Chris Schultz, left, and Barre Tanguis are scouting downtown locations for a Lafayette office of Launch Pad, their New Orleans-based business co-op.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Written by Nathan Stubbs

The latest trend in urban workspace lands in downtown Lafayette

Driving back to New Orleans from the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, Chris Schultz and Barre Tanguis decided to stop in Lafayette for some research. They were exploring the idea of opening up another branch of their business, Launch Pad, a Crescent City-based office co-op designed for laptop professionals in need of a step up away from the coffee shop. While the business partners were scoping out Lafayette buildings, Schultz sent out a message on Twitter, asking followers what they thought of the idea of Launch Pad expanding to Lafayette. “Literally, within minutes,” Tanguis recalls, “while we’re walking around looking at some spaces, we got several messages back saying, ‘Absolutely.’”

Local tweets brought suggestions on buildings to look at.

“We’ve been using [Twitter] kind of for our market research,” Schultz says. “Essentially, it is market research. These people who are from Lafayette who we have relationships with online will hopefully become our members and join Launch Pad.” Last month, Schultz, in town as a panelist at the local Fiber Fête convention, announced at the event that Launch Pad would be coming to Lafayette. Last Friday, he and Tanguis were back in Lafayette narrowing their search for locations. The business has settled on the downtown area and is now in the process of negotiating the best deal between two or three possible buildings. “We’ll be downtown,” Schultz says, “Maybe even on Jefferson Street.”

Along with a third partner, Will Donaldson, Schultz and Tanguis opened Launch Pad last June in New Orleans. The business is one of several similar-minded work spaces cropping up in urban centers across the country. Members can rent an open desk, or a closed-door office, on a month-by-month basis, for set fees ranging from about $250 to $750 a month. The fee includes phone and Internet service, as well as shared amenities such as fax machines, conference rooms, a kitchen and even showers.

“There’s a big gap,” Schultz says, “between where a lot of people start a business, which is either in your bedroom or a coffee shop, and when you get your business to a size where you can sign a commercial lease.” Launch Pad comes on the heels of two other similar operations specifically designed for musicians and visual artists — the Tipitina’s Music Co-op and The Alamo — opening in Lafayette. Launch Pad’s concept caters more toward aspiring entrepreneurs, tech startups and traveling corporate refugees.

In New Orleans, Launch Pad is located in a high-ceiling building with exposed brick walls in the heart of the Warehouse District on Magazine Street called the I.P. (Intellectual Property). The I.P. was developed in part by New Orleans nonprofits hoping to create a hub for entrepreneurial, technology-centered companies. This June, Launch Pad is expanding to take up another floor in the I.P.

Launch Pad Nola, as it’s known, now rents workspace to 45 different companies and a total of 65 people.

At its Lafayette branch, the company plans to rent out 10 closed-door offices, 12 “permanent” or designated desks and 12 “co-working” desks, the most basic membership which provides Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. access. Lafayette will represent Launch Pad’s first expansion outside New Orleans. The company is also looking to possibly set up shop in Baton Rouge and Austin.

“There’s definitely a technology bent to a lot of the companies in Launch Pad,” Schultz says. “What got us interested in Lafayette in particular is the [LUS] fiber network. We think the timing is right and that Lafayette is really well positioned in the digital media space to create jobs.” Once the new office is established, the co-op hopes to run direct fiber connectivity between its Lafayette and New Orleans branches. The high-speed inter-connectivity would allow members in the two cities to connect through video conferencing, and instantly share large media files.

“We’re going to have to turn some screws to make it work,” Schultz says. “But I think it’s something that’s important to us both symbolically but also because we really believe that’s going to enhance what Launch Pad provides for our members; it’s what the clientele is going to want.” It’s these types of fringe benefits that Launch Pad prides itself on. In New Orleans, the office hosts several regular IT industry meet-ups, a weekly Web TV show spotlights the activities of different members, and members are constantly working together on projects and sending each other referrals. A recent market research study commissioned by Launch Pad showed that more than 70 percent of its members have seen their businesses grow since joining the community office.

“It’s almost like a work collective,” Schultz says. “[Members] are all their own companies, and they don’t work for Launch Pad, but we help to source deals for them and help them to grow their businesses. And there’s a real community that develops. That kind of collaborative spirit really, really enhances the experience and kind of accelerates the development of people’s businesses.”
Geoff Daily, who has been working with LUS Fiber as a consultant and was one of the co-organizers of the recent Fiber Fête event, says he met Schultz through the Net Squared New Orleans group and has been encouraging him to bring Launch Pad to Lafayette.

“I know there’s a built-in demand among the tech community in Lafayette for something like Launch Pad,” Daily says. “And I think it can definitely be helpful if it can become a kind of focal point for a lot of young guys to come together who may not be to the point where they actually have a full-fledged startup. In can give them a rallying point, and in particular give them a rallying point that can help build relationships between the creative technical professionals of Lafayette with the creative, technical professionals of New Orleans, which I think will be a real special thing.”

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