Christ the King is a “church for the city” seeking to serve God in worship, serve one another in love, and serve our city by bearing witness to the good news about Jesus Christ in both word and deed.
A business lab in Dorchester, both owned and managed by members of CTK Dorchester, is a great example of serving our city. CTK staff have an office in the lab, interacting daily with long time residents of the neighborhood, who are looking to serve their community in a wide variety of ways.
On a weekday morning in Fields Corner, Dorchester is bustling with morning commuters walking to the T stop or sitting in traffic on Dorchester Ave. Just next to the popular home.stead bakery and café—a cozy spot full of beautiful pastries and plentiful coffee—you’ll find the entrance to Fields Corner Business Lab. Although the sign is unassuming, the energy and entrepreneurship that goes on inside is quite remarkable.
Shadrach Jean is the director of operations at FCBL and gave me a complete tour of the office space—4,500 square feet of combination private office and shared open concept seating for 35 different businesses and nearly 100 members. We started by talking about the history of the building and the lab.
In 2013, CTK Dorchester member, Travis Lee bought the Lenane building in Fields Corner and was looking for a shared space in which to work. He did not find anything nearby where entrepreneurs could gather and share space and ideas. During his search, he realized there were many other people in the neighborhood who could also benefit from such a space. Though a partnership with an acquaintance who had experience in developing co-working space, the concept of Fields Corner Business Lab became a reality in 2014. “It has been such a pleasure and privilege to create a collaborative and cost effective shared work space for Dorchester entrepreneurs,” said Lee. “Working alongside this diverse group of passionate and hardworking business owners is inspiring.”
The FCBL website for potential members describes the space as follows:
Fields Corner Business Lab is a co-working space that brings together entrepreneurs, small businesses, and community development organizations to advance one of Dorchester’s most promising business districts. With easy access to the Red Line and affordable, flexible membership options, FCBL is focused on creating a productive, healthy and synergistic environment for its members and the Fields Corner community.
Although the exposed brick, large windows, comfy couches and local art description sounds similar to other shared workspace models around the city, the membership fees for joining FCBL are vastly different. For just $125 a month one can purchase a membership including all of the typical office amenities and a desk to use seven times a month. In addition, they are given reciprocal privileges at any of the 15 WorkBar locations around the region. Higher membership levels are also available, including a designated desk, shared office or a private office option, although those options are typically at capacity with a waiting list.
Jean meets with potential members to help them determine the best membership level for their needs. “People always come in and say they need a private office,” said Jean. “Often though, we can talk through their needs and help them find a less expensive option, where they can still benefit from the resources at FCBL.” Jean says the primary goal of FCBL is to keep the rates affordable based on the neighborhood, so that those who live nearby can utilize the space, as well as the shared knowledge to make their business succeed and the community thrive. Its central location on Dorchester Avenue near the Fields Corner T stop means that nearly 90 percent of the members have less than a 30-minute commute.
For those just starting out on their business venture, FCBL hopes to provide more than just membership in a work space. Their passion is to see businesses born in Fields Corner succeed and thrive. They work hard to provide the resources that new businesses need to grow and celebrate when members outgrow the space and need to move into a place of their own. The diversity of businesses represented at FCBL is also remarkable. There are accountants, speechwriters, real estate agents and lawyers, as well as visual artists, pastors, and several non-profits, including an inclusion training organization and a few charities. The mobile barber shop business wins the current prize for “most unique” entrepreneur.
On the 3rd Wednesday morning of each month, the members from these diverse business backgrounds can gather for coffee and bagels. One of the members typically does a short 2-5 minute presentation about their business—what they do, and how they are helpful to the community. Jean describes the gatherings as a friendly atmosphere, where people are interested to talk with one another.
In addition to internal camaraderie and expertise, Jean also works to partner with external neighborhood non-profits who mentor entrepreneurs. He connects them with members, if they need help in making strategic or financial decisions about their business.
There are also vast internal resources, as some of their members were born nearby and have lived there through the many changes of the past 50 years, offering their own valuable expertise and connections to their neighborhood. “The FCBL has provided me with a number of opportunities to meet new people,” said Omar Ortiz, Leadership Development Director for CTK Boston. “As a relative newcomer to the city it has been a great way to make new connections.”
As with any office environment, there are both tangible and intangible components that make a space unique. The fact that several community activists as well as two area pastors rent space in FCBL has led to some very interesting faith conversations, as well as other social and economic discussions. “We have one shared office where a pastor of a local church shares space with two other business owners who do not have anything to do with church—it leads to interesting daily interactions,” said Jean. The staff of Christ the King Dorchester also have an office there, and they have been supportive to Jean, making him feel more comfortable engaging in spiritual conversations at work.
Goals for the future
It is evident that Travis, Shadrach and others have thought intentionally about FCBL, and its benefit to the members that work there, as well as its influence on the community that surrounds it. They meet with consultants to keep the space aesthetically updated, including partnerships with community artists who provide vibrant paintings and photographs for the shared spaces. They are continually look for more ways to provide value for their members and partnerships that can help those members grow their businesses and thrive in Fields Corner and beyond.