On first blush, it seems like a quintessential co-working space: there’s lots of laptops but the clickety-click-click of the keyboards seems less dominant. There’s exposed metal pipes without being too clinical or cold. There’s a 1960s-inspired bar in the middle of the room with forest-green book shelves while the quirky vintage Singer sewing machine in the corner somehow suits the bike racks hanging like a marionette.
The last decade has seen a boom in co-working spaces in Europe’s creative hub. Many, me included, remember working from gritty St Oberholz in Mitte back in 2009, which attracted new-media freelancers and startup entrepreneurs or stints at Betahaus in Kreuzberg, which is the home of coders and IT specialists. New spaces are sprouting up left, right and centre. Mindspace is Berlin’s first non-German operated co-working space. According to Tel-Aviv based founder, Dan Zakai, his company searched for locations outside of Israel, and selected Hamburg in Germany’s north for the space’s first European incarnation before following suit in Berlin.
Israel has more tech startups and venture-capital funding per head of population than the United States, while Tel Aviv came in fifth, ahead of two other US cities and London, Berlin and Singapore. “Berlin is home to many international companies, founders, startups and entrepreneurs that are very successful and bring a great spirit to the city. It aligns perfectly with Mindspace’s strategy of being a leading coworking space provider in great cities,” says Zakai.
The perks seem standard in comparison to the plethora of other co-working spaces: regular happy hour, high-speed internet, member-only speaker events, hotel and restaurant discounts. Yet Mindspace’s main claim to fame is that it is open to its members 24 hours a day. It’s other main point of differentiation is that rather than free-floating desks similar to a public library, approximately 85 to 90 per cent of the entire Mindspace space is dedicated to private offices. Zakai noticed that many established businesses as well as startups wanted to have their own office, but still wanted to be part of a vibrant community.
In a city such as Berlin, which historically prides itself on its sexy but poor image and where the unemployment rate is hovering at 9.6 per cent (Sydney’s is 3.9 per cent), the monthly fee of 350€ for an open space desk or 950€ for a private office for up to 2 people seems disproportionate. In Berlin it is possible to sit in at any normal café, sip a cappuccino for 2€ and enjoy free WiFI all day. Mindspace is not necessarily targeting the garage-operating status of new startups; it seems to attract those who have secured initial funding, such as the female-led Ovy (a startup app to help women get pregnant) or even established companies, including VW and Samsung, who take specific teams to Mindspace in Berlin and Hamburg, to work on special projects, as well as to connect and collaborate with others.
This authentic collaboration comes through regular meetups, weekly events including anything from a Mexican party to Israeli new year also through to lectures and mentoring, all taking place on site and curated by the Community Manager. That seems to be the biggest point of differentiation between Mindspace and other co-working spaces, such as Betahaus or even Impact Hub (which attracts mostly social entrepreneurs rather than businesses). As Zakai points out, potential companies are looking for alternatives to traditional offices with fixed leases. “When companies do the maths of getting their own office and paying for design, furniture, internet and even coffee or even milk, they quickly figure out that Mindspace is actually an affordable solution with less headaches.”
The co-working industry in Berlin and Europe more broadly is emerging as a legitimate industry in and of itself. At latest count, there are more than 70 co-working spaces in Berlin alone. Whereas co-working used to be seen as a cheaper alternative to fixed office spaces and burdensome leases, it has now emerged as a preferred method of working for many companies.
Across the border in neighbouring France, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo recently announced the city will invest two million Euros into co-working initiatives by 2020, to encourage fresh graduates and young entrepreneurs into starting their own business, as well as to alleviate some of the congestion on busy Parisian roads and encourage workers to work remotely, rather than from their company “office”.
Co-working has finally come of age, and with Berlin setting the pace for the rest of Germany and Europe, there is no stopping the growth of this ever-relevant business and social development.