By: Elinor Cohen, Engagement Strategist (who gets to visit, mentor at and work in many co-working spaces around the world).
Co-working and co-working spaces is all the hype lately.
In fact, it sometimes feels like the entire start-up and entrepreneurship ecosystem is really about real-estate and not much else. People with funds who can buy or rent a building, decorate it and charge per work station suddenly become “mentors” and “gurus” of entrepreneurs, they are perceived as the driving force of this bubble (and yes, it is a bubble and we should all be careful).
That said, the idea of co-working does have some merits. I like to distinct between 2 types of co-working spaces or settings:
1. The incubator/accelerator co-working space
This is usually a space that only entrepreneurs who “belong” to that accelerator can use. Many incubators and accelerators offer co-working spaces in addition to private offices and meeting rooms, in order to encourage creativity, sharing and collaboration. They also use these spaces for meet-ups, hackathons and other events.
The Pros for an incubator co-working space:
- You get to meet entrepreneurs who have something in common with you. This could be the professional focus, the segment/vertical or even just the mere fact you are all supported by the same organization.
- You usually get more services than just a workstation. These can include: accounting, legal advice, mentoring, marketing, office services.
- You are very likely to be funded / invested in by the accelerator (this is, after all, the true meaning of “exclusive” access).
The Cons for an incubator co-working space:
- You are committed and bound to the accelerator.
- You have to actually get accepted into the accelerator.
- You have many people meddling in your venture (often with great advice but sometimes not).
2. The “Everyone (who can afford it) is welcome” co-working space
This is the type of communal workspace that you can usually find in the city centers. They are also called “Hubs” and are often not associated with specific investment organizations or mentoring bodies. These are true and pure “real-estate” centers, renting out office spaces or workstations to anyone who can afford them. Just like with real-estate, we can now find “chains” of those communal workspaces globally and locally.
The Pros for a communal work space:
- Anyone can get in — all you have to do is pay
- You often don’t have to pay a lot or commit to a minimal period of time.
- You get to meet many people and tap into the “ecosystem” (I love that buzz word, don’t you?)
- You can have access to meetings rooms (for a fee) and sometimes to postal services (virtual “office” address) allowing your venture to appear more mature than it really is.
The Cons for such a communal work space:
- Anyone can get in — you will often meet people who just like to hang out with others, not necessarily people who can contribute anything to you
- Noise — and I don’t mean noise you can hear. I mean the noise in your mind. These spaces foster an atmosphere of “collaboration”, which can be great….until that moment everyone around you thinks they know better than you and start giving advice, criticism or suggestions.
- You will pay for your stay but not get funded in return.
- You may get access to the space’s events but without the focus (professional and business) that an accelerator has, you might find most events not relevant to you. There is only so many times you can go “network” with the same people over and over and over again.
The dark side of co-working spaces
So there is a dark side to co-working spaces. It’s called the “keeping up appearances” effect, or in other words — people who think they’re entrepreneurs but they’re not, or spaces that pretend to be innovation drivers and the “ecosystem” leaders, but they’re not.
I have met many entrepreneurs around the world who work in different spaces and settings. Usually the ones who are part of an accelerator that has a specific focus and/or have access to their own private space in addition to the communal spaces, are more successful than the ones who just rent a desk somewhere and then rent another desk elsewhere because it’s cheaper etc. The main difference is that the ones who belong to a specific framework enjoy funding and mentoring and the company of their real peers, whereas the others are just drifters. When you drift between spaces, your mind drifts too.
Bottom line, I guess, is that if you are the type of person who cannot focus alone and at home, you may want to rent a workstation in a hub. It’s better than café and bar hopping for sure. But if you really want to focus on your start-up, do your best to find the most suitable accelerator for you and do everything to get in there! The space alone does not promote innovation — the mentoring, support (financial too) and the company of real peers do.
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