SCOTTISH “Airbnb for business” firm Occupyd has hailed growth of 850 per cent during the coronavirus pandemic after receiving £1.2 million worth of bookings on the platform in the last year.

The Edinburgh-based company caters to a number of industries across the UK including hospitality, hairdressing and beauty salons, as well as workshops, photography studios and event spaces.

Under the system, a cafe that closes its doors at 3pm each day, for example, can advertise its kitchen space on Occupyd for small businesses or entrepreneurs who operate for the evening market.

Callum McPherson, the company founder, said this provides out-of-hours income for the owner and cuts down the financial responsibility for the occupant.

Mr McPherson, who has a background in fintech and who previously started a motorcycle storage business, said he moved to fill a gap he felt agencies may not be targeting at the small business end of the market.

“What I found was for small businesses and start-ups it is actually really hard to find and acquire suitable space, particularly small space,” he said.

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“It was when I was speaking to a joiner who had a workshop in Edinburgh and he sub-let his workshop to an upholsterer, a furniture maker and an instrument maker, and they each pay their £200 or so a month, which more or less took care of the rent and the landlord was perfectly happy because they had the tenant in situ with a good income stream.

“Then I saw this happening in other industries, with food companies sharing production kitchens and obviously you have hairdressers as an example, where lots of hairdressers are actually freelance and they rent chairs, and beauticians rent the basement or backroom for treatments. It is a lot more common than you might think.”

He continued: “The idea I had at the time as I was trying to expand my business was is there a kind of Airbnb type model for commercial property.

“What really interested me was spaces that had an investment attached to them. Commercial kitchens are a really good example of that. If you are starting a food business, say you want to do Deliveroo, for example, do you have £50,000-£100,000 to do a kitchen fit-out, probably not, but a lot of companies have already done it and are not using them to capacity.”

HeraldScotland: The platform links businesses to premises.The platform links businesses to premises.

He said the space need not be one typically associated with such hires. Mr McPherson said: “I was in one of the big football stadiums in Edinburgh last week, they’ve got massive state-of-the-art kitchen facilities. We are talking about putting these onto the market.

“The same thing is churches, they’ve got these great facilities and equipment to use, schools, cafes that are closing at 3pm, you can hire them out for the evening, also pubs, all sorts of buildings.”

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Mr McPherson said it was in 2019 that he “took it to the next level”, raised £600,000, and “built out the product and started to validate the market, grow the team and set up the company”.

The timing of the coronavirus crisis has allowed the business to help others set up. “We were fortunate to have chosen this kitchen market particularly as our beachhead market, the first market to get into, but we want to be across all small businesses' property landscape in the future.

“However, we chose kitchens first and with the pandemic we hadn’t been around for very long but the boom in food delivery just got even stronger so there was more demand for food delivery services whilst the supply of these services, the restaurants, were shutting down en masse. So we formed a good relationship with Deliveroo and Uber Eats and we create more supply for them.

“We allow food businesses to start up where otherwise they would find the barriers to difficult to overcome.”