If you are a recent graduate-entrepreneur in Sao Paulo or Santiago, where do you camp to develop your new business or company? Coworking spaces are sprouting up everywhere. This trend started in the last decade in the San Francisco Bay Area and is being replicated throughout the world, in every city from Montreal and Santiago to New York and Shanghai.
What is Coworking? I think of it as the next evolutionary step up from a coffee shop environment, but transformed into a shared office space, where occupants work for different organizations or firms. Most if not all of the organizations are diverse early stage ventures independent from one other. However, they are brought together by the common desire to form a community in an open floor environment.
Coworking spaces are often renovated buildings or reconverted warehouses, relics of the “old economy” transformed into hip spaces usually attracting the 20-to-30-year-old demographic. Typically space is rented by the seat and commitments are for a few months or even a month at a time. Often, some shared services are offered (beyond coffee, water or internet access) for an extra cost: conference room utilization, cafeteria/food services, secretarial services, etc. Also, they host a variety of services offered by third parties such as legal counseling, accounting, executives-in-residency, angel/VC coaching and access, etc. Sometimes, these spaces open up to public, serving as a venue for seminars, panels, start-up weekends, etc., providing networking opportunities for everyone.
Why is the new generation of young entrepreneurs gravitating toward these emerging coworking spaces? Clearly they could choose to incubate their young firms rent-free in their bedrooms or in their parents’ garages. The main reason coworking spaces have become popular over the last 5 years is a desire to become part of a community of like-minded individuals. These spaces provide a meeting place for them to meet, exchange favors, collaborate, compete and socialize.
Understanding the motivations of these young entrepreneurs to gravitate to these new working spaces allows us new insights into the innovation and entrepreneurial movement that’s taking place in our midst.
Close contact with students here in the Bay Area and throughout the world has allowed me to recognize some key attributes of the 20-to-30-year-old innovator-entrepreneurs (drop-outs included) that set them apart from older generations. My “crystal ball” identifies the following prevailing trends in this age group:
- Innovation and entrepreneurship aren’t merely interests for them––they’re integral parts of who they are.
- Creation of social/economic value is KING! (it’s not just about $$$).
- They are globally connected as peers (watch as the old hierarchies fade away).
- Traditional life phases no longer occur sequentially––that is, finish college, find a job, get married, have children, move to a bigger home, etc.
- Most have lost faith and patience with the promises of established institutions (education, government, church, etc.).
- Social networks enable them to connect globally with “slices of genius,” around the world.
- High consumption aspirations enroll them quickly into the market economy.
- Everyone can partner up with everyone else everywhere 24/7!
- Entrepreneurial relationships are no longer North-South. While that model still retains its relevance, a new South-South relationship paradigm is gaining traction.
- They’re deeply empowered to change the “way of things”––e.g., the Arab Spring.
Disturbing as some of these changes might be the older generations, including mine, I would rather focus on the positive aspects of these transformations to create sustainable social and economic opportunities for the soon to be 9B inhabitants of our planet.
This global near-born and digital generation will gravitate to these new spaces as they seek to form new communities that reinforce their shared values while they can still work independently. They are interested in the synergy that arises spontaneously when working with talented people under the same roof, as well as the casual conversations and the sharing of networks and resources.
Coworking is more about a community and less about a physical space, and hence it’s important to sustain that community’s vitality with a gradual integration of new participants as some of its members exit the space as a result of success (they have grown too big) or failure (unsuccessful ventures). However, in either case, I have seen that these exiting members’ linkages with their other coworking space members remain strong and vital over time, constantly feeding the development of the ecosystem.
We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us. –– Sir Winston Churchill
Until my next posting – Carlos B.