When Borders came to the UK, it brought with it a very open approach to bookselling, where customers could interact more freely with books. Pretty quickly, the coffee shops within bookstores became a great place to get out your laptop, spread out a few books and do a little work. Often set up with big, shared tables, these were great places to get things done, but for the curious amongst us, they were always an opportunity to find inspiration from the other people who have also gathered around you. I can well understand the appeal, then, of increasingly popular coworking spaces that bring together eclectic mixes of businesses.
The trends and types of coworking spaces, which have roughly doubled in number every year since 2006, can be considered a barometer of the environment for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Centred around cities like San Francisco, New York, London, Barcelona and Berlin, they can provide an idea of the best places to start a new business – and where is up-and-coming. Dubbed the ‘new Berlin‘ by some – and vehemently the opposite by others – Lisbon is now planning to create office spaces for up to 3,500 tech workers looking to take advantage of the €500m pledged by venture capitalists over the summer, truly cementing the city’s place as an up-and-coming technology hub within Europe.
Last weekend, Second Home, known for its transparent walls, plants, mid-century Danish furniture and former home of Signal, received £20m from high-profile backers, including Michael Birch, Yuri Milner and the Sainsbury family to help the business expand into Portugal and the US. The company secured the entire round of funding after the June 23rd Brexit referendum, pointing to a degree of optimism among investors towards the future of SMBs in Britain – although many have said otherwise.
In the cities where coworking spaces have really taken hold, the variety available makes clear the different demands and needs of small businesses and entrepreneurs looking for desk space. In Manhattan’s Flat Iron district, the women-only space The Wing opened on 10th October. With over 1,300 applications pending and a current membership of 250 women, the concept founded by Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan has clearly proven a hit – especially as the issue of diversity in the tech industry continues to be at the forefront of discussions. In creating a women’s-only workspace, The Wing makes focusing on female-led concepts and startups easier for investors who hope to back diversity with their investment.
Other working spaces focus on the professions of their customers. Last December, members club Soho House launched Soho Works, a coworking space in the Tea Building where its Shoreditch House is located. Arguably building on the existing coworking atmosphere of the rest of its 17-strong network, the new concept – to be joined soon by locations in Istanbul and Los Angeles – is open 24/7 to individuals and businesses in the creative industries. With a curated calendar of events and workshops, a full library and experts on hand to help with industry queries, I expect it will quickly become a popular addition to Soho House’s estate – and will surround entrepreneurs by those most able to help develop ideas into businesses with funding and experience.
In another sector, Level39 was launched in London’s Canary Wharf in 2013 to provide office space and support to small businesses in the finance, cyber-security, retail and smart-city technology sectors. Truly focusing on developing ideas into multi-million-pound businesses, the accelerator space, wholly owned by Canary Wharf Group, offers tailored curriculum, expert mentors and a packed events calendar, along with 80,000 square feet of working space. As the fintech sector has grown at an alarming rate, the location of Level39 is ideal for both those working within its space looking for investments, and the companies surrounding it looking to incorporate agile concepts into existing businesses.
The idea has also been used by larger companies to create spaces to bring together related startups for mentoring and incubation. In 2012, Google and several other partners developed one of London’s first coworking spaces, Campus London, at the heart of London’s tech hub in Old Street as an answer to the thousands of garage- and basement-based entrepreneurs located in the area that needed to be brought into a more developed space. Campus also has locations in Madrid, São Paolo, Seoul, Tel Aviv and Warsaw, featuring teams operated by Google for Entrepreneurs dedicated to creating thriving startup communities. Truly dedicated to the tech community, Campus even has a Device Lab on site, allowing developers to test their ideas across a number of platforms and devices.
According to Deskmag’s Global Coworking Survey, there were 7,800 coworking spaces worldwide one year ago – a 36% jump over the year before. Many of these are concentrated in tech-oriented regions, including Western Europe and North America, undoubtedly making it difficult for entrepreneurs to choose where to work in the stages before securing a more permanent spot. But in exploring options, entrepreneurs would be wise to consider the purpose and values of coworking sites. Although many of these spaces feature the coveted huge windows, unlimited snack bars, seminars and social events for members paying anywhere between £99 and £2,750 per year for a spot, the nuanced differences between sites can have an impact on how much entrepreneurs benefit from their surroundings. And similarly, larger companies would be wise to consider how the integration of a coworking space for related startups could further develop digital operations.
Following the launch of Campus, employees at Google were surprised – and pleased – to find that rather than building walls between entrepreneurs, each with the next ‘big idea’, the coworking space fostered relationships that developed ideas. Although Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos might have said that launching a company from a garage is a rite of passage, but really, having easy access to the right connections and resources could be what launches an idea into an empire of Google’s proportions – and I look forward to seeing which one will be next!