MANCHESTER — After nearly 20 years of sharing a cramped workspace, the founders of WBC Estates are expanding with a new location, which also happens to be a new business venture.

Gregory Cullen and David Bettencourt say downtown Manchester is ripe for cooperative workspace, where entrepreneurs can set up shop with the amenities of an office without the overhead burden. While the concept isn’t new, it’s needed, they say.

“Look around. It’s awesome. We want to be part of that,” Cullen said, pointing to the bustling foot traffic on Elm Street and the busy Millyard down the hill. 

Cullen and Bettencourt are entrepreneurs, college buddies who have built a real estate and property management company over the last 19 years. 

After a few years of searching for a new location for WBC Estates, they found the spot at 1087 Elm St., the five-story building at the corner of Elm and Lowell. It’s still known to many locals as the long-time former home of the Black Brimmer. Penuche’s Music Hall occupies the first floor.

“We like the location and the vibe outside,” Bettencourt said.

They closed on the deal in April and immediately set up folding tables in the northwest corner on the second floor, where they’ve been running WBC through the din of renovations that started in June. WBC Office Suites is on scheduled to open Oct. 1. 

In addition to WBC, the floor will be a shared professional area, where the tenants lease the space they need and share access to printing, copying and other professional needs. WBC takes care of the infrastructure, wiring the place for internet access, phone lines and a fully equipped conference room. At the entrance just off the elevator, a receptionist will greet visiting clients in the lobby area.

“It’s going to be a good spot for somebody that needs to have that presence and doesn’t want to look like a mom-and-pop,” Cullen said.

The concept is similar to the Alpha Loft, which happens to be one of WBC’s first tenants. The business incubator is downsizing to a one-room office that will allow Alpha Loft to focus on helping startups get off the ground. Just down the hall is an area of work stations, semi-private areas available with or without storage. And at the east end a row of basic work stations where members can sit down with a laptop next to the lounge and kitchen area. 

“We wanted to basically have an environment on this floor to feed off different entrepreneurs and work with different people,” Bettencourt said. “You’ve got the ability for a bunch of people to collaborate.” 

Glass walls keep the atmosphere communal, allowing people to work together without being co-workers.

“When you have these segregated offices you’ll pass a guy in the hall but you don’t know really much about what we does,” Cullen said. “In this, everybody is in an open atmosphere.”

It’s a different atmosphere from WBC’s original office at 32 Myrtle St., which they describe as a “closet” that had no place to impress potential clients. They thought a shared space could work in Manchester, hoping to capitalize on the city’s tech industry, growing entrepreneurial scene and proximity to the Millyard. 

Doug Bews, who runs schmARTschool, a graphic arts and software training business on the fourth floor, was thrilled to hear what Bettencourt and Cullen were planning two floors below. 

“I thought that was ideal,” Bews said. “I don’t think the need is just for downtown Manchester. I think it’s all over. The business landscape has changed dramatically.”

While Bews’ operation requires his own space for his operation, he understands the advantages of a shared workspace for a one-man enterprise like his. 

“There’s lot of distractions working out of your house. The call of the laundry is strong. The call of the refrigerator is strong,” Bews said. “It’s certainly beneficial to have a professional address and still not get wiped out with tremendous overhead. There’s also a lot to be said for having a social interaction.” 

Cullen and Bettencourt looked at similar operations — We Work in Boston and Portsmouth’s COVE — before planning the layout and pricing model. WDC memberships start at $200 per month for access to the benches, $300 for the first level of workstation and up to $800 for the three offices (which are already under contract).

It’s a sizable investment for Cullen and Bettencourt — $2 million for the building and about $250,000 to renovate, wire and furnish the second floor and get it ready for members to move in by the end of September. 

“There will be all kinds of people. Who knows how they mesh? But once they start talking they can draw off each other,” Cullen said.

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