The Italian born Talent Garden counts, nowadays, among the major coworking brands operating in Europe. The Milan based company runs 23 “coworking-campuses” across Italy and the rest of Europe. Talent Garden was one of the first coworking operator to raise VC money in Europe, when coworking still was a tiny trend. Since then, the group has developed a strong education offering, making it quite a unique model in the coworking industry. We checked with Davide Dattoli, co-founder and CEO, what are Talent Garden today’s vision and plans.
Hi Davide. Why does Talent Garden speaks about “campuses” rather than “coworking spaces” when telling about your locations? What is the difference?
Davide Dattoli, CEO Talent Garden
Talent Garden considers itself as an international innovation platform, who operates facilities where members can meet, work, learn and collaborate. We use the word “campus” rather than “coworking” because Talent Garden was founded with the aim to create ecosystems that would connect, support and grow the best startups within technological and digital arenas. We wanted to contribute to the professional development of future global innovators.
Is this a way for Talent Garden to differentiate from the competition while other international brands are gaining ground?
I wouldn’t say that. In opposition to some international coworking operators who look first at growing a real estate business, at Talent Garden, community is genuinely at the core of what we do. We focus on new ways to transform and connect both flexible work and education environments, as requested by digital entrepreneurs and businesses.
The Innovation School is an important part of your activity. Would you say that Talent Garden is today a training agency as much as it is a coworking spaces operator?
The two businesses coexist, giving value to one another. Education is a fundamental part of our ecosystem. In 2015, Talent Garden became active in the education sector with the launch of our School of innovation – a school that offers training in the fields of digital and innovation, with a focus on coding, data, design, marketing, and business. We really believe that this is an integrating part of our offer.
We believe and invest a lot in the growth our Innovation School, which today accounts for 25% of turnover along with coworking (50%) and events. And it is exponentially growing: in 2017 we trained 500 students, 1,000 children, 2,300 professionals and involved over 70 companies in its programs.
You use to partner up with universities. Why do universities need Talent Garden?
We partner with universities that share our innovative approach. We recently announced the opening of our new campus in Dublin in partnership with Dublin City University (DCU), a new hub for digital innovation. This will be the first collaboration of its kind in Europe. In DCU, we have found a University partner with the same entrepreneurial DNA and ambition as Talent Garden. This made the selection process easy. The existing DCU Alpha community of digital and IoT innovators is the perfect home for us, whereas the University partnership will help us to scale our Innovation School offering globally.
We believe and invest a lot in the growth our Innovation School, which today accounts for 25% of turnover along with coworking (50%) and events.
Does it tell something about the future of education, would you say?
We realize that there is an educational gap between the jobs on offer and the professional training required to fulfill those jobs. We created our Innovation School in this context. We train young people and professionals. We bring new cultures and skills to businesses and we offer upgrades and updates to those operating in the work environment.
We realize that there is an educational gap between the jobs on offer and the professional training required to fulfill those jobs. In this context, we created our Innovation School
We also believe in lifelong learning and change management within individual companies. Today 70% of corporate learning happens at work thanks to on-the-job learning and relationships between colleagues, 20% through coaching and networking and the remaining 10% through traditional training activities, and yet this is where companies devote 80% of their training budget. For this reason, we offer an innovative training methodology, putting people at the center of the learning process based on cross-pollination and co-creation, to make sure that the expenditure in training gives results in proportion to the investment made.
Today 70% of corporate learning happens at work thanks to on-the-job learning and relationships between colleagues, 20% through coaching and networking and the remaining 10% through traditional training activities
Talent Garden has partnerships with tech companies such as Google or Cisco too. How does it work?
We support corporates by analyzing their business needs and devising ad-hoc projects to help them embrace the opportunities offered by digital technologies to reach their full potential. Moreover, we allow their cross-pollination with our community of innovators and expose their brand to our stakeholders. This year we involved 180 partners (corporates and SMEs), providing them with the right tools to devise new, innovative ways of working. Corporates may have the capital and resources, but often lack the agility, internal culture, and expertise of startups that are essential for driving innovation and success.
Innovation is a key element of corporate growth and requires the right combination of people, processes, and technologies.
The wide majority of your spaces are located in Italy. How is the coworking industry growing in Italy?
Compared to other European markets, Italy is still at an early stage in the fields of startups development and innovation. That is why we are building a European network, to connect countries and leverage each other’s potential while supporting the best tech and digital professionals in their growth.
Gargi Shah is the co-founder of one of Mumbai‘s first coworking spaces. When she opened The Playce in November 2012, the coworking concept was practically unheard of in India. Gargi spent many days dreaming up ways to explain what she did to her grandmother, who still believes that her granddaughter rents out offices for a living. The Playce has completed five eventful years – a proud home to creative, entrepreneurial and even outlandish co-workers.
We spent some time talking with her to get her impressions about running a coworking space in one of the biggest, densest and fastest developing city in the world.
We use to claim coworking is all about community. Some players say tenants just appreciate the flexibility and a convenient environment. How do you see it?
Coworking is NOT just about the community. Customers come with different goals. Some are looking for a productive office space, some are looking to find like-minded people, others for an affordable setup still, others choose coworking for the unprecedented flexibility it provides.
Coworking is NOT just about the community. Customers come with different goals.
Having a strong community in a coworking space makes the space attractive, but it is one of the many things that space offers. It can be one of the best ways to retain customers, especially teams.
Is Coworking just a smart Real Estate game?
Coworking is generally much more than simply a Real Estate calculation. There are community, flexibility, affordability and a host of other useful services offered to the customer.
That said, there are many cases where coworking is a way to leverage non-premium properties. In these cases, it starts with a smart Real Estate Game. The premise in question is typically not a premium property for a variety of reasons – location, floor plan, market conditions etc. This makes it tricky to rent out the entire premise to a single lessee.
The owners of such Real Estate premise have come to realise that coworking can give them a quick-fix to their rental requirements. Running a coworking space is a clever idea because the premise generates at least some revenue (even if it is less than market rent) instead of lying vacant. Coworking customers are looking for affordable workspaces even if it means that they have to compromise on certain other parameters. It’s a win-win for both the parties.
Mumbai is one of the biggest and crowdiest metropoles in the world. Coworking is booming. Is community less important in big cities?
