Barry Strauber, who teaches advertising and campaign management and planning at RIT’s School of Communication in the College of Liberal Arts, believes supporting these independent innovators will help Rochester re-imagine its business landscape.
“We have a younger generation coming up that sees a shared economy, and has a holistic view of understanding the world and how work should be done,” he said. “We need to figure out ways to facilitate the great brain trust here. We need to do something purposeful to appeal to them and get them to believe that Rochester is their place.”
Strauber is part of a new entity in Rochester called Carlson Cowork that has an informal (but passionate) connection with RIT through its alumni, students, and advisers.
Co-working spaces exist in New York, Boston and other cities, but Strauber saw the concept could stretch beyond sharing office space and equipment. “What’s really interesting is the power of community that comes from bringing creative people together in one space.”
Strauber took his idea to James Goff, president and chief executive officer of Landsman Development Corp. and an RIT alumnus who serves on the RIT President’s Roundtable and whose wife, Marianne Goff, is an RIT trustee. Landsman manages an 800,000-square-foot facility on Carlson Road in Rochester that Goff and Kurt Ziemendorf (Landsman’s vice president of operations) are looking to fill.
While a co-working facility was not exactly what they had in mind, the concept was interesting, and has shown some success in places like New York, Boston, Indianapolis, Boulder, and Palo Alto. Landsman renovated a 16,000- square-foot section of the building into a flexible working space for small business owners with big ideas.
As the landlord, Landsman provides Carlson Cowork members with flexible workspaces, Internet, parking, a community café, shared work spaces to foster collaboration, and a conference/ boardroom. Members pay rent monthly —no long-term lease required. There also are Wednesday noon lunch “jams” and Friday input meetings to encourage members to share expertise.
Co-working focuses on providing entrepreneurs a long-term place to work, grow, and collaborate with other entrepreneurs. And, Goff points out, there’s plenty of space if a business eventually wants to expand and/or even manufacture a product.
“Since the grand opening in April we’ve grown to 45 companies without any advertising—all through word of mouth,” he said. And not one of the companies “has bailed on us,” added Ziemendorf. “Because we’re not leasing a desk, we believe we’ve created a culture for people and businesses to grow.” As an increasing number of people work from home, many are finding access to a separate space allows them to avoid conflicts between work and family. Landsman plans to expand Carlson Cowork as more businesses come on board, Ziemendorf said.
Strauber, who owns a branding and marketing company called Rising, was one of the first tenants along with John David Vincent, who studied animation at RIT. Vincent decided to relocate his film company, Philrose Productions, to Carlson Cowork, saying the flexibility allowed him to open a small studio where he creates monster sculptures for animation. Chris Cooley, who owns brand development and management agency Cooley Creative LLC, was another early tenant.
“We said, ‘Let’s get all of our social media networks together and let people know this is going on,’” said Strauber, who currently has RIT students working on a marketing campaign and media plan for Carlson Cowork as part of the courses he is teaching.
As the word spreads, the RIT connections continue. Josh Pies, an RIT alumnus who produces feature and short films, television shows, music videos, and corporate works, moved in. And Jan McDonald, an RIT alumna and executive director of the not-for-profit organization Rochester Roots, has moved her office into Carlson Cowork, viewing it as an opportunity to help school-age students learn about entrepreneurship (see sidebar).
“This whole place is about collaboration,” Goff said. “The feature film guy connects with the finance guy in the corner and things start happening. We have been business connections here in Rochester and as far away as Haiti.”
After 24 years of developing innovative community food projects and learning gardens within Rochester city schools, Rochester Roots, Inc. (ROOTS), a not-forprofit organization led by RIT alumna Jan McDonald, opened an Urban Sustainability Laboratory in 2014 at the Rochester City School District’s Montessori Academy near the Rochester Public Market. The laboratory provides Pre-K through 6th grade students with a collaborative approach to sustainability education. The program brings students, teachers, residents, college students, Ph.D.s, and businesses to learn together. ROOTS’ students learn from nature through hands-on experiences with soil, seed, plants, composting, nutrient cycles, and natural resources and then apply science and technology to support their living systems sustainability.
McDonald, who recently moved her office to Carlson Cowork, wants students to see firsthand how businesses collaborate. She regularly brings students in to speak with entrepreneurs and make connections within the community.
ROOTS collaborates with Sustainable Intelligence, whose CEO and founder Don Sweet is an adviser to RIT’s Saunders College of Business and has extensive intrapreneur and entrepreneur experience that helps support ROOTS student businesses. Sweet also has an office at Carlson Cowork. Sweet helps make connections between ROOTS and teams of multidisciplinary senior design engineering students at RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering. The college provides up to 20 undergraduate students annually to work with ROOTS students to engineer agricultural systems and technologies.
“It’s interesting to see how the synergy, diversity and expertise found at Carlson Cowork complements how we work with students on personal development, sustainability education, and entrepreneurism,” McDonald said. “We’re finding our RIT colleagues and Carlson members can learn as much from ROOTS students as ROOTS students learn from them.”