Coworking spaces for startups - why should you use one?

With so many options to choose from, we offer some advice on how to choose the right location for your business

Coworking is a "thing": There are so many co-working spaces in the UK that the topic has its own websites and magazines, its own directories of services, and plenty of companies wanting to get in on the act of providing spaces as a business venture.

Startups in particular find the idea of co-working spaces attractive, and for good reason. These facilities offer well-appointed tech including great broadband, breakout meeting spaces of flexible sizes, good transport links, flexible payment schemes all for less than renting traditional office space.

There is another big plus outside the services provided by a co-working space: the social element. As Dom Hallas, executive director of the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec) tells IT Pro: "Being a founder can be a lonely job, and it's better to be lonely together. That's why co-working spaces are valuable and important because it's easier to tackle your startup's challenges if you are sitting amongst people who are on the same journey as you are."

Making the right choices

While there are many advantages to using coworking spaces as a startup in general, it's also important to choose the right location for you.

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When asked if co-working spaces are a good thing for people with a startup to nurture, Shakeeb Niazi, founder and chair of the Society for Entrepreneurial Education and Development, tells IT Pro: "Yes and no."

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"Yes, because it gives them the opportunity to network and speak to other startups," he explains, "no, because there is a lack of real experience within the startup community and the mentors are not really that experienced in building startups."

He continues: "What's needed is an entrepreneur development programme, to create certified learning, [so that budding entrepreneurs are] in an incubator or accelerator."

This approach may not be right for every startup, though. Coadec's Hallas offers some broader advice, saying: "When startups are looking for space, the critical thing is to think about what they actually need. Will the networking opportunities a space is offering help them? What programmes of support are there? How are [the coworking space's] links with the investor community?

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"To put it bluntly - anyone can rent desks, but can they build the kind of community you'll actually get additional value from."

Niazi agrees, adding that to fully support startups using it "the space really need to be focused in the same vertical, for example Fintech or Medtech".

There's no substitute for research

Ultimately, it's up to the entrepreneurs who want to launch their startup to do thorough research before signing up to any particular coworking space even if they would rather dive straight into making their great tech business idea a reality.

A good place to start is with some old-fashioned research on the web. Read up both at the spaces' web sites themselves and also on the wider internet to find out what other people think of the space. That will likely mean some are taken out of the mix right away.

If the spaces put on events, wouldbe customers should head along to see how many people attend, feel the vibe, meet users of the space to see what they think of it, and perhaps have a look around to see if it meets their expectations.

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Before settling for any given location, startups should also really scrutinise the financial small print. First, they should find out what's included in the fee and what's not. If there are things missing they would expect to see provided, they should consider carefully how often they might need these services are they necessary or nice to have"? They should also look at the contract period and if they need to get out of a financial commitment fast, how can they do that and what penalties apply.

Startups should be particularly careful of plumping for a co-working space for the wrong reasons, such as convenience or added extras that could be appealing, but are really unnecessary and expensive. Niazi also suggests being wary of "getting carried away with the lifestyle," which includes "long meetings with no real focus and attending lots of events with no real learning."

If after all this the coworking space chosen isn't working out, then there's nothing preventing startups from moving on to another location. After all, this is a fast-moving arena and within a few months or years, something else may come along that's a better fit.

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