Paul Keursten, founder of the OPEN coworking network based in South Africa recently explored the various benefits that come from connecting coworking spaces. His presentation, “Opportunities and benefits of connecting spaces across the continent”, given at the last Coworking Africa 2016 meetup, looks at the role of entrepreneurship, connectivity, and also the implementation of virtual platforms aimed to help better serve their members.
The goal of connecting coworking communities is to “contribute to meaningful solutions and development” by constructing a platform that will be a living network that is both supportive and sustainable, much like a coral reef. This connection is sparked from a need to find solutions found within the current workplace culture. Today’s workplace is becoming increasingly defined by innovation, which is transforming not only the way that we work but also how we understand property models. In regards to physical space, connecting coworking spaces doesn’t only have social benefits, but also many environmental ones. A smarter use of space can save on energy, resources and breathe new life into neighborhoods.
When you nurture innovation and take action, this enables individuals to create natural productive communities. As Paul noted in his presentation, an important part of this connection is breeding innovation by creating diverse environments, or “connecting worlds” that include everyone from entrepreneurs to policy makers, who will inspire one another. Paul’s presentation also strengthens the point that coworking communities where trust, sharing knowledge exchange are easily accessible, are drivers of change. Through creating space for change, there is more room for innovation and job creation.
Another important aspect of connected coworking communities is that they go beyond individual success. A connected professional ecosystem strives to be apolitical, as competition is taken out of the equation. This dynamic allows for there to be a level playing field for all types of professionals. An active and equal community can work together to find build solutions to problems as a team, such as exploring economic, social, cultural, geographical, and professional growth.
The final point of the presentation looked at the way in which connected coworking communities can also manifest themselves into virtual platforms. At OPEN, their virtual community allows members to have access to practical needs at affordable prices, such as room bookings, while also accessing a strong social network.
Kresten Buch was in need of an efficient office space that catered to startups and also offered a professional working environment. Yet, there didn’t seem to be any available workspace in his area that could meet his specific needs, so he decided to start his own, and that’s how Garage coworking was born.
Today, Garage is a growing network, with 3 established spaces in Cape Town, Nairobi and Lagos. Each space has it’s own identity, which in turn has created an environment ideal for creating unique partnerships both locally and internationally.
Garage’s first space, founded in partnership with Google for Entrepreneurs, opened in Cape Town This made the Cape Town location the first tech hub meets coworking space out of the network. Eventually Kresten took over, and the first location became the official platform for the 88MPH accelerator program from 2012 to 2014.
Located in Woodstock, the first Garage is a major part of a neighborhood that is now considered to be one of the more creative districts of Cape Town. An established cornerstone of the South African coworking community, the Cape Town Garage primarily supports tech, mobile and web based startups as well as entrepreneurs. Although they do not necessarily require tenants to be married to a particular profession, they do specialize in those working within the tech sector, and thus can offer relevant support.
Riding on their success in Cape Town, Garage expanded in 2012 and opened their second space in Nairobi. With 800sq meters of space, including meeting rooms, and hangout spaces, Nairobi Garage also offers all the professional amenities needed for growing businesses. As the space in Nairobi is larger than its sister spaces, there is also more room for bigger teams and SMEs. Their most recent space opened in Lagos in 2014, which is co-owned by L5Lab.
All three spaces meet the needs of their varied communities, yet they are united by the fact that they cater to the freelance and startup community, which is making major steps in the tech, mobile and web industries. While each area is unique, all spaces have shared a common set of obstacles.
Aside from the fact that professionals struggle to find affordable space to work, many SMEs in South Africa suffer from frequent power outages and a lack of a consistent and strong internet connection.
Garage Space manager, Dante Roets, stressed in his presentation at last year’s Coworking Africa conference that “coworking spaces have become the most viable homes for tech businesses across Africa”, due to their ability to overcome these obstacles. Through a partnership with WorkOnline, Garage Cape Town was able to stabilize their internet at a high bandwidth for a low cost.
In Lagos, the space found themselves having to pay extra attention to promotion, as coworking is relatively unknown in Nigeria. Yet, the hard work has paid off and there is now a growing demand and the space aims to become the largest coworking platform for entrepreneurs in Africa. After installing a generator to reduce the harmful effects of power cuts, coworking is minimizing the loss of work and simultaneously empowering workers.
It’s safe to say that professionals all throughout Africa face unstable internet connections and power outages, thus it is essential to start building an international network of spaces. The more spaces can collaborate, the easier it will be to overcome obstacles currently faced by the community. In addition to offering regional support, networks also have a better chance at securing international partnerships through supporting one another.
