HARLEM — Juan Torres, who owns a business focused on creating affordable private schools, lost what used to be his home office when his son was born five months ago.
He tried working out of cafés, but it was too crowded and the wi-fi was spotty. And then he tried working in his gym, but it was too noisy.
"I'm at the stage of life where that just doesn't work," said Torres, 48.
Finally, Torres heard about The Harlem Garage, a new small business incubator that is a joint venture between MicroOffice, which provides workspaces, and the New York City Economic Development Corporation, which provided $250,000.
"I've been exceedingly productive," said Torres, who has had a space at the former garage on 118th Street between Frederick Douglass Boulevard and Morningside Avenue since mid-October.
Torres was a little skeptical of the space at first, but his doubts have faded away.
"It's diverse in age and in terms of the type of work people are doing," said Torres, who was surprised to learn that he wasn't the oldest person there. "It offers a lot of flavor that similar spaces can't."
The Harlem Garage costs $300 per month for a desk and, starting Wednesday, $15 for a daily pass. There are also flex passes that allow for a specified number of visits.
In addition to speedy wi-fi and free coffee, the incubator also offers a cluster of hammocks to hatch those big ideas, a loft space for meetings, and soon, a classroom for small business education sessions, many of which will be free and open to the public, said Community Coordinator Ryan Young.
It is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday and can hold up to 150 entrepreneurs and freelancers through daily, monthly and full-time memberships.
"People so far have enjoyed being here around each other. It's a small, but growing community," Young said.
The idea behind the shared workspace is to create a place to help entrepreneurs, non-profits and freelancers develop their businesses. There's an impetus on helping minority and women-owned businesses who get a membership discount.
The Harlem Garage is the latest business incubator in Harlem which now includes two biotech incubators, Harlem Biospace in West Harlem and one in East Harlem by five women scientists from Mount Sinai. Hot Bread Kitchen at La Marqueta for food entrepreneurs in East Harlem has been going strong for a couple of years.
“This incubator will help small businesses flourish, promoting the continued revitalization of Harlem and strengthening the city’s economy," said Kyle Kimball, president of the NYCEDC.
Steady wi-fi isn't the only plus about working at The Harlem Garage. The entrepreneurs say being around one another is beneficial.
"It has a Google-like atmosphere," said Keisha Wooten-Smith, 39, co-owner of the Smith+Davis Group LLC, which does event management. The firm, founded in March, has handled events for former CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien.
"It's inspirational and encouraging and provides an atmosphere of collaboration," she added.
Wooten-Smith said her apartment with her husband and two small kids lacks space for an office. The long-time Harlem resident said most other co-working spaces she looked at were a good distance away or too expensive, such as one in Brooklyn that charged $500 for 10 hours per week.
"I stalked this place for a while. I was looking in the window as they put it together and then saw that their price was extremely manageable," she said. "For me, it was ideal."
Torres said there's still a few finishing touches that he'd like to see such as partitions being put in place but that he sees himself staying put for at least six months.
Wooten-Smith, who plans a long-term stay at the incubator to avoid large office costs while her business grows, said she'd like to see more minority and women entrepreneurs take advantage of the space but realizes it's still early.
"I think this is going to be huge which is why I got in when I did," said Wooten-Smith.