The perfect venue choice sets the stage for a successful meeting or event. It can entice guests to attend, provide new surroundings that provoke new thought processes and serve up an atmosphere that embraces the theme and objective of an event. That’s a lot to ask from four walls, a floor and a ceiling, which is why a new web platform called RoomLeopard is helping planners find function spaces with a lot more character—or as RoomLeopard’s tag line goes, “the best spots in town.”
Think of it as Airbnb for meeting and event venues. Visitors to RoomLeopard.com can search a map and filter function spaces by capacity and date availability. Just like the home-share service, it delivers a collection of spaces that you would have a hard time finding on your own, each with its own profile and photo gallery. RoomLeopard currently focuses on spots in and around Pittsburgh, where the company is based, but there are plans to expand in the future. There are about 60 venues and counting listed on the platform, ranging from rough industrial spaces, airy gallery spaces, private school classrooms, studio work spaces and executive-minded conference rooms.
“It’s like finding these needles in the haystack—these unique venues,” says Michael Sobkowiak, COO. “You’re not going to find these sorts of venues on Google, and if you do they’re going to be on page 37 of the results.”
Sobkowiak knows the frustration of searching in vain for the perfect event space. He and RoomLeopard’s CEO, Mike Schiller, previously worked together at the Green Building Alliance and at Venture Outdoors, where they frequently had to find venues for mixers, meetings or classes that the organizations were hosting. “We were constantly cobbling together different places to make it work,” Sobkowiak says. “There was no centralized resource for folks who aren’t professional meeting and event planners to find venues.” He and Schiller saw an opportunity to elevate the process from word-of-mouth to the world wide web.
That idea hatched in 2016. Soon after, they enlisted Kevyn Reinholt to join their team as lead developer and the RoomLeopard platform launched in early 2017. Most of last year’s efforts focused on building a robust collection of event venue profiles.
Just like Airbnb, RoomLeopard delivers benefits to both hosts and guests. Hosts on the site can earn money by renting their underused conference rooms, auditoriums, lobbies and work spaces without dedicating sales and event management staff. There’s no cost to be listed on the site, and hosts can turn down event requests that don’t align with their vision for the space.
“One of our other goals is to try to bring transparency and ease to the process,” says Sobkowiak. “Even if I’d told you that the Pittsburgh Glass Center has a conference space to rent, how would you figure out whether it’s available when you need it, or if it’s in the budget you’re working with for your event?”
A quick search on the RoomLeopard platform turns up some of these intriguing spots:
THE SYRIA SHRINERS’S GRAND BALLROOM
An 11,500-square-foot space that accommodates up to 1,000 people with three-tiered seating surrounding a sunken wooden dance floor and a professional stage; the Ballroom can also be divided into three smaller spaces.
THE PARAMOUNT FILM EXCHANGE, HOSTED BY AVENU
The Film Exchange was built by Paramount in 1926 as part of Pittsburgh’s Film Row. The rehabbed site opened in 2014 as a coworking space for Pittsburgh startups, and its colorful community space is available on RoomLeopard to host as many as 70 people.
THE WAREHOUSE BALLROOM AT HIP AT THE FLASHLIGHT FACTORY LOFTS
This former factory space was built in 1887, and was where the Hipwell company patented and manufactured the single cell battery and flashlight. In 2010 the current owners rehabbed the warehouse into an industrial glam event space with a range of spaces that feature repurposed and reused touches.