Just last week Africa had its very first Coworking Conference in Cape Town. Coworking operators and experts from around the world gathered in South Africa to bring know-how from the international coworking community and start an important conversation about the development of coworking in Africa.
In addition to a line-up of inspiring talks, from spaces like Mozambique’s Cowork Lab and Hub Dhaka from Bangladesh, we also came back with some facts and figures that can help the community understand the development of coworking in Africa.
Rapid Economic Growth
There are over 1 billion people in Africa, spread across 54 different countries, and around 70 percent of the population is under 25, which means there is a lot of potential for a rapid growth in industry. As the coworking movement is still carving out its role in the European business sector, it seems that Africa is not far behind.
As one of the world’s fastest growing economies, there are now over 100 million people active on social media and very much in tune with digital trends.
In 2013 Coworking in Africa was hardly known, with just 24 spaces on the map. Today is a different story, with over 100 spaces from Kenya to Cape Town, the global coworking community is becoming more dynamic with the inclusion of African coworking spaces.
South Africa Leading the Way
With 42 coworking spaces and 23 active tech hubs, South Africa is leading the way when it comes to the development of coworking. Currently, more than half of these spaces are based in Cape Town. Like coworking around the world, the majority of these started out small, but their the word is spreading, and big names like Google, Skype and StartupGrind are looking to lend the African community their support.
Addressing the Challenges
While knowledge about coworking steadily increases, the African coworking community is still very much aware of the various obstacles they must overcome, like the lack of quality infrastructure and the availability of a stable internet connection. According to a presentation given by Cape Town Garage, which also has locations in Nairobi and Lagos, many coworking spaces face the same challenge across the continent.
Some of the main issues are ensuring that prices are cost-effective for members, as well as the promotion of coworking.
While the alternative workspace has dramatically increased in popularity, it is still relatively unknown in countries like Nigeria. Thus education is still a priority. CTG explained how they attempt to address these issues faced by many spaces, they also mentioned that power-cuts are still a problem. But with the installation of a generator, the Garage group has found ways to prepare for this as not to compromise the member productivity.
The Future of Coworking in Africa
While there are always challenges, they certainly don’t cast a shadow on a bright future. Paul Keursten, co-founder of Open, an established shared workspace in Cape Town, highlighted in his presentation the richly diverse community in Africa that aims to overcome these obstacles.
Keursten highlighted how coworking spaces can become destinations for the African and international community, which will ultimately help bring local neighborhoods to life. With this idea, the African community is learning how to add value to their buildings, through revitalizing spaces, and enabling cross-pollination between educational institutions, property owners, accelerators and coworkers. A diverse community that is connected, will then be able to promote the concept of coworking on a broader scale, bringing benefits to each player through the value system of the sharing economy.
Other organizations, like TechStars see this growing interest in coworking spaces and accelerators as a ripe opportunity to introduce various wealth management systems, such as a comprehensive banking infrastructure, in a mostly cash-based economy.
For those of you who could not make it to the very first Coworking Africa conference, we have uploaded all the statistics and presentations, including interviews with coworking operators from all across Africa, like The District in Egypt and Bantuhub in Congo, Brazaville.
Coworking Africa conference is the first attempt bringing together more than 20 countries from Africa and beyond: Senegal, South Africa, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Maroc, Gambia, Benin, Mozambique, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Congo, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Philadelphia (US), Spain (EU), The Netherlands (EU), Austria (EU) and Belgium (EU).
A unique opportunity to share and learn best practices, knowledge, success and failures experiences about coworking. You are also welcome to bring your story too.
Be one of the first people to take part of the coworking movement in Africa, the continent with the youngest population and with the highest potential in the world.
The pioneers from the African coworking scene will meet up in Cape Town next July 23-24.
Start to collaborate. Joining forces with other coworking spaces will make you stronger towards other players such as local institutions, sponsors and potential customers elsewhere in Africa or in the world. Build together a conversation and a network of trust between other coworking communities, it benefits everybody.
Who’s coming to Coworking Africa conference ? Coworking space managers, incubators managers, startup accelerators managers, business centers managers, real estate pundits, innovation ecosystem specialists, economic development public agencies, entrepreneurship associations, universities, business schools and journalists.
The conference is a unique occasion to connect with the best experts from the coworking world. Meet them and start interesting relationships, and, why not, build up and collaborate on new exciting projects.
Coworking is about people!
Cape Town is one of the cities leading the coworking movement in Africa with about 20 coworking spaces. Once you’ll be in Cape Town don’t miss hotspots such as Workshop17, Daddy.O, Garage, Twenty-Fifty, Cape Town Office, the Design Bank or The Barn… to mention a few.
Coworking Africa conference is more than a conference. We love coworking as much as having fun.