Working by yourself, remotely, can get really lonely. You might bemoan the commute or having to work with some jerk at the office, but there’s a lot to be said for the socialization that work among others affords us.
Such is the appeal of business accelerators like Princeton’s Tigerlabs. The basic idea of the accelerator space is to give entrepreneurs and remote workers a place to do business on their own, but still be around other people.
“A few years ago, working from home was a great advantage,” says Trish Ryan, managing director of Tigerlabs. “Now when I give tours I hear all the time ‘I work from home,’ and I say ‘That’s a problem, isn’t it?’”
Turns out, people miss being around other people when they work. It’s all well and good to have the quiet house to yourself for a while, but there’s a reason solitary confinement is an extra-level punishment in jail.
Over the past couple years, accelerators and shared office spaces have taken off because of this dynamic. The problem with most such places, though, is that they look like, well, offices. They provide private rooms and blocked-off areas, which certainly afford tenants privacy, but those doors often end up getting shut and people essentially just trade the quiet, empty confines of their houses for the quiet, empty confines of an office they need to drive to and pay rent on.
Tigerlabs, Ryan says, was purposely designed to be open to encourage tenants to get up and walk around, converse with other like-minded entrepreneurs, observe other people working on their own projects, and in all ways be among a group of motivated businesspeople.
“You get a lot of energy off the people working,” Ryan says. “It’s very motivating to be around like-minded people; it’s very easy to network.”
To introduce entrepreneurs and remote workers to Tigerlabs, Ryan frequently gives tours and encourages visitors to take the space for a test drive during one of Tigerlabs’ monthly Coworking Days. Since January, Tigerlabs has set aside the last Friday of every month as a free day to come and set up a desk, get some work done, or hang around and take some notes about what the space has to offer. Normally, trying Tigerlabs out for a day costs $30.
The next Coworking Day will be on Friday, August 26, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ryan simply asks that anyone interested in trying Tigerlabs out E-mail the lab at firstname.lastname@example.org and mention that you’d like to work there for the day.
Ryan herself came to Tigerlabs because her husband, Sean, had the same epiphany a lot of work-from-home types come to. Sean is the founder of Catapult Digital, a sales and marketing consulting agency. A few years ago he left his corporate advertising job to start his own business from home. While he worked on the third floor, Trish worked on the first floor doing project management work for a communications company based in Philadelphia.
“One day he came down the steps and said ‘I can’t do this,’” she says. He had had enough of the isolation and wanted to work around people. He had heard of Tigerlabs, gave it a shot, and for half a decade now Catapult has operated out of Tigerlabs, where Sean is also an advisor.
About a year and a half later, Sean heard of an opening for a manager for the growing Tigerlabs. In 2014 Trish became what then was called the community manager. The title has changed to managing director, but the job remains making sure the place runs smoothly.
Ryan grew up in central Pennsylvania, where her father was a high school teacher for 45 years and her mother was a homemaker-turned-paralegal. Ryan earned her bachelor’s in food marketing from St. Joseph’s in 1992 before taking a job in the marketing department at Campbell’s Soup Company. Sean later got a new job in New York, so the two opened a map and found Princeton to be a good halfway point between New York and Camden/Philadelphia.
They liked Princeton but the commute to opposite ends of the state got old quickly. By 1997 she joined QLM Marketing in Princeton and eventually started working from home for Philadelphia-based Intertwine. In 2013 Ryan started Time for Dinner, a meal-planning service that she operated from her first floor. The business was designed to give people solid meal plans for their families because, as she found out in corporate America, people often overlook meals, thinking dinner is just somehow going to work itself out every night.
Time for Dinner is on indefinite hiatus, though Ryan says she would like to start it up again if she can find someone to help her with it. But she’s far from idle. Tigerlabs keeps her busy, but, as importantly, she says, it keeps her engaged in the community. She makes sure working at Tigerlabs is as easy as it can be. There are no contracts; everyone pays month-to-month, starting at $125 for a basic deal that includes Monday-to-Friday use of the space, including conference rooms, and the mailing address of 252 Nassau Street.
The space’s open design does offer private offices (there are five), but the doors are clear. It is, Ryan says, an effort to make sure everyone who uses Tigerlabs feels connected to everyone else and encouraged to walk around and take in what everyone is doing. “There’s nowhere to hide here,” she jokes.
Since taking over as manager of the space, Ryan has seen the number and flow of tenants rise as word gets around that it’s a cool place to hang a shingle. Not that she feels it’s hit capacity, of course.
“We have 100-plus members now,” she says. “That’s about twice what it was when I got here. But my goal is we never get big enough.”