The community is just as important in the big cities, perhaps even more so because the coworkers (entrepreneurs, startups, freelancers, etc) are working in a highly competitive market. They need all the support and encouragement they can get. It certainly helps them to know that there are others like them who are sticking their neck out for their idea. The support of the community and kindred souls is invaluable when an entrepreneur is starting out.
The community is just as important in the big cities, perhaps even more so because the coworkers are working in a highly competitive market.
On the flip side, a coworker has many more options in a big city – cafes and restaurants (long the ‘offices’ of lone warriors), extra unused desks in traditional offices, apartments etc. This makes it harder for coworking spaces to retain customers.
How do we fill in coworking spaces in India?
India is rather diverse and most coworking spaces have their own niche offering. Some offer unbeatable prices, some offer creative interiors, some have simply located themselves in a high-demand location and some have an organic community built over a period of years. In Mumbai, there are diverse demographics who need a coworking space to suit different needs. It is mainly an overwhelming demand for flexible office spaces that drives the coworking market of Mumbai.
Most coworking spaces have their own niche offering. Some offer unbeatable prices, some offer creative interiors, some have simply located themselves in a high-demand location and some have an organic community built over a period of years
Fun, conviviality, learning, networking… Is it only for startups or Gen Y and Z?
Oh no, not at all. In all our workshops and events we have seen incredibly large participation from established freelancers and folks in their forties, fifties and even a few in their sixties. One would expect that startups and Gen Y/Z folks would be a big part of the fun and networking, but more often than not they don’t have the time and inclination to get out of their personal space and explore. They are buried in their startup challenges and personal journeys. It is the 30s and over a crowd that tends to have a more long-term perspective and are an integral part of the fun, learning and networking side of things.
One would expect that startups and Gen Y/Z folks would be a big part of the fun and networking, but more often than not they don’t have the time and inclination to get out of their personal space and explore
Rialto is a sales and marketing software as a service offering CRM functionalities tailored to the commercial real estate industry. This “broker portal” allows operators and brokers to exchange inventory and enquiries for space. The rise of the demand for coworking and flexible workplace offering might hit dramatically the traditional intermediaries within the workplace world.
We interviewed Nicolas Kint, the founder of Rialto, to get his impression on how big the change might become and whether coworking operators and brokers can one day understand one another and become partners.
Hi Nicolas. Can you introduce yourself as well as Rialto?
I joined the industry in 2013 as director of a business centre group in Ghent, Belgium. When next supporting the launch of a residential property inspection software solution to the market in 2014, surprisingly enough I was contacted by several brokers and operators of commercial property portfolios. I realised the commercial property industry was underserved by the market. Tight budgets and a need for vertically integrated processes made the market unattractive to the large players like Microsoft, SAP or Salesforce. That’s when I decided to found Rialto. In March 2015, we incorporated with the support of Pi-Labs in London.
The rise of coworking and flexible workspaces is told to be disrupting the office market and its traditional long-term lease contracts. Do you see that happening?
The imminent growth of flex workspace is driven by a couple of factors which today coincide. While the potential of coworking and flex workspace has hardly been underestimated, the timing for this inflexion point was hard to predict. I’m not sure whether we should call this trend “disruptive” to the conventional office leasing market though. There are several examples of specialised office space asset management teams, which have – many of them already for years – been experimenting with flex workspace concepts, typically with very low ROI. I believe that incumbents who got their timing right will have been making the right investments to capture the bulk of this growing market.
Intermediates such as real estate brokers used to play a big matchmaker role between property owners and tenants. Do you see them able to adapt to the new reality of flexible service based office? Or will real estate brokers disappear?
The role of intermediates is changing, and those firms with a strong positioning supported by a long-term vision, supportive for intrapreneurship, will still be able to create a lot of value going forward. To answer your question whether they have a role in the new reality of flex workspace, I definitely believe so. Employers will have to deploy a range of workspace solutions. This will most likely always be a mix of conventional and serviced real estate. This new reality creates a clear demand for professional advice by both landlords and tenants.
Employers will have to deploy a range of workspace solutions. This will most likely always be a mix of conventional and serviced real estate.
Coworking, flexible and social workplaces. Who can help them to fill in their space? Can they rely only on themselves?
I like to compare this to the hotel market. You have “independent” players versus the “international brands” or “houses of brands”. Your location(s) might compete with Spaces from IWG just as the boutique hotel around the corner competes with Sofitel from Accor. In terms of direct sales, the large players are hard to fight. They can leverage their brand and have built well connected corporate sales teams. Of course, you can beat them in leveraging your community and word of the month, but also in building your indirect sales partnerships with specialised brokers.
Your location(s) might compete with Spaces from IWG just as the boutique hotel around the corner competes with Sofitel from Accor.
Is there a difference between countries, from what you see?
Well, the more mature a market, the better the existing solutions available, the more experienced and better informed the market is. It’s no surprise markets like London, Paris and Amsterdam count several strong brokers and advisory teams in flex workspace.
It’s no surprise markets like London, Paris and Amsterdam count several strong brokers and advisory teams in flex workspace.
Brokers are paid on commission, usually, a percentage of the first paid rents, for instance. What can be their business model, tomorrow, if the commitment to a coworking space is no more than a month?
The flex workspace market has become competitive. If you’d ask me, I’d make sure the “carrot” for the broker is clear. Although the commitment could be restricted to a month, you expect the new customers to use the space for months even years. That’s the interest of building revenue models which allow managers to quickly calculate the Net Effective Rent corresponding such agreements in order to help them understand what cost of acquisition is affordable.
What about the role of online direct matchmaking platforms which are taking a bigger and bigger importance? They position themselves as kind of Booking.com of meeting rooms and office. Can’t they make real estate brokers an obsolete profession as well?
I’m happy you name Booking.com. When they started out 20 years ago, no one in the industry would have imagined they had the potential to become the dominant force in the market they today are. I’m convinced the office market won’t allow this to happen. Instead, expect a strong level of M&A going forward where some of the larger and more successful incumbents will be able to absorb the digitalisation, flex workspace, smart office trends and build future-proof propositions.
What can be the added value of those platforms in the future? Both for coworking spaces as for startups, freelancers and bigger companies?
The market is massive. Yes, startups, freelancers, large corps, …all of them will continue to take on the workspace. Winners will be those who can afford to specialise.
