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How collaborative workspaces cultivate entrepreneurship

Nov 02 2015 15:59
Glenda Williams

The nature of how we work has changed. There are fewer jobs and complex social problems requiring a different take on the working environment. One such outlook is co-working spaces, where individuals with a cross section of skills as well as various stakeholders are able to work together in one space. It is these collaborative landscapes that are helping to jump-start budding entrepreneurs and small business. 

Let’s be frank, job security is not what it once was. Today an increasing number of people globally are battling an ever-diminishing job market. Those that are permanently employed make up less than 25% of the world’s labour force, reports the International Labour Organization.

With the world’s unemployed no longer able to rely on corporates or government to deliver jobs, the burden of job creation has fallen on entrepreneurs and small business. 

But for ‘solopreneurs’ and aspirant start-ups, working solo can be a very lonely place. Nor is it particularly stimulating. And it is often very difficult to present professionalism effectively, especially if working from home or out of a coffee bar. But to project a modicum of this they face the hurdle of pricey office rents and associated costs. It’s these dilemmas that OPEN is tackling, changing the nature of the start-up ecosystem with its dynamic collaborative workspaces.

Departing from the classically serviced office suite environment, OPEN founders Paul Keursten, Mark Seftel and Westleigh Wilkinson have created co-working spaces that are more than just workspaces. They are places where individuals and companies, big and small, come together to work, learn, innovate and socialise. 

First-generation co-working spaces are often very basic. Not so with OPEN. A fusion of coffee bar, hotel lounge, business club and office, its designs include a variety of work settings, new technologies such as optical fibre, acoustic and lighting technology and even specially designed furniture.

Its first collaborative workspace in Maboneng, Johannesburg, which opened in 2012, is the antithesis of basic. And it’s a hip and trendy destination to boot.

While OPEN’s members are an assortment of individuals and organisations, there is a definite bias towards SMEs and start-ups.

Seftel tells Finweek that around 75% of its members are self-employed. Aside from a stimulating environment and wallet-friendly costs, one of the attractions of these co-working spaces is that there is no pecking order.

This, together with OPEN’s platform of collaboration and innovation, is not only beneficial to entrepreneurs who get to rub shoulders with people they might otherwise not have met; it is as important for corporates and academia – many of whom have satellite offices in OPEN − as a means of discovering and working with new talent.

“People get to network in a very natural and non-contrived way, the best type of networking,” says Seftel. 

OPEN has not ring-fenced itself into one particular type of space; it offers hot desks, lab desks (same desks used every day), dedicated offices or studios as well as meeting rooms and event space.

And OPEN’s members can migrate or move back and forth from one space to another depending on their requirements. They can rent for a day, a week, a month or a year or more.

Even catering to the night owl or student, OPEN spaces are accessible for 18 hours up to 10pm. Individual hot desk rates range from R1 500 per month and includes super-fast internet, but drop-in rates are also available.

This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the 18 June 2015 edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here

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