Co-working hubs are entrepreneurs’ future garages
The birth stories of some of our most iconic companies have become business archive legends, such as how Apple was formed in the garage of Steve Job’s father and how Facebook was formed in Mark Zuckerberg’s university dormitory. But a new birth place is creating some of our newest marvels, such as Instagram and Uber, and is showing itself to be a key component of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. What unites these two shining stars is that they started out of co-working spaces, a relatively new environment where entrepreneurs share a workspace with other entrepreneurs and freelancers to benefit from sharing ideas, networking and from swapping skills.
As any entrepreneur will vouch, starting a new company is much like walking in the dark; the next step is always uncertain. One of the biggest benefits of co-working environments is that it allows entrepreneurs to share knowledge, share experiences and help each other by being able to offer alternative skill sets that can fill the competency gaps of the entrepreneur. It essentially changes the dynamic that you are working alone to set up your business and provides more team support. The benefits to innovation and idea creation are so clear that even larger companies are encouraging their employees to work from co-working environments, to interact with entrepreneurs and adapt to their mindset.
Unsurprisingly, co-working hubs are now a familiar member of the family in start-up epicentres but they are still relatively new concepts, first seen in Berlin in 1995 and not in San Francisco until 2006. Jones Lang LaSalle predicts that by 2018 more than 1 million people will be using co-working environments around the world.
So how are we adapting to this movement in the UAE? Well at first glance the adoption is quite impressive. Fuelled by the regulatory requirement that each business licence is required to have a unique physical office presence, the demand for small office units and shared working environments has been strong for many years.
The Gulf Business Centre, set up in 1998, was the first co-working environment in the UAE and a relatively early one in the lifespan of this concept.
Hasan Wehbi is the vice president of real estate at UTS, which has created several shared working spaces across the UAE. He says there is much more room for development of these spaces. “Although there are more than 80 co-working centres between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, most of these focus on real estate space with only basic incorporation services. Where we see the opportunity is to provide services to help run the company and allow entrepreneurs access to facilities and services that often they don’t have access to but larger companies do. Companies need concierge services, PRO services, the opportunity to participate in group plans for financial services and monthly educational events where inspirational speakers share their knowledge with our members.”
A deeper look into co-working hubs in the UAE shows that many operate more like business centres that allow units to be shared and therefore offering entrepreneurs the benefit of a low office costs. There is clearly a gap between the UAE model and what we see in San Francisco, Singapore and London, where the hubs can boast many business successes. At one such hub in Singapore that I visited, I immediately noticed that the level of noise was much higher. People were really interacting, working together, sharing ideas and innovating. The culture was one of collaborating with other people, rather than just sharing office space for economic reasons.
For the UAE to be able to boast of the next success story, like an Instagram, the development of these co-working hubs will need to come to maturity and to do that a larger focus on the community aspect is needed to make these centres a vital connection point for entrepreneurs, not simply just a cool place to work.
As Henry Ford once said: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
Paris Norriss is an entrepreneur and partner in Coba Education, which provides educators to schools and institutes
Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter
Updated: January 5, 2017 04:00 AM