'Post-incubator' seeks to serve small business in Towson

Partners hope to serve small business in Towson

A new shared workspace, billed by its owners as a "post-incubator" for small, growing businesses, has opened in downtown Towson.

The Insight Community held a ribbon cutting with local officials on Feb. 14. Local businessmen Michael Tich, 51, of Fallston and Tony Di Fatta, 32, of Canton, formed a partnership to buy a 6,000 square foot building at 28 East Susquehanna Avenue, in Towson, for $685,000, and renovated the space for another $325,000, updating the interior of the two-story building.

The space has been in the works since last September and, according to the partners, about half the space in the building has been rented. Di Fatta is an accountant with his own firm, while Tich runs a peer advisory group that unites business leaders who talk and give advice to one another. The group, called Insight, is independent of the new shared workspace, but was largely the impetus behind the space's development.

The peer group, which requires a paid membership fee, is how Tich and Di Fatta met, and the idea for a physical space came from the group, as did some of the tenants for the new space. Both Tich and Di Fatta have moved into the space.

Occupants can rent either dedicated space, such as individual offices, or shared space, meaning they can use meeting rooms or other common areas. Rent for dedicated spaces ranges from about $600-$900 a month, while shared spaces rent for $200-$350 a month.

Nine of 15 offices have been rented, while just shy of half of the shared space has been allocated.

Di Fatta and Tich said they are trying to create an atmosphere in which businesses can lean on one another with a goal of common growth. Tich said he calls the space a "post-incubator" because it serves not people who are just starting a business, but those who already have started and want to grow.

Their tenants include a website-efficiency auditor, an insurance broker, a roofing company with a satellite office, a home remodeling company, a real estate broker and an information technology expert, among others.

The businesses can build off one another, the partners said. For example, if a person has an insurance question, instead of needing to set up a meeting with an outside agency, they could simply walk down the hall and talk to the insurance broker tenant informally, and vice versa.

The businesses that occupy the space also helped set it up in some cases. The roofing company did the roof work on the renovation, while the information technology expert pays a little less each month with the understanding that he will troubleshoot any Internet network issues that arise in the space.

Towson has a need for shared work space, said Tim Bojanowski, principal of Zest Social Media Solutions, which is based in downtown Towson. The Internet has affected the way businesses operate and, as such, will have an impact on the way real estate in downtown Towson is used, said Bojanowski, who is vice president of the Towson Chamber of Commerce.

Lawyers and law firms have been the lifeblood of Towson's core for decades, he said, but with the rise of the Internet, more lawyers are able to work remotely, perhaps out of a coffee shop instead of an office building. Finding a place for those professionals, such as a remote desk in a shared work space, is important, he said, adding that he has been advocating for spaces such as the Insight Community in Towson.

The space is also ideal for those who might otherwise work from home, but would like an office environment, the partners said.

That's the case with Delfina Ezcurra, of Bel Air, who works for Tanglewood Conservatories, a company based in Denton, Md., on the Eastern Shore. Tanglewood Conservatories builds and sells high-end conservatories — glass rooms — across the country, she said.

Ezcurra said working at the shared space is, for her, an alternative to working alone at home.

"I wanted the experience of working with people, and being able to work here gives me that team feeling," she said.

Nancy Hafford, Executive Director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, attended the Feb. 14 ribbon-cutting. Several other shared-office facilities exist in Towson that she is aware of, she said.

"I think that's a little bit of the wave of the future that's happening here in Towson," she added.

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