Finding an affordable office space is one of the toughest challenges startup companies in Pullman face before their business can flourish.

That is according to two entrepreneurs who spoke Wednesday at a meeting organized by Sarah McKnight, managing director for the Southeast Washington Economic Development Association.

The meeting, titled “It Takes a Community to Raise a Startup,” centered around how city officials and Washington State University can work with local businesses to help them survive.

Aziz Makhani, a business adviser with the Small Business Development Center, spoke at the meeting and asked the entrepreneurs there to describe the obstacles they encountered when creating their company.

Adam Jones, owner of Pullman Marketing, said his business began in a basement and is now located in an office space on State Street.

He said having a visible business storefront downtown makes a positive difference that is “night and day” compared to the basement.

But getting to that point was not easy, given the prices of office space in the city.

“It’s really darn expensive in Pullman for office space,” he said.

Anna Grindeland, owner of Three Forks Nutrition, started her business out of her house because it was difficult finding a space with affordable rent.

“The rent issue was a big barrier for me,” she said, adding that she was finally able to locate her business at the Coldwell Banker Tomlinson building downtown.

According to the Palouse Commercial Real Estate’s 2019 Market Review, existing lease rates for office and retail spaces in Pullman average $12 to $22 per square foot per year depending on factors like size of the space and location.

Lease rates for new spaces average $21 to $26 per square foot per year.

Moscow’s prices are less at $12 to $15 per square foot for existing properties and $18 to $24 per square foot for new spaces.

Of all the total office square footage available in Pullman, nearly 5 percent is unoccupied. Of all the total retail space available, 9.4 percent is unoccupied.

According to that same market review, 12 businesses in Pullman closed and 17 businesses opened in the past year.

Makhani said during Wednesday’s meeting there are ways startups and the community can work together to help prevent more closures.

Among the many factors is proper social media etiquette. Makhani recommended that locals give startup businesses “a break” online if they are initially disappointed by their experience. That is, do not rush to give that business a bad review on Yelp or other social media sites.

He asked that customers give the business time to improve and “work out the kinks” in their service.

He also asked that businesses do not get into an online battle with people who write bad reviews, instead suggesting they simply thank the reviewers for their input, acknowledge mistakes and promise to do better.

He recommended that entrepreneurs try and find a mentor who is willing to help them get their business off the ground, and not one who is motivated by self-interest.

Makhani urged them to get in contact with the Pullman Chamber of Commerce and city officials to find out what resources are available to them.

Marie Dymkoski, executive director of the Pullman Chamber of Commerce, said the city wants to work with businesses because it wants to see startups succeed.

That is why, she said, business owners looking to locate in Pullman should make a call to the city early in the process to get input from Pullman staff that will save them “a million steps.”

WSU also offers programs designed to help entrepreneurs, including the WSU Entrepreneurial Faculty Ambassador Program and the Innovation and the WSU I-Corps.

Anthony Kuipers can be reached at (208) 883-4640, or by email to akuipers@dnews.com.

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