Techspace opens its third East London co-working space, and it’s more than just the sum of many desks and a few coffee machines.I visit an “inspirational” place near Silicon Roundabout.
I work from home, so I know what it’s like to be cut off from people, at least in a physical sense. It doesn’t matter so much for me because my work involves writing and researching and occasionally speaking to people by landline or mobile phone. Social media and email and the Internet keep me fully up-to-date, and they serve me well in my job.
Could I do as well if I were launching a business from home, or in an office in my village? Rents would be low, and, with our new improved high-speed broadband, I and my co-workers could keep in touch with the world through FaceTime and Skype. But, I fear, we would still feel isolated.
People still seem to need the buzz, the mutual battery-charging, even the inspiration that comes with meeting other like-minded people, in different lines of work, at least some of the time. Even having small businesses spread out in inexpensive buildings on a former World War II aerodrome isn’t enough, in my opinion. I know such an example well, and on a drab November afternoon it is as lonely, and isolating, a place as you could find to work. It’s not so bad if you have a big order book, and lots of outstanding projects, but, if you are constantly having to make things happen in your start-up, the isolation could be demotivating.
So when I first visited Techspace in East London, in Bath St, quite close to Old Street Roundabout, in the area generally known as Silicon Roundabout, I felt this expression of the the co-working concept was more than just the sum of many desks and a few coffee machines. There was something mutually supportive about being close to other small start-up businesses, at roughly the same stage of their development. Techspace’s description of itself as an “inspirational co-working space” sounds accurate.
In September this year (2014) the company opened its third Techspace hub (the second one is at Underwood St) at the bottom end of Great Eastern St, in Shoreditch. This 20% extra office space makes Techspace one of East London’s largest co-working facilities. Based there are 200 coworkers from around 50 technology companies.
Techspace London was founded in 2011. It provides space for innovative start-ups in the fields of technology, medical technology and the digital, consumer and mobile sectors. It offers flexible leasing arrangements and short notice periods. Its website states: “Techspace offers to meet the needs of technology companies who need offices with flexible, short term leases, allowing them to grow and expand quickly.”
The company has grown through the increased interest in co-working from technology-focused startups, as the economy has recovered over the past three years. The formula is simple. For £350 a month, businesses get the use of open-plan and private offices, a fast internet connection, meeting and events rooms, service providers and the opportunity to network. It’s open to companies with between 1 and 100 employees.
Alex Rabarts, co-founder of Techspace London, said: “Co-working has experienced huge growth recently. Technology startups need a plug and play office solution, with the support and infrastructure they need to grow. The facilities and community at Techspace allow startups to focus on developing their businesses and product, without the distractions of managing a workplace.”
These are all independent, free-standing companies, and strictly speaking a fledgeling business could still ignore everybody else in the building. However it makes eminent sense for them to see what their immediate neighbour has to offer if they need some professional service, such as marketing, or promotion or legal support.
One tenant summed up what co-working means to it. “At OBH we believe in sharing stories, crazy ideas, learning and collaborating. Our recent move to the heart of the Silicon Roundabout and to a co-working tech start-up space Techspace has led us to meet and learn from many fantastic start-ups operating in a vast number of industries.”
There are other bonuses. The ping-pong tables, for example. Techspace’s website describes table tennis as an “obsession”. Staff from most companies take to the tables. Games are not taken lightly. Then there are the social gatherings, such as the recent Techspace ladies’ night.
The new space at Shoreditch has another, as yet undeveloped, asset – a rooftop space. This is quite a selling point in premises close to central London. It could be the perfect setting for after-work sundowners, once they get the safety rail in place.
Then there’s the small (correction, big) matter of coffee. It’s free in the offices, and they serve a fine cup. But there are many interesting independent coffee houses only a short walk away. It would make good sense to build them into any daily routine, as well as using them as places to meet clients, and, perhaps, those white knight investors. Are these the “offsite company retreat options” Techspace’s website offers?
There is plenty of interesting eating around, too. I noted some inventive East End fare at one of the restaurants recommended in a tweet: the menu included Smoked Eel Broth & Turnips, Cod Tongue & Seaweed Mayonnaise, and Mallard, Turnip & Kale.
Tachspace businesses are already making their mark. One of the most successful of the public-facing companies spawned there is property website Plentific, who maintain their base there despite making an impressive online debut earlier this year.
Then there is Parim, the Workforce Management Software company. You can see them on the front cover of Forbes Estonia (October 2014). Another firm, healthcare start-up Outcomes Based Healthcare (OBH), works with healthcare providers, commissioners and patients “who wish to define outcomes which matter to people, and organise processes of care around clearly defined outcomes.”
OBH looks for the most suitable care provider to get the best outcome, based on the data for numerous outcomes, including variations in surgical approaches and surgeon experience.
Apps for Good wants to transform the way technology is taught in schools; to equip students to research, design and make digital products and take them to market. “Our goal is to produce more able, self-confident, collaborative young people. Most children are consumers of technology; we want them to become makers, using technology.”
Realtime Games is creating “a unique type of interactive football game [that] bridges the gap between football fans and their favourite teams and players.”
ChristieHQ is a film and television production company making documentaries and event films “that move the heart and mind”, and “jaw dropping short-form for some of the world’s biggest brands.”
Incredibly is a boutique digital marketing agency. It creates “incredibly effective online strategies that get people talking about your brand.”
LabWerk is an Amsterdam based start-up with an office at Techspace. It has designed an app which uses iBeacon technology, to enable businesses to communicate with their customers when they are on the premises, in real time. The app is suitable for locations such as museums, festivals, amusement parks and airports. When a visitor walks within a beacon’s range a notification is triggered on their smart phone or tablet, with information on the painting or exhibit they re are standing in front of.
Start-up Direct is the “direct delivery partner” of the Start-up Loans Scheme. Another company is UP Investments, a “one stop shop for crowdfunding, making crowdfunding simpler and more enjoyable.”
One of the latest start-ups to take office space in Shoreditch is Aisle 8. Its aim is “to combine traditional PR with digital marketing and SEO expertise.” Founding partner Lauren Stevenson comes from Harrods, where she was head of PR and comms. She commented: “We bridge the gap between digital marketing and traditional PR.” Her co-founder is Virginia Norris, previously head of global PR at Whistles.
The agency starts life with some significant clients, including new luxury e-commerce site VeryExclusive.co.uk, luxury e-tailer STYLEBOP.com, Samuel L Jackson’s charity One for the Boys and Covetique.com.