I’ve been championing the idea of co-working in Newcastle since April 2011 when a tour of the ‘Silicon Roundabout’ area of London reinforced my belief that ‘clustering’ (close georgraphical proximity to other businesses and entrepreneurs) was an important ingredient in the success of a startup (see ‘Start-Ups: Know Your Place’).
This trip, which included visits to TechHub, Hoxton Mix and an exclusive interview with Moshi Monsters/Mind Candy CEO Michael Acton Smith (below) is what made me start hosting weekly events for developers, designers and start-up founders at PNE Group’s PostOffice building on Pink Lane.
My original idea, which I first mentioned at SuperMondays in April 2011, was to have regular co-working days and evening events at the PostOffice but for various reasons (mainly a lack of time and resources) they didn’t begin until 3rd August 2012 (see http://plandigitaluk.com/2012/07/12/postoffice-venue-launches-weekly-co-working-days-in-newcastle/). Instead, I decided to focus on turning the PostOffice into a hub / focal point for grassroots developer and designer user groups, starting with our first event with PHPNE on 21st June 2011. Watching these events grow in size and number to over 50 people some weeks has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my professional career, although most of the credit needs to go to the leader / organiser Anthony Sterling as I’m merely providing the space for them to call home.
Unless you’ve been to one of the events it’s hard to describe but having a regular place that the local dev / tech community can call home, offering an informal and relaxed environment, in a handy location right next to some good pubs, is part of the reason why local people now regularly talk about what a great ‘community’ there is up here in Newcastle and the North East. There are many other factors which add to this which I outlined in my recent overview of the North East tech start-up scene but it shouldn’t be sniffed at as it’s a very real and magical thing.
We’re now doing monthly co-working events at the PostOffice on the first Friday of the month (at the time of writing our next one is on 2nd November and tickets can be bought for £10 at http://postofficenov.eventbrite.com) which again are reinforcing my belief that modern day business is all about working and collaborating in a more social (real-life) environment.
In addition to the PostOffice, I’m very pleased to see that Newcastle Business Village have recently opened a fantastic, full-time co-working space at Clavering House, behind Central Station where you can work in a great environment for just £15 per day (see video below). As the North East’s biggest advocate of co-working, Jayne Graham (Space On Tap / Colleagues On Tap) deserves a lot of credit for the input and advice she has given the team behind Clavering House, helping them to create the type of place that I plan to start working from occasionally and where I would urge you to give it a try yourself next time you’re in Newcastle.
After talking about bringing co-working days to Newcastle since April 2011, I’m pleased to announce that we are finally going to start doing them at our PostOffice venue in Newcastle every Friday, starting with a FREE launch event on 3rd August (9am-5pm).
‘PostOffice’ venue launches weekly co-working days in Newcastle
PostOffice, the venue for weekly, after work events for North East based developers, designers and tech start-ups, is to start hosting daytime co-working events every Friday starting on 3rd August.
Inspired by his visits to co-working spaces like TechHub and Google Campus in London, Newcastle-based entrepreneur and digital marketing expert Paul Lancaster (aka @lordlancaster) has spent the past 12 months trying to build a community of similar, like-minded people in the North East by opening the doors of the venue to local developer and user groups every Tuesday evening.
Situated on Pink Lane (directly opposite Newcastle Central Station), the former old post office is owned by local enterprise agency PNE Group (aka Project North East) who have been supporting small businesses since 1980 and have helped that part of the city become known as a Tech Quarter once dubbed ‘Silicon Alley’ by offering low-cost workspace and high speed internet since the 90’s.
Lancaster said ‘Around 100 people in total now come to the PostOffice events with a great deal of crossover between the different user groups which has led to some interesting collaborations and ideas for new projects including a design-themed conference planned for August’.
‘Apart from giving people the chance to learn something new in a relaxed, informal setting, the events are as much about spending time with your friends and peers with the conversations that take place afterwards in the nearby Town Wall and Forth pubs being an important aspect of the community feel which is apparent in the North East tech scene right now’.
Co-working is a concept that has been around for a while now, particularly in the US and London but Lancaster feels that it’s only recently that technology has made it truly possible for people to do it and still feel like they are being just as productive, if not more so than being sat in a traditional office.
