Fostering business growth in Roxbury
Berkshire Bank opens shared work space for entrepreneurs
Monday afternoon, five entrepreneurs and bank officials were typing away on laptop computers at tables, desks and benches at the new Reevx Labs coworking space on Washington Street near the Dudley Station bus terminal.
Behind a glass wall, another group was in a meeting, while a woman worked in one of two phonebooth-sized workstations that provide a quiet place for a private call.
Shared workspaces aren’t new, but they are for Berkshire Bank, the Boston-based bank with branches across Massachusetts, in Connecticut, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
The name Reevx is meant to incorporate the words revolution and evolution and the “x” in Berkshire Bank’s logo. Berkshire Bank Executive Vice President Malia Lazu says the lab is part of the bank’s commitment to revolutionizing banking in traditionally low-income communities and helping entrepreneurs evolve their businesses.
“What we really want is a space where entrepreneurs can work collaboratively,” Lazu told the Banner.
Entrepreneurs and nonprofit workers can sign up as members of Reevx Labs by first entering their names and emails into Berkshire’s database. They can then reserve space in the 2,200-square-foot lab’s conference room, workstations or multifunction room.
While the lab does not function as a bank branch, and bank employees there do not accept deposits, entrepreneurs working there have access to bank services and can open accounts, consult with bank officials and apply for small business loans and nontraditional business startup loans of up to $20,000. With more than $12 billion in deposits, Berkshire Bank is ranked 17th nationwide for small-business lending.
Even non-entrepreneurial walk-ins will be able to meet with and receive advice and help from bank employees, Lazu said.
“Financial planning and one-on-one banking shouldn’t just be offered to people in private wealth management programs,” she said. “We want to bank everyone with dignity.”
Days after the lab’s Jan. 22 launch, those occupying workstations in the lab were evenly split between Berkshire employees, local nonprofit workers and entrepreneurs. A local plumber who is seeking to prototype “smart” bathroom appliances sat on a leather couch, chatting with Lazu, who advises him on how to get patents for his work. Two Berkshire employees and two others worked on laptops on the solid oak-topped tables and 18-foot bench facing the workspace’s front window.
In a conference room was a group working on a business startup.
Lazu said the space was inspired in part by the tech giant Google’s community space in San Francisco.
The guiding principle behind the space is that entrepreneurs face better chances at succeeding in their ventures when they’re in community with other entrepreneurs and people who offer complementary services.
“When you’re around other entrepreneurs who are in different phases or the same as you, you can learn from each other,” she said. “People help each other problem-solve. Bringing entrepreneurs together creates an ecosystem of small businesses who can work together.”
Professional help will also be available, whether it be from Berkshire Bank staff or others. Business assistance groups will have a steady presence in the space, Lazu said, highlighting the consulting firm Msaada Partners, which helps startups obtain capital for their ventures.
The Reevx Labs location in Roxbury is the first of many the bank plans to open, Lazu said.
The next lab will open in Springfield, and the bank also looking to open labs in Philadelphia, Providence, and in cities in New Jersey and New York.
But as the first lab to open, the Roxbury branch serves as the guiding light for the others, Lazu said.
“This is our flagship,” she said.