Do brokers nowadays really understand the full value coworking spaces provides to their members, aside of the square meterage and the location of the space (things such as hospitality, community, network, side services, image, conviviality, etc.)?
If I may, I’d not necessarily question the brokers, but rather the market as a whole. Are we willing to pay for the full value coworking spaces create? If the market is to grow 20% a year, there is a strong need for educating the market on those values you name.
Will it be a new job, you think?
Yes, developing, commercialising and managing flex workspace definitely requires specific knowledge and experience.
GKRE, a UK based flexible workspace specialist, could be a kind of new operator in the market: a matchmaker between real estate owners, on the one hand, coworking and flexible workplace operators, on the other hand. GKRE advises landlords and building owners throughout the UK on their flexible workspace options and opportunities to partner with flexible workspace providers. The company has recently been involved in the merger and acquisition of businesses worth over GBP 40 million, in some 50 buildings.
We interviewed Will Kinnear, Chartered Surveyor specialising in the flexible workspace industry.
Hi Will, could you introduce yourself and tell us about GKRE?
I started as a consultant to Regus acquiring multiple sites throughout the UK on their behalf. Since the creation of GKRE with Douglas Green in 2013, we have acquired more than 450.000 square feet (42.000 m2) of new sites for the UK’s leading operators throughout London and the UK. Clients include operators and landlords across the UK, from major PLCs to independent companies.
The flexible workspace market has grown fast in the last recent years. What are the reasons for this growth, according to you?
The growth of the market has been driven by a number of factors: the demand from occupiers for more flexible ways of working; technology in the form of laptops and mobile phones allowing people to work from anywhere; the explosion of small businesses and freelancers. Traditionally, flexible workspace operators were quick to seize on the demand for flexibility and, by offering something alternative to the traditional leasing model, grew their portfolio of sites steadily on the back of this. In the past three to four years, flexible ways of working have become commonplace for SMEs and even corporates, who have looked to operators to provide them with workspaces that meet their growing demand for dynamic and flexible ways of working. This, in turn, has driven operators and property owners to expand their offerings exponentially to the extent that the flexible workspace sector is no longer a secondary sector in the property market.
In the past three to four years, flexible ways of working have become commonplace for SMEs and even corporates.
How do property owners look at the flexible model of space renting? Do they come to you? If so, why?
Property owners have had to look at the product being offered by operators given that demand for flexible working from occupiers has continued to grow. We are actively being approached by landlords and developers who want to understand better how the model works and how they can make the most of this growing trend. This is challenging the way property owners look at what they offer tenants.
Would you say that commercial property owners are starting to consider to partner up with flexible workspace operators, the same way property owners deal with hotel chains?
Yes, they are. Historically, flexible workspace operators have been at the forefront of this growing sector. However, over the past two years, there has been a distinct increase in property owners and developers wanting to enter the sector. Flexible workspace operators traditionally have taken lease deals where they have control over the space within a building and their clients. Partnership and management agreements between property owners and operators have allowed property owners to share in the upside and desirability of the sector while leaving the operator to the day-to-day running of the centre. We are currently working with a number of property owners who are considering their options. These may include working with an operator on a partnership basis or running their own operation.
Partnership and management agreements between property owners and operators have allowed property owners to share in the upside and desirability of the sector while leaving the operator to the day-to-day running of the centre.
Is the shared revenue model the future, in this kind of partnership?
It may be in some circumstances. Some property owners have assets within a portfolio that simply aren’t set up to enter into a shared revenue model. They will, therefore, have to let space on a traditional basis to an operator so that they are able to fulfil any requirement they have to provide flexible workspace within their mix of properties. They can also, of course, choose to run their own operation under their own brand. The shared revenue model will be attractive to both property owners and operators in some locations where both parties see a mutual benefit to providing a flexible workspace product. Going forward, we see opportunities for all kinds of models including leasehold, freehold and partnerships arrangements. We expect plenty of variety throughout the UK, and the model chosen will be driven to a large extent by the location, the property owner’s view of the market and the operator’s desire for a foothold in a particular area.
The model chosen will be driven to a large extent by the location, the property owner’s view of the market and the operator’s desire for a foothold in a particular area.
Some real estate owners fear that partnering with flexible workspace operators means they will lose direct contact with their traditional tenant customers. On the longer term, it could be detrimental to them, as they will be reliant on the flexible operator. Are they right?
This is a genuine concern for some owners as the end user will usually only have day-to-day contact and dialogue with the operator. To get round this and retain control of and connection with the end user, several property owners are looking to run their own operations, or, partner with operators but run the centres under their own brand.
Would you recommend property owners to create their own flexible workspace customer brand?
Possibly, but in every case, we would look at a property owner’s requirements in order to give them the best possible advice. Depending on what product they want to provide, the levels of service make these operations highly management intensive and for this reason not every property owner has the setup or desire to do it themselves. In these instances, we will work with a property owner to ascertain what options are available to them access the flexible workspace market.
Business Centres, Coworking, startup-friendly environment… How do you deal with the different services and positioning in today’s market?
Every operator thinks of their business in a different way and will position their product in the way that they best think sells it to potential occupiers. Often, an operator will offer a blend of options within a centre in order to maximise revenue.
What are your real estate predictions for the flexible workspace market in the UK the next five years?
We believe the market will continue its excellent growth. We expect to see more property owner-based operations in the market along with more all-inclusive managed products as landlords offer further flexibility in order to meet what occupiers are looking for. The new accounting rules coming into force in January next year are already impacting on demand as companies seek to take long-term leasehold premises off their balance sheets. We also expect to see retail and corporate occupiers offering flexible space. Industry data suggests that flexible workspace could account for 10% of the occupier market within 10 years across the UK.
Industry data suggests that flexible workspace could account for 10% of the occupier market within 10 years across the UK.
Eduardo Salsamendi is involved in the industry of flexible workspace since 1990. That year, he founded his first business center Klammer located in Northern Spain.
In 2008, Eduardo Salsamendi founded the European Confederation of Business Centers Associations (EUROCBCA ), headquartered in Brussels. while being the president of the Spanish Worskpaces association ProWorkSpaces.
We talked with Eduardo about how the evolution of the flexible workspace industry, and especially how the coworking culture is now influencing the sector.