He said, ‘the nature of my work (website management/digital marketing) means that I can literally work from anywhere with a Wi-Fi or 3G signal and in fact do a lot of my work on the move through my smartphone. You see people working in coffee shops but they’re not really suitable and there’s a limit to how long you can realistically stay there without upsetting the staff and fellow customers.’
‘Co-working is the modern way to work and brings an added benefit to participants by providing the space for serendipitous conversations and networking opportunities which a traditional office worker or home worker would usually miss out on.’
The format is simple. Co-workers bring their laptop / tablet, phone and business cards, and we provide the space, inspiring people and free coffee from our neighbours @PinkLaneCoffee. The launch event is free to attend but tickets must be booked at http://postofficelaunch.eventbrite.com
If people would like to know more about the co-working days or evening events that are taking place at the PostOffice, they should Follow them on Twitter @PostOfficeNE1 or ‘Like’ them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PostOfficeNE1
How important is your geographical location and physical environment when it comes to success in business? I’d say massively so after my past two days meeting some of the movers and shakers in the London Tech scene (14-15 April 2011)!
Although based in the North East of England (Gateshead), I’ve been following with much interest the media buzz surrounding TechHub and the area dubbed ‘Silicon Roundabout’ in and around the Old Street part of the city. What is it that makes this place so special and does it really deserve all the hype?
The first thing that struck me when arriving at Old Street tube station is that it’s actually a little bit of a dump – old and shabby! However, the roundabout itself is surrounded by shiny new high rise office blocks with the ubiquitous EAT! and Pret A Manger outlets which surprised me and isn’t really what I expected to find. Move just a few hundred yards from the roundabout though and I’d describe the area as ‘edgy’ with more rundown buildings containing a vibrant mix of takeaways, restaurants, bars and clubs, plus plenty of trendy young things walking about.
There’s also A LOT of empty office space with ‘To Let’ signs pretty much along the whole length of Old Street. This is exactly the type of environment in which creative, media and tech types tend to flock to as it offers them a vibrant social scene in which to network (over a beer, glass of wine or coffee) plus the great transport links (frequent buses and just two Tube stops from King’s Cross and St Pancras train stations) which make it within easy reach of the rest of the UK and mainland Europe!
My first destination when I arrived was the apt-named Paul Street, just off Old Street, to meet and interview Rich Martell, the 21yr old Founder and CEO of Floxx – the flirting social network (video coming soon). I first met Rich after hearing him speak at the NACUE National Student Entrepreneurs Conference (NSEC) in Manchester and after several email, Twitter and phone conversations had arranged to visit his office to find out more. I predict big things for Rich who having previously launched the site as the phenomenally successful (and notorious) FitFinder whilst still at University has recently relaunched it as the more internationally-friendly Floxx.com with VC investment of £100,000 from original Dragon Doug Richard (@dougrichard) and Silicon Valley investor Kevin Wall.
Charismatic and charming, Rich is typical of the new breed of successful entrepreneurs I have been lucky to meet who are open to ideas and genuinely interested in the people around them. During our conversation about Floxx and Shell LiveWIRE, Rich mentioned a student intern that had recently joined the Floxx team called Tom from Durham University who he thought might be an ideal candidate for our monthly £1,000 Shell LiveWIRE Grand Ideas Awards. He then brought Tom in so I could explain more about our programme and encourage him to apply, which I hope he does for his interesting new business ‘The Doorman’ (watch this space).
For the rest of our meeting we shared lots of ideas and information about the London Tech Start-Up scene and the importance of location to him and his business. Rich talked about the vibrancy of the area and the attraction of being in such close proximity to other tech start-ups in and around ‘Silicon Roundabout’ for networking and sharing of ideas. A good example of this is the fact that the Floxx team are currently housed in a cool shared office called ‘The Hoxton Mix’, sitting alongside other tech businesses like SoundCloud and specialist PR agency 33Seconds who they have started to work with. It’s this type of close proximity and clustering of similar and related businesses that makes it easier for co-promotion and cross-pollination of ideas which is mutually beneficial to each of the businesses. It also became apparent that although part of a vast city, the London Tech scene was actually quite small with Rich seemingly knowing many of the key players whose names kept popping up during the two days I was in London.
