As corporations in America cut hundreds of thousands of jobs, there are reports that some of the newly unemployed are starting their own businesses. New ventures, however, often face challenges. And in Washington, DC, there is a company where entrepreneurs can share space and resources as well as connect with others who are facing common challenges.
Adrian Constantyn is a graphic designer and illustrator. He was recently laid off from a publishing company where he had worked for years as an assistant art director. "I found that it didn't make sense to me to go seek out another job since there were not many opportunities," he said.
So, he started his own design and consulting business from home. But soon, Constantyn realized that home was not the best place to run his business and to bring clients. "I needed somewhere to go to an office," he explained. "Where I can work in an environment that is similar to the office that I used to work with someone else and also gave me discipline."
He joined Affinity Lab in January. It is a shared office space above the bars and restaurants that inhabit this urban neighborhood in Washington, DC [Adams Morgan neighborhood]. In all, about 30 companies run out of Affinity. Some are start ups. Others are a few years old.
Charles Plank is the CEO [chief executive officer]. He founded the lab 10 years ago with a partner after struggling to launch their own business. "It's a journey realizing all the things that you don't know. We rolled up all the lessons that we had learned in the start-up process," Plank said. "And basically created a tiered membership model."
Plank calls Affinity Lab a home for designers, Web developers, film makers, non-profit workers, and anyone who has an entrepreneurial spirit. Here, small businesses not only share an office, a conference room or a printer but also resources, clients, knowledge, skills and opportunities.
Raz Aggarwal is president of Joint Concepts, a visual communications firm. He started six years ago offering free design work from one shared desk here. Now he has seven employes on three desks. "I have other people (here) that I can go to for support and opportunities for collaboration," he adds. "We work with Design Symphony, we work with Articulated Impact, and we work on pretty large projects with them as a result of the collaboration that probably we wouldn't be able to take on our own."
Affinity Lab often hosts exhibits by local artists or photographers. The Lab's co-founder Berit Oskey says the entrepreneurial process should be fun along the way.
"We have a monthly happy hour. We have several other events that happen throughout each month that encourage the members to get together to meet each other to find out what their respective businesses do," Oskey said.
The cofounders say their business is doing well despite the economic downturn. They say, in fact, when large companies are insecure, it is a good time for people to start small businesses. They take credit for helping to launch more than 80 enterprises and creating hundreds of jobs in the process.
"The ultimate goal," Prank says, "Is to have an Affinity Lab in every major and semi major city here in the United States and internationally."
Plank adds, if he does that, then local entrepreneurs could connect with peers in other cities and other cultures around the world.