Hi Eduardo. Could you offer us an overview of how the flexible workspace industry is doing in Spain, as we speak?
Spain has a different workspaces ecosystem than the neighbor countries. We have a lot of smaller independents business centers that are representative of their owners’ own way of living. That said, the average size of the spaces kept steadily growing over the last 15 years. With an acceleration in the 24 months. The average size of our spaces in square meters has evolved from 600 to 900 m2 over the last five year. This figure might be misleading, though, due to the break down between the very big and very small spaces. If we have a look at cities, Madrid counts nowadays for more than 1/3 of the total flexible workspaces number in Spain, followed by Barcelona.
According to you, what are the main challenges traditional business centers are facing now?
The good news is that we are no more just speaking about money or space, but about the people’s needs. The flexible workspace industry now works on making people feel good while working, supporting them in the making of more efficient work. Technology changes the way we work. Users mentality changes too.
What kind of distinction would you make, today, between a coworking space and a business center?
To us, the distinction between coworking and business centers is something more and more of the past, as flexible workspace operators today embrace elements of both worlds. At ProWorkSpaces we now define a flexible workspace operator as someone offering a combination of space, services, technology, and community. And the “traditional” kind of paid services are permanent offices, virtual offices, and spaces sold by the hour or by the day (meeting rooms, training rooms, offices, workstations…). Everyone makes his own recipe based on these ingredients.
Coworking has brought more visibility to the flexible workspace industry.
Would you say that the rise of Coworking benefited the traditional flexible workspace industry, so far?
The irruption of coworking made a revolution of the flexible workspace industry possible. Traditionally, real state players were focused on space, business centers were focused on service – Space as a Service- and Coworking operators were focused on community. In the early days, one of coworking’s biggest challenge was profitability. However, coworking quickly pivoted and incorporated elements of the “traditional” business center, usually more profitable. Coworking has brought more visibility to the flexible workspace industry. It made flexible workspace cooler. We understood that we needed to work on communities of users. In addition, we learned that offering different environments across our spaces was an added value. Many operators include different kind of spaces and ambiances: open common spaces, more informal ones, different types of meeting rooms, workstations in an open space…
We will continue to work on the SaaE concept (Space as an experience).
Where do you see the industry going in the coming years?
The industry will continue to change and grow very fast in the coming years. We expect different kinds of workspaces looking for their specific customers. The people in the industry love putting labels on what is a business center, what is a coworking space… but users don’t care. They look for a workspace that solves their needs where they feel comfortable. We will continue to work on the SaaE concept (Space as an experience). For me, the best reward is when a lead comes for a tour and says: “Wow, I want to work from here”. On the other hand, corporations build teams for projects. They collaborate with freelancers. The new economy includes uncertainty. The flexible workspace industry is the perfect solution for this, with flexibility and immediacy. You can know what you need today. However, you are never sure about what you will need tomorrow. We have an enormous growth horizon ahead of us as, nowadays, we still only represent a tiny portion of the whole offices market.
The people in the industry love putting labels on what is a business center, what is a coworking space… but users don’t care at all.
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Coworking is not a ‘city only’ phenomenon. Since a while, singles, young couples and families are moving away from the noisy pace and high costs of metropoles to settle within remote areas, looking for wellbeing and affordable cost of the countryside.
If Coworking in small towns and rural areas isn’t new, it keeps nowadays growing, as the last Coworking Europe conference’s editions confirmed.
Therefore, it made sense to more specifically survey this segment of the coworking market in order to understand the coworking realities experienced outside main urban centers.
1/The Survey sample
Spaces from all over Europe and the world took part in the survey. Within the final sample, France, Germany, Austria and Spain are the most represented countries.
Most of the surveyed spaces (62%) are located in towns with a population50.000 to 150.000 inhabitants big. About 20% of the survey spaces are located in towns with less than 10.000 inhabitants and a 4% in the pure countryside.
The respondents operate rathersmall coworking space in size, between 100 and 200 m2 on average. Only 17% operate surfaces larger than 501 m2.
A majority of the spaces have been in operation for more than 3 years. One third of the spaces represented in the sample are 4 years old or more.
2/ Competition is still low
The lack of awareness about the existence of the “Coworking” concept is mentioned as one of the biggest challenges coworking spaces struggle with in small town and rural areas.
The positive flip side of the situation, is that they face few or no competition in their immediate surrounding.
A big deal of the respondents in rural areas provides with traditional coworking services : meeting rooms, hot-desking in an open space, fixed desk in an open space and event venue.
Mokrin House (Serbia) is an example of a very successful coworking project located in the countryside.
Product such as ‘content production’, ‘private offices’, or ‘sponsorship’, are offered to a lower extend in rural area located coworking space.
More than 80% of the surveyed spaces operate without any public subsidies.
3/ Rural “satellite offices” aren’t hot yet
The biggest part of the surveyed coworking community members live within a range of 5 to 20 km from their space.
According to the respondents, the first motivation of members to join the space is : “looking for a business minded work environment“. They “look for a place where they can discuss with other peers and find new opportunities” in second place. The third motivation is : “we like the atmosphere of the space“.
The coworking communities are mainly composed out of freelancers,SME’s, employees and startups.
The coworking space is barely used as a satellite office of corporate employees aiming to avoid to commute to their company’s HQ.
4/An untapped potential
The main takeaway from the survey is likely that coworking in small town and rural area still offers a big untapped potential.
A big deal of the faced challenges are related to market education.
The coworking market outside big cities still is in a fairly young stage of maturation. There is room for growth, as the average surface and thelevel of local competition appear pretty low.
Moreover, so far, the opportunity for larger organizations to use small town located coworking spaces as satellite offices is widely unnoticed.
Download the full Small towns and rural Coworking Survey 2018
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Coworking spaces play a key role revitalizing small towns and rural areas bringing the talent back. A good example is The Ludgate Hub located on the Southern coast of Ireland, in one of the most rural and remote areas of the country. After two years, the main results of the Ludgate Hub include the formulation of a digital strategy for a rural town, the creation of new jobs for the area, introduction of new families into the area, a boost of expenditure in the building, and services.
Ahoy! Berlin is a Berlin based space for coworking and innovation. The more than 4.000 m2 big space host now freelancers as well as sartups and corporations.
Hi Stéphanie, can you introduce the Ahoy! Berlin project? What is it about?