After leaving Floxx, I headed on down to TechHub which is very much in the heart of ‘Silicon Roundabout’ on City Road and has been generating a lot of PR buzz in recent months.
Overlooking the high street with big glass frontage, TechHub has a relaxed and informal vibe about it upon arrival – with a reception desk manned by the wonderfully helpful Tina, open plan hot desk area and comfy sofas by the door and window, two small meeting rooms and a kitchenette on opposite sides of the room, and a more private room at the back where the ‘resident’ members are working side by side in what reminds me of a university or library computer room!
TechHub is open to most users between Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm (although the residents have 24hr access to the building with many of them working throughout the night). I was slightly surprised to hear that there is a vetting system for approving new members, but in a city like London I can see why this is necessary as TechHub is much more than just a place to work with regular social events, demo evenings and frequent visits from the media and investment world so the founders are trying hard to maintain the quality of businesses involved. Admittedly the rooms and facilities themselves at TechHub aren’t the prettiest I’ve seen but this is more than made up for by the location, connections and networking opportunities available for anyone choosing to do work there.
This was confirmed by the start-ups I interviewed – Squadify, Sharkius Games, Developer Fusion, TechEye and Caped Koala / Pora Ora (videos coming soon) who all talked excitedly about the benefits of being housed in such a vibrant place compared to working from home or in a non-descript office in some other part of town. The people behind TechHub – Elizabeth Varley (@evarley) and Mike Butcher (TechCrunch) are also doing a fantastic job of shining a light on the businesses coming out of the building (and the London scene in general) which is benefiting each and every member of the TechHub community.
Having spent a couple of hours in the place and met not only the people behind it but some of the businesses that are using the facility, I’m pleased to say that TechHub really does live up to the hype and highly recommend any tech start-ups pay a visit the next time they’re in London even if just to soak up the positive vibes and anything-is-possible attitude of the place!
Mind Candy / Moshi Monsters
My final destination for the day was the wonderful Tea Building (former Lipton Tea Building) on Shoreditch High Street, just a short walk from TechHub via Great Eastern Street. As I walked towards the Tea Building, the shops, bars, cafes and restaurant became smarter and there was definitely a cool vibe about the place and the people walking around.
My reason for visiting the Tea Building was to meet and interview Michael Acton Smith (@acton), founder of Firebox.com and now Mind Candy – home of the phenomenally successful Moshi Monsters (37m registered users worldwide)!
Being a big fan of Firebox and having seen and heard lots of great things about Michael and Mind Candy, I was excited to finally get to meet the man behind the brand. Michael didn’t disappoint and is everything I hoped he would be – intelligent, smart, charming, engaging and fun with a cool, rock & roll vibe about him (wild hair and snakeskin boots and all)!
Not only that, but the Mind Candy office he has created is truly something else. You couldn’t fail to be inspired to work in such an environment as this with bright Moshi Monsters artwork on the walls, interesting and exciting breakout areas and meeting rooms, quirky art and all the paraphernalia that you would expect from one of the UK’s most exciting and creative tech and media companies. There’s clearly a lot of thought (and money) gone in to creating such an environment and I wouldn’t be surprised if it won some kind of interior design / best office award in the future!
During our fantastic interview (see video below) Michael confirmed that the working environment was crucial to getting the best out of his team and making them feel valued, expressing dismay at how many businesses continue to work in boring, drab and soulless offices. If only more companies would take heed and put more effort into their place of work then perhaps we would have more success stories like Mind Candy throughout the UK?
Physical Environment & Community
As I leave the city with a much better understanding of the London Tech scene, I feel very proud that we have such great businesses and entrepreneurs in the UK right now. Geographical location and infrastructure are clearly important with London at the forefront of the Tech world. However, I feel that the physical environment, sense of community and access to networks of like-minded people is equally if not more important.
There’s really no reason why there can’t be satellite hubs and versions of ‘Silicon Roundabout’ up and down the country with a little bit of thought and effort from the local businesses and powers that be. There are obviously many different ingredients at play here but it can be done as the ‘Silicon Alley’ area of Pink Lane in my home town of Newcastle has shown in the past (albeit on a much smaller scale). All it takes is a bit of effort, determination, imagination and a few key ‘connectors’ to bring people together around a common purpose and goal. You can see the raw ingredients and potential in towns and cities everywhere.