amenities are impressive to my clients. After all, you don’t want to look like a start-up even if you are one and beta gives us a professional looking edge,” says Dickson.
Brancato says that initially their main focus was on the nuts and bolts of the space itself rather than creating a community. The result has been an interesting turn in the evolution of beta. Tenants can have privacy if they want it, but the space also lends itself to continuous collaboration if that’s what residents are seeking.
In just under a year since opening, beta is now at 70% occupancy and has attracted a different blend of professionals and businesses. At beta, the space has allowed the tenants to drive their own inter-office community and this self-created free flow of ideas has given birth to some amazing partnerships.
“Through having our office here we’ve developed relationships with numerous vendors, partners and sponsors for New Orleans Fashion Week,” says Lauren Lagarde, the Public Relations Advisor to the New Orleans Fashion Council. As one of the original tenants, the NOFC has utilized the space in multiple ways.
“Beta is perfect for us because we have a large team at times,” says Lagarde. At the height of Fashion Week, the NOFC held seminars for bloggers and had interns operating out of shared workspaces. When business is quieter they manage the council out of a private office that seats three.
Additionally, one of the unexpected benefits of beta has been the reverse inspiration it has fueled for Wisznia.
“There are so many amazing start-ups and innovators in the space now,” says Brancato, who notes that Wisznia has enjoyed tapping this resource as the space has grown. “We have ended up doing business with many of them.”
Utilizing the close proximity to the creatives in the space, Wisznia has partnered with beta tenants to work on press outreach, social media, and wireless solutions for their many buildings.
Beta has even worked with one of its long time tenants, Apptitude, to develop its own app for iPhone and iPad. The app allows tenants to connect with each other and easily facilitates partnership abilities between companies. The NOFC even partnered with Apptitude to build out a special portion of the app to allow bloggers to easily access all their info during Fashion Week.
The app also serves as the office administrator, allowing tenants to book the conference room remotely or a workstation for a day, access printing and wireless info, and connect with Wisznia directly.
“I love having my company based in beta,” says Apptitude’s founder Chris Boyd. “Through developing this app for the space I’ve gotten to work with so many smart, savvy, talented people. I love the view, the ambiance. And I have access to lots of people in areas of expertise that complement my own.”
Beta is accepting new tenants daily. You can check out their website www.betaneworleans.com for more info and to request a tour of the space.