Our main goal is to create a dynamic yet sustainable community where people have the freedom to collaborate, to explore and to have fun. We stand behind the main 5 shared coworking values – community, openness, collaboration, mutual help and equality, but we added another one – well-being.
As a second concept line we have the nautical theme which is implemented in every detail in Ahoy. It likens the new startup economy to the open sea with it’s strong currents and unpredictable weather. Ahoy serves to help budding startups and freelancers steer clear of potential pitfalls by connecting them to a wider community of possible collaborators and investors via Tech Berlin sister companies Openers and Tech Open Air while also offering additional services like event management and legal advice.
Ahoy started as fairly small space and scaled up rapidly. Was it the founders’ plans to go this way?
Ahoy! was founded in December 2011 by Nikita Roshkow and Nikolas Woischnik. The first location was in Charlottenburg and was only 400 m2. Over the years, the space grew up to 1700 m2. As a result of this natural and organic growth in September 2015 Ahoy moved to a new location, which currently has over 4200 sqm spread over 3 floors.
Thе scale up wasn’t by accident, but it also wasn’t strictly planned. Our expansion was a result of hard work, willingness to develop the coworking concept, team members’ devotion and community strength.
In December 2015 we opened our second location in Sao Paulo with 450 m2. It’s managed by Felippe Burratini who is an Ahoy! Berlin Alumni. This is a perfect example of the way how the coworking synergy works.
How receptive was the Landlord to accompany this process?
He helped us a lot in our recent growth in the last year – from the moment we moved to our current location until now, we expanded from only 1 floor to 3 floors. Even now the landlord constantly keeps us in a loop for potential new buildings.
Ahoy hosts some bigger companies. What are corporations looking for in a coworking space ?
According to our observations and regular feedback we get from our corporate community members we know that there are 5 main reasons:
To establish themselves quickly in a new city or a new market
To reduce costs and risk of new projects
To get closer to startups and entrepreneurs
To acquire more autonomy
To recruit new talents
Is the social and community dimension important in their choice, or do corporation’s employees in your space keep themselves aside as an island in the space?
The companies that use team offices often stay together in groups. Nevertheless, many of the interactions and collaborations between them and the other community members happen in very informal, chill and friendly atmosphere, while having a coffee, a lunch or a drink after work in our open cafe area. That’s the moment when the best ideas are born. The phenomenon known as “serendipity”.
Isn’t the flexibility and offered scalability a sufficient a value proposition for bigger organisations within you space?
It’s not only the space, the services and the possibilities to grow within the space that attract the bigger organisations. It’s also about the social interaction and the access o a professionally diverse community.
Do you work on mingling actively all of your tenants/members, including those working as employees for a company ?
Yes, we do work on that – we organise various community events:
captain’s’ lunches, strictly focused on bringing together the CEOs of the companies at Ahoy;
drinks after work;
We also facilitate the process of professional interaction by connecting our members based on the fields they work in. In order to foster the community development we use internal communication channels where they can introduce themselves and approach the other members.
What are the main differences between individual members with respect to the level of engagement with the rest of the community?
I’d say that the level of involvement and engagement in the community depends more on personal traits like collectivism and extraversion than on the type of membership. We have community members from big companies that are actively involved in the community and freelancers who prefer to stay on their own.
Desks VS offices ?
For us it is important to have them both – we offer fix and flex desks, as well as team offices. We’re striving to meet the needs of the freelancers, the startups and the corporations.
Are you working on hosting more corporations in the future ?
We are open to everyone who want to join our space and become part of our community. At the same time we’re trying to keep the balance between freelancers, startups and corporations. We believe that this is the only way we can preserve the community diversity – the aspect that makes the coworking idea so appealing.
Do you see a new level of openness in bringing employees from other departments ?
More and more corporations are open to send entire teams and departments to coworking spaces. However, the process of making that decision still takes more time and it often goes through the several rounds of approbation. There is often as much internal negotiation as there is with the coworking operators. Managers need to convince their superiors and their employees of the value of such spaces.
However, once a corporation embraced that change, the trend spread easily through the entire company.
Do you think medium-size and big companies could outsource a big part of their office and facility management to bigger coworking spaces in the future ?
We’ve seen it’s already happening – from having an office in a coworking space to renting entire buildings managed by coworking companies, corporations are now switching to another way of perceiving the working process.
Marouan Aoudia is an Algerian national, born and educated in the US. During 10 years, he worked in the corporate world before shifting towards the entrepreneurial world, end of 2015, armed with a long list of projects among which to open a coworking space in Algeria : The Address.
Hello Marouan. Could you introduce yourself as well as The Address project?
I was introduced to coworking for the first time on April 2015 during a visit to the US, and I immediately thought about seeing this concept into Algeria.Along with my strategic partners Majda and Chouaib, we worked on the concept, activities, and the general branding of the space.The Address was born on Feb 2016 as the 1st coworking space in the country.It is located in the capital, Algiers, and in area that has multiple options of public transportation for ease of reach.The Address is approximately 250 m2 big in surface. Our vision is to create an environment that embraces the notion of connection, collaboration, and creation among the members. We welcomed members from diverse sectors and backgrounds, some just starting out in their entrepreneurial journey and others are established professionals that require a work space while in Algiers.This mix of backgrounds and experience level is what makes The Address a unique space I believe.
What are the reasons Coworking can thrive in Algeria, according to you?
As for any service proposition, to be successful, it needs first and foremost to solve a real problem that exists. Coworking solves an issue that many entrepreneurs and independent professionals are facing in Algeria : the lack of affordable space where they can work, a place to receive potential clients, an opportunity to connect and network with peers, ability to establish their commercial license without important capital requirements. Coworking put simply tackled all these problematic and it allowed many people to take their 1st step towards establishing their projects with just a small capital, establish a commercial license and be connected with fellow members as support system.
According to you, coworking can help emerging countries such as Algeria to diversify their economy. Can you elaborate ?
Currently Algeria is tapping into its foreign reserves just to maintain economic stability after witnessing the massive drop in oil prices, a resource that historically served as the main economic contributor.Faced with the situation on hand, we have no choice but to diversity and develop other sectors of the economy.As previously stated, Coworking in Algeria plays an important role in creating an environment that supports the development of a startup scene and the entrepreneurial landscape in general.We are seeing a new stream of startups being founded at Coworking spaces that eventually graduate to standalone businesses as they scale up their operations.The numbers are out there, in many economies around the world SMEs contributes the heavily in to nation’s GDP figures and employment sector.Again, Coworking is the 1st step towards that journey, the starting point in a chain of business development that will see a small startup become an valuable economic contributor.
