COVID-19 initially brought community to an immediate halt at Bridge Space, Ben Rao said, as a significant portion of the Lee’s Summit workforce traded their office desks for empty nooks at home during the pandemic.
“That community was the invisible energy that runs through Bridge Space,” Rao said of the coworking space he opened in 2017. “It takes it from being a boring place where people rent offices to something that’s more meaningful.”
The space welcomed about 10,000 visitors in 2019, he said. In 2020? Only about 2,000.
Like many entrepreneurs, Rao knew Bridge Space needed to pivot — or at least dramatically expand services offered in the 13,000-square-foot historic former U.S. post office building in downtown Lee’s Summit.
An answer came into focus.
“We now offer these amazing video packages that are very affordable to small businesses,” Rao said. “We can provide someone with a high quality video, with sound through lapel [microphones] and fully produced, that they can use to market their business.”
A full-time, experienced videographer already on staff allows Bridge Space to produce one- to five-minute videos and hourly video editing services, he detailed.
Click here to learn more about Bridge Space’s office spaces and services.
But adding revenue alone wasn’t enough to keep the operation sustainable, Rao said
“We took a look at the business and asked, ‘What are the areas where we can reduce expenses?’” he recalled. “We went through that exercise very early and quickly.”
No expense was too small to cut, he said.
“It may seem like, ‘How big of a deal is it to reduce something 30-to-40 dollars?’ but when you do that [enough times], it ends up saving thousands of dollars a month,” Rao said.
While some community members have left Bridge Space potentially for good, new entrepreneurs are beginning to take their places, he said.
“[The pandemic has] caused us to look at parts of our business that we probably weren’t looking at well enough,” Rao said. “Now, we’re really trying to focus on, ‘How do we market to get those offices filled?’”
A top priority in 2021: Do everything possible to make sure Bridge Space’s doors stay open for members, he said, acknowledging he too was home for two months during the pandemic.
“We just keep going,” he said. “We’ve been doing it for eight months now, so I don’t have any concerns that we can’t do it for the next eight months.”
Bridge Space’s positive impact on blossoming companies keeps Rao motivated to push forward, he said.
“We’ve had a dozen businesses come in as one or two people, and then grow to the point where it makes sense for them to have their own office space,” Rao said. “That’s the whole purpose of why I wanted to build Bridge Space — to bring people in, help grow their business, and then they plant that business here in Lee’s Summit. It keeps those dollars cycling within our community and creates jobs in our community.”
Connectivity is a fundamental part of Bridge Space too, he said.
In addition to founding the coworking space, Rao is a partner in Mom’s House and Family Solutions for Care — a senior advocacy company that came through Bridge Space and later moved in order to expand, Rao explained.
“I’m an entrepreneur at heart,” Rao said. “I like solving problems. I love building businesses.”