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Entrepreneurs set to launch Dorchester business lab

Martin Desmarais
Entrepreneurs set to launch Dorchester business lab
(l-r) John Maudlin and Travis Lee co-founded the Fields Corner Business Lab, which is on the top floor of the historic Lenane Building in Dorchester. The business lab offers small private offices, dedicated work stations and flexible work spaces, as well as office amenities for small businesses. (Photo: (Banner photo))

Set to open later this month and modeled after business lab concepts very common in the high tech startup world in Silicon Valley and Cambridge, the Fields Corner Business Lab contains about a dozen small private offices, several conference rooms, private work stations and flexible work areas, as well as office amenities including a printer/copier room, reception area and a kitchen. The lab takes up the entire top floor of the historic Lenane Building in the heart of Fields Corner and has 8,000 square feet of office space available.

As founders Travis Lee and John Maudlin emphasize, the advantage of a business lab is that small businesses and startups are able to have an office space out of the home with access to all the necessary office amenities, but without having to rent or lease an entire office space to do so — which offers a drastic reduction in business costs.

The Fields Corner Business Lab is listing private offices starting at $450 a month, dedicated workstations at $300 a month and flexible workspace at $100 a month.

“We want to create a place here where you don’t have to work from home or work in a coffee shop, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get the wireless, the coffee and the environment to do work and on top of that you are going to get to be working next to people that are doing creative things,” Lee said. “For $100 a month, you have eight square feet of space, super high-speed wireless Internet, free coffee and free copying and printing and three conference spaces — for $100 a month.”

Though the lab borrows it’s concept from the small business incubator model common in the high-tech industry, Lee said it is not just for tech startups. In fact, Lee says the lab will most often be used by small nonprofits and small businesses that serve Dorchester.

“Low cost may be one of the greatest values we can offer to our Dorchester-based businesses, it is not the only thing, but it may be one of the most important things so we have done everything we can to keep prices at a point that are far below, far below, almost any of those other competitors around — so that we can get people in the door that can’t get in those doors. That is the differentiation I think for most,” Lee said. “This is the first product of this kind in Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan.”

According to Lee and Maudlin, some of the entrepreneurs who have expressed interest in the business lab space include a real estate agent, a nonprofit organization that works with children, a financial services consultant and an attorney.

They say they expect most of the interest will be from Dorchester residents, but they also expect to have some interest from entrepreneurs planning to provide services to people in Dorchester.

Both Lee and Maudlin are confident that the lab will fill up quickly. Six of the private offices are already set to be filled with several others asking them to hold the space for them.

Maudlin said they have interacted with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Boston Foundation and Fields Corner Main Streets and all have expressed support for their efforts and said they were excited about the project.

“Obviously we are optimistic,” Maudlin said. “In six months, I hope that there is going to be a waiting list of people that want to get in here.

“We don’t have that much space. It is not going to take too many for this to be really vibrant, so in six months I hope that there is growing demand for spaces like this, that others are opening in Dorchester, and maybe even we are playing a part in that. That is what I would love to see,” Maudlin added.

Omar S. Gonzales, a general practice attorney who specializes in personal injury and immigration law and some criminal defense work, is a small businessman that is already sold on the Fields Corner Business Lab. Gonzales is based in Lynn, but he wants to expand and be able to offer his services to Dorchester residents. He plans to rent one of the private office spaces in the lab.

“The core of my practice is community-based lawyering, so I think lawyers should have a presence in the community that they work in and to that end they should also provide services for those constituents and the communities that they are located in. I really want to be where the people are,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzales added that he is also interested in being able to connect with some of the other businesses and entrepreneurs that will be in the lab, which makes it more appealing than just opening up his own more traditional solo office.

“I really want a collaborative work environment and this space is certainly conducive to it,” he commented. “I was sold from the day I came here.”

Lee, who has lived in Dorchester for 10 years, has a background in real estate development. He is the managing partner of TLee Development, which recently bought the Lenane Building. According to Lee, his company is working with current tenants in the four-story building to remain in place, but the idea of the business lab came up as a way to utilize the vacant fourth floor.

Maudlin, who recently moved to Dorchester, has a background in marketing and financial services. He spent 2013 working in India helping train startup entrepreneurs in labs and incubators similar to what he is hoping to do with the Fields Corner Business Lab.

In addition to office space and amenities, the lab will also offer access to training and coaching for small businesses, as well as a number of events to encourage collaboration with other entrepreneurs using the lab.

Maudlin said he has seen how collaboration with others can be a benefit to entrepreneurs in business labs and he hopes the same will be true for the effort in Fields Corner.

“We are hoping that the combination of nonprofits or small startups and entrepreneurs will really create an energy about the people that are in this space that will collaborate on some really great projects that will benefit Dorchester,” he said. “We want to foster a space for collaboration to happen.”

Lee and Maudlin put up the $50,000 it has taken to get the lab ready to open and they said it is budgeted to completely sustain itself, as long as there is enough interest to fill up most of the office space. They have no plans at this time — or need — for outside funding for the lab to open or stay open.

“That is all we need. We are not saying to everybody, ‘Hey guys we’ve got a great idea that soon as we raise the capital we will be able to move forward with it.’ We are saying, ‘Here it comes,’” Lee said.

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