Coworking is the 1st step towards that journey, the starting point in a chain of business development that will see a small startup become an valuable economic contributor.
Coworking communities can become connection hubs between entrepreneurs from emerging and developed economies. How can we achieve that better?
Definitely, coworking spaces from across regions and continents once connected can serve as the ambassador’s of the world in their respective countries.Once this has been achieved, we can start working on an array of projects whether its digital in nature or anything else that is both relevant and of added value.Coworking owners have the capacity to engage the members, influencers, and local community towards a common initiative.It is worth noting that idea aside the most challenging part in these sorts of grand scale initiatives is the quality of execution and sustainability.On the profitability side, Coworking spaces can again collectively seek funding from international organizations in return of the value that these projects can bring home.
What can we say about the Algerian digital ecosystem and how coworking can help?
The digital ecosystem in Algeria is lagging behind even when looking at it from the perspective of North Africa region.It is hindered by two main issues, the low speed and at times unreliable internet connection and the lack of structured e-payment system.So we have an infrastructure issue more than anything.
There is a lot of interest among youth for everything related to digital world and Coworking spaces are serving as platforms connecting the community members by organizing seminars, events (SW: cfr Algeria Startup Altitude, for instance), workshops, and trainings related to it. As the infrastructural issues are resolved, Coworking will be playing more of an active role in initiating
Does the coworking working model speaks also to SME’s or bigger companies, or is too early in the country?
At The Address we already have a number of SME clients.These are clients where the HQ are based outside of Algiers but still have strong client base in the city.We offer them special corporate packages that would allow them the use the space when visiting and more importantly we offered them virtual office service by serving their client base administratively on commercial transactions. We also host corporate evening events at the space for themes that speaks to youth and entrepreneurship.
The Address is settled in a “Commercial Centre”. Why is this location appropriate for a coworking space would you say ?
We are located in hybrid building that has a mall, commercial offices, governmental agencies, and residential studios.The center offers many advantages.First, the center has 1000 free parking spaces, a luxury that you will not find elsewhere in the city where parking is a major issue.Second, the center offer security 24/7 allowing us the run evening events without any fear for safety.Third, our clients and Coworking members appreciate the services that the commercial center has to offer in terms of food court, catering, dry cleaner, gym, among other things that makes life just a bit easier.
In Europe or in the US, we hear more and more about “dying” shopping malls. Can coworking save “commercial centres” ?
A dying garden needs to be rejuvenated.The way to do it is to remove the dead plants and inject new seeds that can break ground and foster.Dying infrastructure is no different; if malls are dying they can be converted to a mix of commercial offices, innovation hubs, art galleries,…the economic cycle will always see concepts that will seize to exit in the expense of new fresh initiatives, our role is to adjust accordingly.
What are your main challenges and hopes?
As a Coworking space owner the challenge is to continue to promote the concept and build awareness, get better traction and create greater demand to sustain operations.A year and half into our existence, we have taken great strides towards that goal and have adopted well to meet the demand of our community and corporate clients.
At a macro level, I hope we will see more initiatives in Algeria from private sector that goes towards the development of our young human resources.Emerging countries have abundance of talented youth that are never given the proper mentoring, resources, and opportunity to excel.More often than not, they opt to travel to Europe, US, and there they develop into influential figures and contributors to their adopted nation.We need start to start paving a road for their success while they are here.
Skibbereen is a 3.000 inhabitants town located on the Southern coast of Ireland, in one of the most rural and remote areas of the country. In 2015, in order to re-create a dynamic of opportunities in the region, a range of major companies, associations, and public players joined forces to build up a platform supporting entrepreneurship, connected to one of the fastest broadband connection in Ireland: Ludgate Hub.
After two years, the main results of the Ludgate Hub include the formulation of a digital strategy for a rural town, the creation of new jobs for the area, introduction of new families into the area, a boost of expenditure in building, and services.
Ludgate Hub illustrates how a concerted action supported by a coworking space might pave a set of new options to address the challenge related to the economical desertification of many rural zones in Europe and beyond.
We interviewed Gráinne Dwyer, CEO of Ludgate Hub, who told us more about the initiative.
Hello. Can you tell us how did the Ludgate Hub project started?
The initiative has been developed by a steering group consisting of a group of local entrepreneurs, digital ambassadors and business owners of local enterprises. The board felt it was important that the initiative came from the ‘bottom up’ and came from the community as it was a more sustainable method of town development. There was also a general feeling of neglect of the town by local authorities and national Government.
Picture: Emma Jervis Photography
The board of eleven members includes representatives from major organizations, such as RTÉ, the national broadcaster, Google, AIB bank, Vodafone, a.o.
Reasons why the group has become involved is firstly to create opportunities for the younger generations of the area and give them an option to live and work in the area when they are older. They aim to stem the tide of youth emigration and provide meaningful sustainable opportunities for the town in terms of connectivity, investment and jobs.
After the board was formulated, the next step was to identify buildings suitable to develop a digital hub. Corporate sponsors were sought to further support the development of the hub and to contribute towards the operational costs.
To help the board of 11 and the management team of two, the group found members of the public to help with the project through voluntary ambassador roles. The board recruited individuals interested in education, retail, agriculture and other key sectors of the project to lead sector specific projects.
Picture: Emma Jervis Photography
It has to come from the bottom up
What were the initial purposes of the project?
The initial purpose of the project was to facilitate jobs and stimulate the local economy through a four pillar approach :
1 – The Ludgate Hub
Developing the Ludgate Hub was key, the hub is a 10.000 m2 state of the art coworking space with a 1GB connection.
The building was donated by a local businessman John Field and was once a cinema and then a bakery in the middle of the town. The hub has meeting rooms, training space and state of the art video conferencing facilities, & has attracted international start-ups from LA, Chicago, London, South Africa, Spain and world wide. The hub is now a beacon of innovation and has already started to encourage fringe enterprises and collaborative projects as a spin off.
