SMMUSD — The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is partnering with a start-up company founded by two Santa Monica High School graduates to rent out auditoriums and other spaces and bring in new revenue to the district.

The district agreed to list 12 spaces across eight different schools and facilities on Venyooz.com, a new website that creates a marketplace for institutions to make money on under-used space.

If the experiment is successful, officials may make more options available, said Carey Upton, the director of Theater Operations and Facility Permits with the district.

“It might bring some traffic to some of the spaces that don’t have as much use,” Upton said. “We handpicked 12 spaces that right now are not getting a lot of use and if we can increase the use, it’s great, because that money will come back to the school to maintain those facilities.”

Technically, the district already has a mechanism to rent out rooms, cafeterias or sports fields to the general public — it’s actually mandatory under a California state law called the Civic Center Act, which requires school facilities be made available to the community for recreational activities.

Venyooz provides a new way to market those rooms to reach a larger audience, expanding accessibility and, at the same time, giving the district a shot at much-needed revenues.

It could potentially cut down on paperwork for users, reducing the barriers between them and the rental space of choice.

It also helped that the two co-founders, Lauren Shapiro and Alex Perelman, both have their roots in Santa Monica as Samohi grads.

“I know they’re working to be a national corporation, but for us, to be one of the first pilot groups and the first school, it helps to know they know the school, the district and the town,” Upton said. “It added to the idea.”

The concept emerged out of personal knowledge of the frustration of small groups, nonprofits and other organizations when they tried to go out and get meeting space that met their needs and budgets, said Shapiro, the CEO of Venyooz.

“This is just one of those logistical burdens in the offline community-building process,” Shapiro said. “With special interests, knitting clubs and books clubs, always one of the problems is finding space, and they often have really utilitarian needs.”

As she sees it, not only is there demand, there’s excess supply.

“On the other side, we want to help businesses and nonprofits who have the space to be utilized,” she said.

Venyooz launched officially two months ago, but its roots run deep. Shapiro and Perelman met during their time at Samohi in the late 1990s.

They both went into the start-up world and interned for Bizrate.com before going on to become professionals in the field. Venyooz is their first joint venture, Shapiro said.

As a client, SMMUSD lists available spaces for free. A profile will include pictures of the rooms, details about available amenities and sometimes a price range. People can then rent the space through Venyooz, which charges a commission for each transaction.

From the district end, almost nothing changes in terms of the fees or permitting processes.

Upton counts “success” as upping the number of permits by five or six per week in the 12 underutilized spaces, which include things like the district board room and the Grant auditorium.

That’s a drop in the bucket given that Upton’s office handles upwards of 300 venue permits each week, but if the program continues to bring in the bacon, he might make more spaces available on the website.

Every little bit helps.

SMMUSD officials have been scrambling in recent years to plug holes in funding from the state to maintain the quality of public education in Santa Monica.

That’s included parcel taxes, bonds, a new districtwide fundraising policy and even a half-cent sales tax increase, half of which benefits the school district.

Although those measures bring in millions, the district is facing a potential $5 million cut if Proposition 30, a tax increase proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, doesn’t pass on Nov. 6.

Another measure, Proposition 38, would also benefit the schools, although the district is unable to say exactly how much it would get.

Without either measure, the district is still running a $5 million structural deficit.

For its part, Venyooz is now busy building up a stockpile of venues for rent in the Los Angeles region, although it hopes to expand to other cities in the future.

“We’re only in L.A. right now, we’re in beta mode,” Shapiro said. “We’re testing, getting a lot of feedback from the customers, adding features, developing the site and our inventory.”

 

 

ashley@smdp.com

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