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Center remodels shared space cencept
By Ruth Solomon, Staff Writer, February 6, 2008

Marie3

Married at 19 and with no college degree, Marie Platowski had been living the life of a wealthy North Shore stay-at-home mother, seeing her children off to school, managing the home-front, squeezing in a game of tennis.

But family illness jolted her world. After her husband’s life-threatening bout with cancer, Platowski decided that picking up a college diploma would be a good idea.

Her husband survived. The marriage did not. So after a divorce court judge forced her into the work world, Platowski landed a job as a receptionist.

Now, armed with a magna cum laude degree form Loyola University and 15 years in the executive office building industry, Platowski successfully manages and co-owns the Northfield-based Business Network Center, on 790 Frontage Road. (Added bonus: She is happily remarried.)

Platowski had taken some of the best ideas about shared office space, such as a shared receptionist, and added her own touch. For example, she offers rental; terms as short as three months, usually at a rate of $600 a month, all inclusive. But the Network center is more than just a building with shared office space. It also serves as a network for tenants and incubator for start-ups.

“We’ve launched a lot of businesses out of here”, she said. “We feel successful when they outgrow us and have to find a bigger space. For example, we launched North Shore Music Institute, when they just had one office teaching guitar lessons. Two years ago, they moved and now have 350 students.”

Platowski’s 40,000 sq. ft. building is 99 percent occupied. And she never has to look for tenants: “People want to be around a lot of other successful people. You can only be referred here. It’s very elite. It’s a lot like a country club atmosphere.”

She has made a conscious effort to attract entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, and their supporting professionals such as attorneys, public relations firms and accountants, all the better to drum up more business through informal chats in hallway.

“They (venture capitalists) want to be able to keep an eye on them, “Platowski said with a laugh. It was, in fact, angel investors who gave Platowski and her silent business partner the capital necessary to launch the Center, she said.

“Basically, venture capitalists are rich guys, so unless you belong to their country club, you may never meet them. Here, you see them in the hallways with their snow boots on.” She said.

Tenants
Wally Cornett of Northbrook, a venture capitalist himself, was Platowski’s first tenant when she took over the vacant building six years ago.

“I was in on the early planning. She (Platowski) didn’t want one client with 50 employees. It was basically a desire to have entrepreneurs,” said Cornett, who is a general partner in WGC Cerulean Fund.

Cornett said he has helped three or four businesses in the building find financing. “No charge, of course,” he said.

To further the cross pollination among industries, Platowski hosts monthly get-togethers where one particular business in the building is featured.

“It’s really built a community and fostered a lot of deals,” said Platowski, adding many of the tenants know each other from their children’s North Shore soccer fields and schools and country clubs. “This gives them a chance to do business.”

Platowski also puts the names of the business owners, not company to titles, on the office door. “When people walk by in the hallway, they don’t have to say, “What’s his name”?f

The building’s tenants also include 13 commodities traders, who could very well work from home but who like the fellowship in their basement office.

The traders sit in a large suite, each attentive to five computer screens in front of them. Two adjoining rooms in the back of their suite feature comfortable couches, whimsical wall paintings and, inexplicably, a life-size cutout of Hillary Clinton. The rooms allow them to decompress during particularly stressful trading days, Platowski said.

A few not-for-profits also rent space, including Holy Family Ministries Foundation, which sponsors a non-sectarian school in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green neighborhood. Platowski pays to bus the first-graders and kindergartners to the center to have a safe place to trick or treat every year.

Cornett attributes much of the success of the building to Platowski. “Marie is a fountain of knowledge. She’s the bumble bee,” he said.

Reflecting on her success, Platowski, who grew up in Italy to a Columbian mother and a German father, said she has also tried to impart her life lessons to her two daughters, one a senior in college and the other a marine biologist in Florida.

“I grew up in a household where women were taught to be submissive and look pretty. That’s not what I taught my daughters,” she said.

Copyright © 2008, Pioneer Press

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