Co-working spaces: working with like-minded businesses is a real boost for many entrepreneurs

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The opportunity to collaborate with fellow entrepreneurs isn’t the only advantage of a shared office space. You also get to scale up without changing buildings, meaning you can concentrate on the work at hand.

Scaling a startup into a bigger business is hugely exciting for founders and their teams, and getting to that next level can depend on having the right ecosystem of support, contacts, community, and the right working environment.

Firms based in co-working spaces or shared offices, for example, benefit on several fronts. The fact that maintaining the space is someone else’s responsibility frees up time for entrepreneurs to focus on growing their business. They can also access breakout spaces if they need headspace to think through an idea.

However, the two key benefits these types of working spaces offer SMEs looking to scale up are flexibility and the chance to make valuable contacts, says Carl Reader, business advisor and author of The Startup Coach.

“As your business grows it’s easier to move to a bigger office space within the same building, without the logistical issues that arise when you change your physical address and phone number,” he says. “You could find your next door neighbour is the ideal person to help with the recruitment of your next team member, while the people you meet at the coffee machines may well be your next suppliers, customers, or even joint-venture partners.”

Eagle Labs, part of Barclays UK Ventures, are dedicated co-working office and event spaces where businesses can work, attend technical events and participate in industry-focused transformation programmes. The flexible working environment supports the scale-up process, and promotes collaborative innovation across the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“The aim is to cultivate a community of like-minded entrepreneurs who can benefit from access to a collaborative environment and peer networks,” says CEO of Barclays UK Ventures, Ben Davey. “Indeed, 90% of our residents told Eagle Labs they felt part of a community, and 86% said that they’d received help from others while working there. Being surrounded by like-minded businesses and having access to peer networks is a real factor for many entrepreneurs.”

Location has been crucial to the progress of Wattl, a video platform startup launched in 2016. A year ago the company joined Mi-Idea, a post-accelerator programme run  by Manchester Science Partnerships and Cisco, which included two years of free office space in the Bright Building at Manchester Science Park. The move is already paying dividends for the company’s growth prospects, says its co-founder Emma Ryan.

“We’re a tech startup and we are bootstrapping, so this is much more than office space, it is also a huge source of support,” she says. “We’ve had opportunities to do pitching practice, and attend pitching competitions. Until now, all our focus has been on developing the platform’s technology, but we are at the point of needing investors, and there are events organised where we get to meet them. This is the ideal environment and ecosystem for our stage of growth.”

Opportunities  to meet other tech startups, all running different types of business, but facing the same issues and challenges, have also proved invaluable. “There is a sense of having support from those around you, and that you’re not on your own doing something that is really hard,” adds Ryan.

Established in 2013, cybersecurity business Altinet has also benefited from its location in Platform in central Leeds. Co-founder Henry Doyle says: “We are quite a young workforce, 20-strong and growing. This building, with its central location and amazing amenities, is allowing us to attract talent from the city and beyond.”

Altinet is housed in its own office on the fifth floor, but its staff enjoy close contact with those of the 50 or so other companies based in Platform, making use of the mezzanine floor, a communal space complete with sofas, pods and coffee machines. They also take part in the many events organised by Bruntwood, from sports to breakfast clubs.

Doyle says: “There’s a real sense of community, comprising of almost every service provider you can think of; law firms, accountants, web designers, marketing agencies, and finance companies, all under one roof. It’s good to know that we also have space to grow – our office has room for another 20 people – so we don’t have to think about relocating as we move through this next crucial phase of growth.”

Non-independent content produced as part of a commercial deal with Guardian Labs.

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