These startups strive to be the sharing economy stars of meeting spaces

Underused assets: They’re what drive the sharing economy. If you have a spare bedroom (or empty vacation home), Airbnb makes it easy to rent it out. If your car’s sitting in the garage, Turo and Getaround will help connect you with someone who needs wheels.

With untold millions of square feet of meeting-and-event space sitting empty, it’s not surprising that startups such as Breather, Splacer and Bird Office are hoping to apply the same approach to the world of business gatherings.

They do so by providing Airbnb-like listings for commercial spaces that can be rented by the hour or day. From lofts and boardrooms to distilleries and decommissioned churches, they strive to provide stylish alternatives to more traditional facilities.

Breather, for example, is the brainchild of CEO Julien Smith who, like many business travelers, often found himself working in a noisy Starbucks or a crowded hotel lobby. Joining forces with cofounder Caterina Rizzi, they launched the company in Montreal in 2014.

Vice president of growth and marketing Dave Haber says,

“We hear it every day from business travelers looking for a place to work before their hotel room is ready or looking for a place to meet with clients in a professional setting when they’re not in their home city.”

Currently, the company features just over 100 listings in Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, New York, and the San Francisco Bay-area, bookable via desktop or mobile app. Haber declined to discuss revenues but said the company has “hundreds of thousands of users across the platform.”

In September, the company’s potential got a major boost with a US$20 million injection of funding, led by Valar Ventures.

The funding, says Haber, will be used to scale up in the company’s existing cities and launch in five new markets — Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, London, and Washington, D.C. — in the next month.

While Breather’s goal is to provide “peace-and-quiet on demand,” Splacer takes a more social, design-centric approach. The name, for example, is a portmanteau of “space” and “place,” a nod to the idea that any “space” can become a “place” depending on its use and the activity that happens there.

It was founded in 2014 in Tel Aviv by Israel-based architects Adi Biran and Lihi Gerstner and expanded to New York last autumn after receiving $1.4 million in seed funding led by venture capital firm Carmel Ventures.

The platform currently lists around 400 listings, many of which are intended to facilitate parties and pop-ups — not just meetings. Says Gerstner:

“If we’re willing to offer strangers our beds – our most personal thing – then why not our living rooms, roof decks, kitchen tables or commercials spaces?”

Taking another page from the Airbnb model, the site also tries to foster a sense of community, incorporating host profiles, user reviews, and “Contact Host” buttons that allow for direct communication. There’s no fee to list a space with the company charging a commission upon booking.

At this point, there’s no telling how big the market for the on-demand meeting-and-event space is, but the trend has not gone unnoticed by more traditional providers. Several hotel chains, including Marriott and Westin, also offer a variety of on-demand venues, often through LiquidSpace.

Some hotels are making rooms available by-the-hour via Paris-based DayUse, which has received $15 million in funding, and Barcelona-based ByHours.

More established players, such as MeetingsBooker, which says it lists 70,000 venues, and American Express Global Business Travel’s Meetings & Events arm, seem to still be gauging the relevance of sharing economy startups.

There may, in fact, be room for everyone, says Kevin Fliess, vice president, product marketing, Cvent Hospitality Cloud:

“We don’t expect to see any meaningful competition between the hotel industry and upstart websites curating inventory at art galleries and bars. Many companies are already hosting small events at these types of locations and this will simplify the search process.

The fact that new entrepreneurs, energy and money are entering the event venue category indicates that face-to-face meetings and events continue to be incredibly impactful and popular.”

NB: Image courtesy Breather.

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About the Writer :: Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a guest editorial contributor. Lovitt is a longtime travel writer based in Seattle. He has written for NBCNews.com, and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon, and Frontier airlines. Follow him on Twitter.

 

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  1. Yannis Moati

    i would say that it misses HotelsByDay as well… Missed the leaders in the USA in the Hotel short space solution? oh, well…

     
  2. Bill Henning

    You guys missed BIZLY, which is addressing this problem in the most interesting way — instant booking of luxury hotel meeting rooms. This article is super incomplete!

     
 
 

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