Popping into a Pluto is in full swing in St Albans, Hertfordshire, a location that features five pods for customers plus a pilot one for research and Purifi, its own air cleaning system.
Charges can be pay-as-you-go or from £29 a month for two hours a week and first adopters are young professionals, parents and entrepreneurs such as coaches and consultants.
“We’re not just building furniture, but a proprietary platform.
“This is tangible tech for local use adjusted to individual needs,” says chief executive and co-founder, advertising tech expert Luke Aviet.
“People can just unlock a pod through their mobile phone and we’ve extended our opening hours from 6am to 10pm after seeing a lot of people wanting to use the pods to work on side hustles or for studying at weekends.”
With childhood friend and furniture designer Greig Fensome, the two joined forces three years ago to solve a property mismatch “between what individuals want and what was available locally, and address how space and time are being used so it’s more efficient,” they explain.
“Our skills blended well and we decided to focus on the changing nature of high streets, the decline of physical retail and workforce mobility. That was pre-pandemic, now the market has moved to us.
“Our pods’ plug and play modular design makes it easy to transform empty retail units and help drive trade back to high streets and give home workers a change of scene.”
Unlike pods in offices, Space Republic’s tech-packed Pluto store is designed for public use from booking software to control safety.
“In our controlled environment, there is only one person inside a pod at a time, it’s completely sealed,” adds Aviet.
Investment, incorporating angel backing, has been £500,000 plus and the London-based company now has a team of six.
Funding includes an Innovate UK grant for a project to support development of its Purifi decontamination system. Carried out with Brunel University, it tested the ability of Far-UVC’s light technology to destroy pathogens such as coronaviruses in indoor spaces while people are present.
Results so far “are very encouraging,” says Aviet and the business is now talking to other universities about further research on different aspects of the pod and its functionality.
“This will continue to be very relevant as the world starts to re-open,” the pair explain as they also focus on launching in more locations, offering corporate subscriptions and developing a concession operation.
“We don’t despair of the high street,” they declare. “It has so much potential for our new hybrid life.”