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Asia's Startups Need More From Their Co-Working Spaces

Most of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley started either in a garage or a shared office. For startups, however, spending money on expensive offices can be the death of the business. So from corporate serviced offices to cool co-working spaces, the startup community has seen a transformation of the workplace in the past five years. Many will point to the benefits of co-working, which include lower set up costs than setting up your own premises for business and the networking opportunities. Co-working does aim to help entrepreneurs connect to other entrepreneurs, but in many of the co-working spaces I have worked in across the world, most of my fellow entrepreneurs prefer being in their own office.
Whilst test driving We Work in San Francisco, I observed that rarely did founders speak to other founders and very little collaboration was actually carried out. Spaces in the open office setting, where collaboration is intended to take place, was often noisy, and most of the time, conversation veered towards social fodder rather than “networking.” An additional aim of a co-working space is to increase productivity for an entrepreneur, however these spaces typically host events in the evenings, which may mean an increased amount of activity around your desk whilst you try to work. So what should you as an entrepreneur look for in a working space?
An oversupply in the market
In Asia’s startup hubs, we are now seeing an oversupply of co-working spaces with many spaces having to adjust or remodel to match the new need of tenants. As co-working spaces have increased, the startups have not increased at the same pace. Asif Ghafoor, CEO of Spacious, a website that analyzes property transactions across Hong Kong and China, says “Co-working spaces provide an essential function for smaller companies/startups in the city. Having the flexibility to grow quickly without strings attached is an essential part of the growth strategy of any company. I do feel however there is enough supply in the market (in Hong Kong) for now so don’t think we’ll be seeing many players coming.”
Co-working and accelerating
Traditional co-working spaces are now being heavily assessed by entrepreneurs on the additional value they offer. As a founder who wants to grow a business, you should be asking “What else do I get with that?” Co-working is moving into two different fronts: accelerating and collaboration. Paperclip, a co-working space based in the Hong Kong neighborhood of Sheung Wan, now includes the Validator Accelerator program in conjunction with Global Sources, who run one of the world’s largest trade shows. The accelerator aims to help hardware startups access the large manufacturer base fromGlobal Sources. Ben Wong, Head of Global Sources Direct, states that, “We want to provide hardware startups access to a global buyer community that can materialize online and offline distribution. By leveraging our attendee base, we will be able to provide founders the ability to scale their businesses.”
Co-working and collaborating
Co-working spaces are now being replaced with collaborative spaces. Part co-work space, part meeting room, part event space and add a coffee bar, you have all the ingredients for a different approach. One of the most successful has been Mettā, which opened earlier this year in Central, Hong Kong, and has already expanded to Nairobi in Kenya with plans for new markets in 2017. The space has become an epicenter of activity for entrepreneurs with many of the top startup events located at the space. One of the founders of Mettā, Simon Squibb, who sold his first startup Fluid to PwC earlier this year, understands the entrepreneurial journey. “We believe in entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs and Mettā is a platform that helps entrepreneurs succeed. Rather than just a co-working space, we are building an entrepreneurs’ club uniting the right people with the right resources at the right time.” Metta’s success has seen other companies follow suit. Garage Collective, which is part of Garage Society in Hong Kong and Phuket, are now expanding into the “collaboration space” space by partnering with The Herbivores, an established restaurant.
In Melbourne, Queens Collective has transformed their co-working space into an educational space, with the birth of Collective Campus. Changing the model to an educational space offers entrepreneurs a selection of courses like ”Lean Startup” and “Web Development”. This model has lead to the creation of “Lemonade Stand,” a program that teaches children about modern business fundamentals.
The definition of “office” has changed over time, and is once again evolving to a point where a collaborative environment and its effectiveness for entrepreneurs is now in the spotlight.
James Giancotti ,  


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