Success in Fields Corner
Dorchester business incubator attracting startups
When Travis Lee and John Maudlin started Fields Corner Business Lab in Dorchester two years ago they envisioned it becoming a beating heart of the area’s growing small business community. At the time, it was the kind of wishful thinking expected of any startup entrepreneur, but now, with 30 businesses and about 60 people working out of the 8,000-square foot facility on the top floor of the historic Lenane Building, their vision has become a reality.
According to Maudlin, about half the businesses that work out of the business lab are owned and operated by Dorchester residents, and most of the businesses provide services to customers in the area. Since the lab opened in the spring of 2014, he said this has been one of the consistent drivers of interest in the Fields Corner Business Lab space — local entrepreneurs want to work where they live.
“The majority of the people here are not just excited about Dorchester they are also excited about Fields Corner,” said Maudlin.
However, what Fields Corner Business Lab offers is also very appealing as its real estate space keeps the cost down for fledgling businesses. Entrepreneurs can work out of the lab for as little as $125 a month. The lab offers space through three models: private offices, dedicated workstations and flexible workspace. Dedicated desks go for about $300 a month and private offices, with several desks, start around $650 a month. Some businesses share private offices with other businesses and some use all the desks.
Flexibility is a major selling point but there isn’t much cheaper workspace of its kind in all of the city.
“Our desire is that it is always affordable to work here,” Maudlin said.
Fields Corner Business Lab borrows elements of what is commonly known as a business incubator by providing workspace for entrepreneurs and small businesses with shared office amenities including conference rooms, a printer/copier room, reception area and a kitchen. The power of the incubator model is that startup businesses 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 to do so, saving a lot of money in the process.
Training on tap
In addition to office space and amenities, the lab also offers access to training and coaching for small businesses, partnering with local small business support organizations including SCORE and the Boston Impact Initiative to do so.
What is also somewhat unique is that, while the incubator model has become famous and flourished in the technology industry, the Fields Corner Business Lab has a wide variety of businesses.
These include Baraka Wellness, which provides wellness training to at-risk individuals and communities; Intercultural Productions, a video production business; Lumit, an audio technology company; Mobile Cuts, a mobile barbershop; One Goal Graduation, a nonprofit that helps underserved students enroll in college; and Visions Inc., a diversity training company.
Shadrach Jean, Fields Corner Business Lab’s office coordinator, said that most entrepreneurs looking at the lab are very excited about the concept and, frankly, a little bit surprised to find something like it in Dorchester.
“The lab gives the area a different reputation,” Jean said. “The idea of something you would see in Kendall Square being here is exciting to people. People say, ‘OK, there is really something good here.’”
Jean tours potential renters around the lab and he said they also always pick up on the energy of the place with so many passionate entrepreneurs working together in close proximity.
Mobile Cuts founder Montrez Williams, who started his mobile barber shop business in January 2015 and has been working out of Fields Corner Business Lab since October, said this sold him.
“The No. 1 thing I like about this space is you have a place full of entrepreneurs that are creative — there is an energy here,” said Williams, a Dorchester native.
He also said his business benefits from the support platform in place at the lab from the office amenities to the mentoring support and connections from Lee and Maudlin, all of which is helping him grow Mobile Cuts.
“It just makes your operation better,” Williams added.
Lumit founder Wake Anderson has seen the Fields Corner Business Lab’s flexibility already benefit his digital audio technology business. Since he started working out of the lab in August 2015 his business has grown and moved from a smaller space in the lab to a dedicated office with three desks.
A Northeastern University graduate, Anderson lives in Brighton and has been working on Lumit for several years. He is straightforward in admitting that the Fields Corner Business Lab was the most affordable option to have office space outside of his home. And he sees this as necessary while his business grows.
“We work with people abroad and mostly over the Internet so you could do this from anywhere,” Anderson said. “But to have a home base and a physical presence is better.”
He also credits the business lab leaders for helping Lumit get accepted to MassChallenge, a business accelerator program.
Most of the dedicated workspace at Fields Corner Business Lab — and its dozen offices — are full, but there is turnover almost monthly so there is always opportunity for more businesses to come in.
“If something becomes available there is someone there to grab it really quickly,” Maudlin said.
One of the interesting aspects about the business lab is that Lee and Maudlin are helping the businesses that fill their space to be successful and grow and have to move out to find larger office accommodations. They see this as a good thing for Dorchester, especially if the businesses set up shop locally.
“It is bittersweet because we are sad to see them go but if every business grows out of the Fields Corner Business Lab we would be happy,” Maudlin added.
For Maudlin, in this way, the more the Fields Corner Business Lab succeeds the more Dorchester’s small business community continues to grow, and he is happy to play his part.
“We are thrilled by the success we have had so far,” he said. “We created this space, but our members are really the ones that make it what it is.”