Picture: Emma Jervis Photography
Companies like the BBC, National Geographic, Google, Facebook and Reuters have all used our hub in the last six months.
The long term vision is to make Skibbereen a hotspot for technology start-ups and multinationals to locate and prosper at a global level enhanced by the 1GB connection.
The long term objective to create 500 direct jobs and 1000 indirect jobs via a sustainable digital economy for Skibbereen and the wider West Cork area.
Visions like these are unheard of in rural Ireland – but now connectivity is making the impossible, possible. We provide, mentoring and business advisory in the hub, we can also offer virtual mentoring and advice via video link.
2 – Facilitate Digital Literacy
We knew we needed to reach all levels of our community – young and old. We wanted to create an inclusive society – digital for all a connected community.
A key pillar to our initiative was to make sure the community knew about our 1GB connection, but more importantly that they knew how to use it.
We rolled out iPad and tablet training classes, which enabled all members of our community to email, shop online, bank online and video call with their relatives worldwide. This combatted rural isolation and empowered our community.
We rolled out coding classes in our local secondary school enabling students aged 16-17 to learn how to code, and how to develop websites. We opened our doors to the local Coder Dojo group which train young people how to use programmes like Scratch, Minecraft and learn HTML. We have kids from age 6- 16 and their numbers have doubled since moving to the Ludgate Hub.
3. Create eStreet : encourage retailers to trade globally
Ireland’s first initiative to encourage traditional retailers to trade globally.
The third task was to economically enable our community, we developed Ireland’s first digital Main Street www.estreet.ie. eStreet is a collaborative, eCommerce model it is set to become Ireland’s first fully, inclusive eCommerce community portal.
The platform gained national and EU recognition for its solution to help combat rural disadvantage and economic decline; via a multi-pronged digital strategy.
eStreet is paving the digital path for other towns and areas to follow and shows rural towns how to help themselves to a better future. Eleven of Skibbereen’s retailers are pioneering this project to increase their online visibility, sales and open up to new markets.
4. Re- Brand rural Ireland
We created Ireland’s first National Digital Week a digital conference set in rural Skibbereen. The hugely successful event attracted 1,600 attendees to West Cork and hosted over 80 international and National speakers.
The vision for the event was to showcase that rural Ireland is ready to embrace technology and it certainly worked, Skibbereen is now considered the Digital Capital of Ireland.
What are the roles respectively played by Vodafone, Google, the Cork County Council, AIB, and all the others involved ?
All of our sponsors support us through corporate donations or free services, services include free legal support, or accountancy services.
Picture: Emma Jervis Photography
Their motivations stem from believing in the regeneration of rural Ireland and the importance our rural areas have on our regions, our cities are heavily reliant on the success of the rural hinterlands.
All companies that have supported us have done so as a leap of faith to back a very ambitious project, their commitment to the Ludgate Initiate reinforces their own ambitious targets and support for SMEs nationally.
We believe the hub is sustainable as the community is heavily invested in the project, both the community and board are safeguards of its future success.
Since our inception in 2015 we were declared Ireland’s first rural digital hub – a case study which has inspired 22 other towns and villages to develop their own community backed enterprise initiatives. As 95% of our projects are privately funded through donations or corporate sponsorship we have a strong track record in raising capital to support the project.
The factors that ensures its success is to curate the Ludgate Community, by ensuring the needs of the community are met, that we can offer the same services as urban areas to grant equal opportunities for rural start-ups as those of their urban counterparts.
It is essential that we have a continuous stream of seed fund capital to further encourage start ups to relocate here, it is also essential that we maintain a stream of mentors to encourage and support start-ups in the Ludgate Hub.
Is the coworking space open to anyone?
The coworking space is open especially for ‘digitally enabled businesses’, we do not take in call centre staff or manufacturing companies. We aim to attract companies which will use or bandwidth but are complementary to each other, e.g.. we will not take in ten website developers as it will lead to unsustainable competition.
Our main tenants include, web designers, app developers, graphic designers, animators, online services, online tourism providers, online education platform providers and services which are traded online.
How about the results and impact of the Lugdate Hub project so far ?
The main results of the Ludgate hub include the formulation of a digital strategy for a rural town, the main benefits include, the creation of new jobs for the area, introduction of new families into the area, a boost of expenditure in building, and services.
In total the hub has engaged with:
4 University Collaborations
250+ Active Members of the hub a month
25 Co-Working Companies
Supported 15 Community Groups
Serving West Cork Population of 80,000+ (West Cork)
attracted 1600 Attendees to National Digital Week every year
Attracted 400 Pledges of support from National & International Companies
Some other benefits are :
We have delivered coding classes to 25 students per year
We have delivered digital innovation classes to 15 students per year
We have taken on over 40 secondary school students per year for training and work experience
We have delivered iPad training for 45 people in 2016 aim to deliver to 120 people in 2017
We have enabled 11 rural retailers to trade online through our eStreet platform.
We have employed over 11 people throughout the year
Spent over 1.8 million euro on local services & trades since 2015.
Have a seed fund of €500,000 euro, donated by private individuals attracting companies to Skibbereen – including the funding of four start up companies.
We have supported the ‘coder dojo’ club of 65 kids who learn coding, minecraft and web development.
We have supported over 2,800 bed nights in the local area due to Ludgate events and operations.
We have attracted over 15 new Ludgate members to permanently move to West Cork with their families
What are the main challenges you had to face rolling out the project ?
Our greatest challenges include local services, not meeting the needs of tech start-ups (eg. local solicitors with little start up experience). However all of our local service providers have retrained or provided new specialists to meet the needs of our tech start ups.
Picture: Emma Jervis Photography
Also mention the lack of Government funding. The largest challenge with regard to the setting up of the Ludgate Hub is the lack of supports for capital funding. e.g.. funding to support the capital refurbishment of a building, or to assist with the internal reconfiguration of a building.
In terms of marketing, due to our large marketing presence, we have been inundated with requests for tours of the hub. As our human resource hours are tight, tours can take up too much time of our working day and hence we have reduced access to the hub and declined tours due to lack of resources.
Ultimately, not having a blueprint to work from, we did not engage in a feasibility study as we have very little state data on who lives in the area and what sector they are in. Census records do not depict adequate information for rural areas to demand a feasibility study of a project of our size.
Why is the 1GB bandwidth capacity such an important element in the whole storyline ?
