A spirit of cooperation

A spirit of cooperationOFFICE SYNERGY: Louis DeAngelo, Jared Loftus and Chad Ortte tout their nascent Entrepreneurs Headquarters as a communal hub for work-at-home professionals, independent contractors and budding entrepreneurs who otherwise would be isolated from collaboration with peers.

By Steve Sanoski  Tuesday, May 3, 2011

For years, Louis DeAngelo, Jared Loftus and Chad Ortte have occasionally collaborated on entrepreneurial events and organizations. Problem was, after the meetings and seminars ended, so did much of the inspiration.

“Every time we’d leave a meeting we’d have all these new ideas and all this energy, and we’d be ready to go out and start a worldwide company,” Loftus says. “Eventually, we started talking about what it would be like if we all had a place where we could work on our own businesses but also be able to collaborate.”

And so the plan for Baton Rouge’s first coworking office—Entrepreneurs Headquarters, or EHQ for short—was launched.

Over the past decade, however, the coworking concept has gained popularity in progressive cities across the country and around the world. It features an anti-cubical movement in which hip spaces with coffeehouse vibes and open floor plans provide a communal hub for work-at-home professionals, independent contractors and budding entrepreneurs who otherwise would be isolated.

“It’s a great feeling to be out on your own, working for yourself, but then again you’re missing out on a lot of synergy,” says Ortte, a commercial real estate agent who founded his own firm, Rising Realty Group, earlier this year. “When you’re creating new ideas and shaping your businesses, that synergy is so important.”

Elsewhere in Louisiana, two coworking offices have sprung up over the past two years: Launch Pad in New Orleans and CoHabitat in Shreveport. Atlanta, Austin and Dallas boast multiple coworking locations.

When EHQ opens later this month, it will occupy about 3,000 square feet on the ground floor of The NeuroMedical Center, overlooking the town center in Perkins Rowe. The space will accommodate about 35 entrepreneurs, with about a half-dozen private offices, 25 private desks and multiple conference rooms.

“It’s the evolution of the office space,” Ortte says. “Twenty years ago, everybody wanted to be in a high-rise downtown, and then it kind of moved out to suburbia and the garden-style office complexes. Now we’re coming in and seeding the organic redevelopment of the office space for the new generation.”

Rent for the private offices will range from $700 to $875 per month, DeAngelo says, and the private desks will rent from $500 to $600 per month. The conference rooms will be available for rent by the hour, half-day or day, with rates to be determined. Student rates might also be offered if there is enough demand.

“We don’t want people who just want an office,” says DeAngelo, who opened his first restaurant at age 19 and will have seven DeAngelo’s Casual Italian Dining locations by the end of the year. “We want creative, influential, inspirational entrepreneurs who want to be a part of this new community.”

The Perkins Rowe site will be known as EHQ South, with an EHQ North office planned for downtown. Pending the finalization of the lease agreement, EHQ North could be open by midsummer with twice as much square footage as its sister location.

Response to the EHQ concept has been overwhelmingly positive, DeAngelo says, with all of the EHQ South private offices and some of the private desks already spoken for. Josh Ford, who started Giraphic Prints in 2007 while he was a senior in high school, was one of the first people to claim an office space.

Giraphic Prints has expanded exponentially during the past four years, and it moved into a 3,000-square-foot location last year off Perkins Road. Ford also is a partner with Loftus in two food trucks, Ninja Snowballs and Taco de Paco, and he has plenty of business ideas he hopes to work on while at EHQ.

Still, Ford says he remains a boots-on-the-ground-type of owner, adding that it’s difficult to focus on other projects while juggling the day-to-day demands of his screen-printing business.

At his Perkins Road office, “there’s a knock at my door every 10 minutes,” he says. “Whether it’s a customer or an employee, there’s really no escape from the distractions. There are certain projects where you need to detach from the office to be able to look at it from the right perspective.”

EHQ will provide an environment for entrepreneurs like Ford to work on their businesses, DeAngelo says, gaining energy from the surroundings instead of feeling that energy being drained away. Loftus adds that entrepreneurs will benefit from the support they receive from peers.

“As an entrepreneur you hear ‘no’ from so many people: ‘No, that’s not a good idea.’ ‘No, that will never work,’” Loftus says. “Just having a little bit of encouragement can be the difference between moving an idea forward and stalling out. [EHQ] is going to be an environment where people will get that kind of encouragement.”

To foster that spirit and celebrate the achievements of its entrepreneurs, EHQ is planning quarterly launch parties, special events and guest speakers.

“Entrepreneurship is not a place,” Loftus says. “But if it could be, I’d say that it’d be this place.”