Picture: Emma Jervis Photography
We started this project 18 months ago, & realising a vision for rural Ireland as a ‘Gigabit Society’ was not an easy task – but we engaged with the community early on, we held information evenings, town hall meetings and organised inclusive workshops so the community – and the community alone would shape this project.
We looked internationally and saw what was achieved in rural Kansas, the Google Kansas project landed a 1GB connection and within two years over 121 new companies were formed – could this be achieved in rural Skibbereen? With the 1GB connection, it will give the young people of Skibbereen the opportunity to create the next Google or Facebook.
The board pushed to get a 1GB connection. SIRO a joint venture between ESB and Vodafone heard our story and came on board as a partner and selected Skibbereen as a demo town for their fiber optic 1GB roll out. Skibbereen became the first 1GB rural town in Ireland.
I think in summary our visionary 1GB connection – which does not create an environment which places rural Skibbereen on-par with urban centers, but excels them further was one of the most successful aspects.
We have companies moving from the US, Spain, and London to Skibbereen which is something conceived as impossible in the past, however with our 1GB connection now everything is possible.
Could coworking spaces play a key role revitalizing rural areas bringing back skilled well-paid job?
I think coworking spaces are the future for rural areas as it facilitates communities to get access to research, access to meeting spaces and networks, ideas, funding, and mentorship.
Communities that feel confident, inclusive, organised, and those that ultimately feel influential are those that are most likely to succeed.
Coworking spaces are the future for rural areas.
Looking ahead 30MBs is not enough for rural areas a 1GB – 10GB vision is needed. Key opportunities lie in the future of mobile workers as by 2020 80% of large corporations will offer agile working. We need to give young people the opportunity to help shape their home communities.
We need to support coworking spaces, give opportunities for smaller businesses to become digitally enabled and give an opportunity for the incubation of companies in rural areas. We need communities inextricably linked to the development of digital hubs – diversifying all local rural sectors of their local economies.
Picture: Emma Jervis Photography
The core strengths of our project is a strong organising board, access to capital and community support. Communities who want to develop their own projects need to spend adequate time planning and finding out what will work with their own local strengths.
Every community needs to find their niche and USP. Communities need to ask themselves what will attract people from urban areas to move to rural areas, they need to package those offerings and market it.
Communities also need to look internationally for examples of best practice or successful case studies eg.
Google Kansas is an example of a 1GB connection which transformed the region, attracting 121 new companies from 2012-2014 and spurred on over €3 million worth of investment in projects across many sectors.
The core strengths of our project is a strong organising board, access to capital and community support
Ludgate Seed Capital Funds is the startup program you are running. Who is supporting it?
We run an open call for start-ups to relocate to Skibbereen since November 2015, the program is very attractive for start-ups as it not only provides seed capital but a wealth of world-class mentorship, success is only a part of a roadmap for seed companies which locate in the Ludgate hub.
All companies that locate here have access to our sponsor supports including support from AIB, Ronan Daly Jermyn, Moore Nathans and KPMG.
How different are rural digital businesses when compared with their “urban” peers? Are their clients rural only?
No we believe there is no real difference, if anything rural businesses are becoming more savvy as they do not have the luxury of a natural domestic market, rural businesses believe opportunities are now global.
Rural businesses believe opportunities are now global.
What can the Ludgate experience teach other rural communities in Europe who experience economic desertification?
Source : Flickr
The Ludgate Hub was only made possible due to many conditions :
1. Broadband connection
Broadband was the upmost important factor to the success of the project. Our Siro/ Vodafone 1Gb connection, not only put us on par with urban areas but excelled our rural town further than urban areas.
The combination of the 1Gb connection in the town now meant that we had the same broadband speeds as Singapore which was a pull factor for digitally enabled businesses which needed this high-level connectivity (eg. web developers, designers, fin tech, online services, video production). The high-speed connection has attracted high-value jobs which have a greater impact on the local economy than entry level/graduate jobs like (call center services or customer support).
The combination of the 1Gb connection in the town now meant that we had the same broadband speeds as Singapore which was a pull factor for digitally enabled businesses
2. Skibbereen’s geographical position.
Skibbereen is located 100kms from its nearest large urban center (Cork City) making it an undesirable location for an effective commuter town – this creates opportunities and challenges for the town. But This creates a busy town atmosphere with cafes, restaurants, and shops full throughout the day. The town is also located 2kms from the coastline in the South West of Ireland along the Wild Atlantic Way. The area is known best for tourism, outdoor activities, and artisan food.
So, the area acts as an ‘alternative’ option for people to work from. The town has a number of primary schools (ages 4-12) and secondary schools (ages 12-18) with the capacity to take on new students at all times. This is in stark contrast to urban schools which often have two-year waiting lists or suffer from over crowding.
The town has a number of primary schools (ages 4-12) and secondary schools (ages 12-18) with the capacity to take on new students at all times. This is in stark contrast to urban schools which often have two-year waiting lists
The availability of education for young families is a very attractive offer for those working in Dublin city and acts as a pull factor to the area.
Projects like Ludgate has attracted high-level workers away from Dublin, these workers are often high value to a company and the company will allow remote working to retain their staff. Rural digital hubs like Ludgate can act as an effective counter-balancing measure to the congestion seen in our capital city. 3. Community Support
We engaged early on with the local citizens and community by hosting ‘town hall’ style meetings. Our first meetings kicked off inviting various stakeholders in a range of sectors to attend. Stakeholders included; local business and service providers, retailers, teachers, farmers, students and local authority officials.
Picture: Emma Jervis Photography
Our community meetings were transparent and informative which led to trust building in the community, the style of the meetings was inclusive and we asked attendees to help shape the early plan for the project. By keeping the community informed we gained significant support from the beginning as they felt the project was theirs from the start.
The board of 11 members who created the project all work on a pro-bono basis, their expertise and international network was a crucial part of the success of the project. Our core sponsors AIB have been instrumental to the success of the project, and have truly shaped the direction of where we are going into the future.
Packaging and marketing of the town: We needed to get the town to sell ‘itself’, so we worked with the local chamber of commerce to help them to do up their website. We encouraged banks and service providers (accountants, solicitors etc) to make their services “start up” friendly, and to make their services seamless for young people to access who are returning to the area from international locations.